My son, who is also my oldest child, is extremely creative when it comes to instigating catastrophic messes. Like the time he crawled into the fireplace at the age of 14 months and proceeded to empty every piece of ash, one tiny fistful at a time, into the living room. I had left him unattended on his playmat for no more than five minutes while I went to get dinner started. I glanced up when I smelled something odd and saw a huge, gray cloud billowing from the den. I rushed around the corner in horror to discover my adorable child sitting in a pile of ashes. He had carefully dispersed them throughout the living room, with almost inhuman speed, and in such a way that no surface was left untouched. He smiled gleefully at me, waving his tiny hands and kicking at the filth around his feet. It took two baths to get him completely clean and three full weeks before I stopped finding random piles of ashes that I thought I’d already cleaned up.
After the fireplace catastrophe, I stopped leaving J alone, unless he was in his playpen, and even then only for about two minutes at a time, while I brought groceries in from the car or had a dangerously brief shower. It made no difference. My son still found ways to fabricate wildly unique messes for me. I once came from using the restroom to find that he had done the same. Only he had removed every stitch of clothing, as well as his diaper, and painted every square centimeter of his playpen– and himself, from the neck down. As he grinned impishly and held his poo-covered fingers up at me, I choked back a gag and briefly panicked. How in the living fuck was I going to clean it without touching it??? I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around him, pinning his arms to his sides, and ran as fast as I could with a squirming, shit-covered toddler to the bathroom. I unceremoniously dumped him in the tub, towel and all, and turned on the shower. After I’d hosed him down, I cleaned out the tub, then re-bathed him. The best part was dragging the playpen into the front yard and spraying all the poo off with the hose in front of the neighbors.
You’d think I’d have learned from these incidents not to leave my son unattended for longer than it takes to do a “Mommy Pee” (the 25-30 seconds it takes a mother to entirely empty her bladder, wash her hands, and get back to her disaster-prone children), but I am, admittedly, dismayingly hard-headed. So I inevitably left my child alone again about a year later, just long enough for him to empty an entire bottle of lotion on the couch and thoroughly massage it into the upholstery. Lotion doesn’t stain. It also doesn’t EVER EVER come out. He also managed to find a bottle of nail polish that same day and refinish the entertainment center.
These were just a few in a long line of horrible and occasionally traumatic messes my precious son made. He taught himself to vomit on command when he didn’t want to go to bed at night. (Try ignoring a toddler who just regurgitated 8 ounces of chocolate milk into his crib.) And he once sleep-walked into the kitchen, where he proceeded to drop his britches and wee all over the refrigerator. I used to yell at his father for not helping me clean these bodily fluid-fueled outbursts until the time he good-naturedly attempted to help me clean J after he had barfed in his playpen, apparently because I had looked away from him for 10 seconds. But that ended so badly that I never asked again. J’s dad was so grossed out that, when he bent over to pick up J, he puked. Trying to keep from barfing more on our son, he covered his mouth with both hands, ran to the front door, spewing barf between his fingers– passing the bathroom– and flew into the front yard, where he finished barfing in the flowerbed. (Our neighbors were outside playing with their children. Our neighbors did not speak to us for about three years.) So there was poor J, looking up at me in astonishment, his own barf dripping down his front and his dad’s barf dripping down his back. And I looked at the playpen, at my son, and at the trail of puke leading to the front yard, all of which I now had to clean, and cried a little.
I survived a lot in those first few years, and so did my son (mostly because about 99% of the time I had no idea what I was doing). And I learned that it really expresses how much you love someone when they make a horrible, stinking mess that will literally make a grown-ass man vomit, and you can’t even be angry. They look up at you, covered in something disgusting, and smile or look endearingly surprised, and you love them so much it feels like your heart will explode and make another gigantic mess for you to clean up. My son is sixteen now, and instead of worrying about diapers and how to get him to eat something besides chicken nuggets, I am now worrying about him driving in big-city traffic and going to college. And how to get him to eat something besides chicken nuggets. And I often wish I could go back to when he was little, just for a day, because it goes so fast. I do, however, look forward to the inevitable phone calls that will go something like this:
J: Remember that time I tried to jump down the stairs, and I fell instead and bit through my tongue, and there was blood everywhere, and you had to call an ambulance, and then you had an adrenaline crash and cried for an hour, but I didn’t care because I got to eat nothing but popsicles for two days?
J: Sorry about that.
Me: Son, did one of your kids just scare the living shit out of you?