The Power of Poop

Yeah, so, this is not a topic I thought I’d ever write about. Nope, not me. I come from a family in which poop didn’t happen. The closest we got was the vague reference to Dad’s need to “read the paper” when he got home from work. None of the rest of us pooped. Really.

This made poop a particularly huge revelation for me as a parent: poop can be the single most depressing thing in the world or make you laugh so hard you cry. Who knew?

For instance, yesterday I cleaned mouse poop out of our silverware drawer (those electronic high-pitched deterrent mechanisms are apparently a huge joke), cleaned a pooping accident by a 3-year old off the bathroom floor, and changed five poopy 7-month old diapers. All before 10am. Yep. It was a crappy day.

A dear friend with whom I trade childcare had a 3 year old with a diarrhea virus. After four days of diarrhea, her daughter had a normal poop. They danced and sang through their house, because a non-diarrhea poop meant that my daughter could come over to play again. The news prompted a “Yeah Poop” song and dance in my house, too. After all, the benefits of that good poop extended to our family!

A few weeks ago, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, confused about a sensation on my stomach and hand. I couldn’t figure it out, so I turned on the light. Ah, yes. My clever son had removed his diaper (wouldn?t want to get it dirty, after all), and pooped all over the bed (read: me). The source of my confusion was the chunks of carrots. The introduction of solid foods adds a whole new level of pooping adventures.

Then, there is a toddler’s fascination with poop and everything surrounding it. By age 2, my daughter could recite for you (or any other unwilling stranger), “The food goes in my mouth, into my throat, to my stomach, then out my bottom. It makes poop!” After a particularly stressful and haphazard trip to the east coast for the holidays, my daughter found herself unable to poop. It became a regular topic of conversation, “Mama, beans make good poop. So does salad. Does cheese make good poop?” You should have seen the Yeah Poop dance that followed those several days!

And, then, there’s just the great storytelling that arises out of poop. There’s the children’s book Everyone Poops (by Taro Gomi) that examines the pooping habits of many creatures under the sun. There’s our friend’s daughter who used to name each poop and say good-bye to it before she flushed. And, there’s the carrot story I just told you that will go down in the “stories to tell on your son’s first date” file.

Yeah, it’s a poop universe out there. And, look at me, I just can’t seem to stop talking about it. Happy pooping to you, one and all!

Thanks for the Minstrel Show

I’m sitting at work, watching Diane and Charlie on Good Morning America learn a new dance called the “Harlem Shuffle.”

Perfect timing. I caught some of Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary on PBS last night. The segment I saw was about the rise of “hard bop” pioneered by drummer Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers in the ’50s and ’60s. Blakey, and pianist Horace Silver, started a “University” at Birdland in Harlem that graduated such musicians as Donald Byrd, Johnny Griffin, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Chuck Mangione, Woody Shaw, JoAnne Brackcen, and Wynton Marsalis.

One of Blakey’s primary motivations for inventing this new form of modern jazz was to create something that white people could not steal. His idea was that he could create a form of music so “Black” in heart, soul, and swing, that white people would not be able to appropriate it (as they have with most other Black styles) without it looking like a minstrel show.

So now I have Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson jerking their bodies along with a couple of kids from the Harlem Dance Performers, looking like a couple of, well, boring white people at their highschool reunion. Nice, guys. Totally excellent minstrel show you treated me to. No really…thanks.

Cincinnati’s Dirty Laundry

So the basic point of living in Cincinnati seems to be to teach us a lesson. Having lived our lives before we met more-or-less surrounded by people we loved and with whom we shared basic principles, we relocated together to Cincinnati. She for school and I for her. Both of us to learn something.

The tiny apartment on campus was ok for a few minutes, but we got out as soon as the lease ended and moved into a much more grown up neighborhood near a park and a few generally quiet fraternity houses. After a year there we moved to a bigger place to have a baby, and from there, to a house. The one thing these apartments had in common was a small or nonexistent laundry room.

We laundered out. This is where we met Cincinnati.

I now believe that you can never really know a place until you’ve washed your clothes in public. People who move to a new town and immediately get a house with their own washer and dryer will never really belong to, or understand, a community. Those of us who have spent months looking for that perfect Laundromat are able to learn more of the character of a town than could otherwise be learned in years.

The first Laundromat we found was a little hole in the ground half a block up the street. I don’t think it even had a sign. It was only the smell of drying clothes that tipped us off. Wedged between two row houses, it was a small, dark place with about six machines. The lids were rusted around the hinges and no matter how many quarters you plugged into the dryers your clothes never seemed to loose that almost-wet, almost-dry kind of dankness. After a month or so the place just up and disappeared. We were not surprised.

We found another place a few streets away. This one was much nicer. A friendly woman ran the place and always had change. If you ever left you clothes too long in a machine she would move them for you. She lived nearby and her grandchildren came to play with her on weekends. It must have been six months that we cleaned our clothes there. I don’t remember exactly why we stopped going there, but we did. Sometimes it’s just time to move on. Perhaps we’d already learned what that Laundromat had to teach us. We went back once or twice, but it didn’t feel the same. It didn’t feel like we belonged. Not like it used to.

No place after that was quite right. Some, in fact, were quite wrong.

There was the one that was several miles away and kind of a pain to get to that had lots of machines. It was fine, but after several trips it was just too far.

There was the Laundromat/night club where we went only one time. We got home and all of our clean clothes smelled like old cigarette smoke and stale beer.

There was the evil little place too, where as soon as we had filled four machines and started the wash cycles, the crotchety old folks in back started talking in conversational tones about the “ni**ers.”

This one was important. It was in a town called _______: a tiny city surrounded by Cincinnati. A little island of ignorance in a sea of intolerance. People like these scared and repulsed us. I knew people like this existed, I had just never been this close to them. It was, as if, after a lifetime of visiting zoos and reading National Geographic Magazine, we suddenly found ourselves stranded in the middle of the African savanna. There was nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. The damn laundry cycle had just started. We couldn’t very well take our soaking wet, soapy laundry out and just leave. That would draw their attention. Attention can be dangerous in a place like this.

So we waited it out. We sat on the other side of the room and tried really hard to seem completely engrossed in…well, in anything at all really. We waited it out and as soon as the laundry was dry, we split. No folding. We just piled the clothes in our basket and fled.

_______ was one place we would never return to. This Laundromat; this center of energy; this place where a neighborhood goes to clean out it’s dirt; this Laundromat was itself so dirty that we could only imagine how soiled the community would be.

Two months later we moved to an apartment with nice new machines in the basement and our Laundromat days in Cincinnati, for the most part, ended. We had learned a lot about out new home. We new which areas were unpredictable and transient, which were family-friendly, which were this and which were that. It was time to settle down.

We got pregnant a few months later and started looking for a bigger place to rent. It had crappy machines in the basement but they were free. A year passed, our daughter was born, and we decided to buy a house. Should we have been surprised when the landlord screwed us out of our deposit? Hell no: The laundry machines were pieces of crap.

When we were trying to get pregnant we were very conscious that the Universe had a way of giving you less what you want than what you need: Parents tend to get children who can teach them something. Rarely, do people get a child who embodies their own strengths and values. More often, they get one who will challenge them.

We forgot this about the Universe when we went house hunting.

I cannot remember the exact moment that we realized that the Universe may have the same thing in mind for us in terms of finding a house that it usually does in giving out babies. Not the exact moment, but the exact day for sure. It was the day that our realtor called and said “I know you said you weren’t interested in living in _______, but there is one place I think you should look at.”

So here is what I know:

The Universe is consistent and has a remarkably tuned sense of humor.