I ran into my friend Beth at the grocery store last May. This was not all that surprising, since we’d both just been at the same rehearsal. We got to stand and talk, which was a treat. Mostly we’re like ships passing in the night. Friendly ships, but not ships with a lot of time to socialize between ports of call.
Beth and I bonded when we were both trying hard to have babies. Beth went on to notable success in this endeavor, while I took a different route to parenthood. She was holding a couple of cases of pop because it was her daughter’s thirteenth birthday the next day. I had a little trouble assimilating that her oldest child was turning thirteen, but I’m receiving similar announcements with alarming frequency and I’m getting better about it. We talked so long that I grabbed one of the cases of pop from her and held it for a while. Yeah. We were those people.
It was just a few days before Mother’s Day as we stood at the corner of an aisle blocking access to the peanut butter cheese crackers, so it was of course my duty as a long-standing friend to remind Beth of the delights of her first Mother’s Day ever.
Jenna wasn’t quite one year old, and the dragging months of interrupted sleep, childhood illnesses, and unending neediness that is parenting an infant had taken a predictable toll on Beth. When Jeff asked her what she’d like for Mother’s Day, she said, “A bath. A really nice, hot bath for as long as I want. By myself.”
Jeff was determined to make it happen, but in retrospect he should have left the house entirely. As she settled into the steaming tub, Beth could hear the baby screaming, but she ignored it. Jenna would settle. She had to.
Jenna didn’t. She screamed and screamed and screamed, and there wasn’t a place in the old farmhouse soundproof enough for Jeff to hide. Beth gave up and called his name until he heard her. When he poked his head in the door, squalling infant still hidden on the other side, as if not seeing the baby would reduce the volume, Beth said, “Just bring her here. She’ll be happy in here with me and I’ll get to relax. Really. Just bring her here.”
Ever obedient, Jeff undressed the sobbing child and carried her naked to the tub, handing her in and apologizing again. “It’s okay,” Beth said, settling her daughter under her chin, half in and half out of the cooling water. “See? She likes it.”
Jenna did like it. Her sobs shuddered down into hiccups, and she nestled into her mother’s neck, breathing in the familiar scent of Beth’s skin and calming almost immediately. Babies love their mamas, and babies love being in water. The combination finally made her relax.
In fact, she relaxed a little too much. Jenna had only been in the water with her mother for a few minutes when she felt so relaxed that she let go of everything. Her anxiety, her anger, and her bowels.
Beth, who just wanted a nice bath by herself to relax because really is that too much to ask for for Mother’s Day for Pete’s sake, sat straight up in the water, held her daughter as far away from her as she could, and yelled, “JEFFREY!!!!! GET IN HERE!”
I’ve said this before: Anything that isn’t an actual tragedy is going to be funny someday. Someday can be anywhere from the very next second to several years away, and Jeff had the presence of mind not to test my theory in the moment. Everyone got cleaned up and went to bed, the idyllic relaxed Mother’s Day moment consigned to the trash.
It’s like that sometimes, parenthood. Things aren’t working out quite the way you want them to, but it’s okay. You’re flexible. You’re not entirely selfish. You can adjust. Compromise, you think, as you settle back into the bathwater and start to relax. Compromise works.
And then someone poops on you.