In the Trenches


“Something’s wrong with my butt,” my three-year old son told me with all the haunting, round-eyed intensity of Haley Joel Osment explaining to Bruce Willis that he saw dead people.

We were on our summer vacation in northern Wisconsin, staying in one of four rustic cabins my parents usually rented to summer vacationers, and fall and winter hunters. The price point was perfect for a young family (free), and the on-site babysitting (Nana and Grandpa) couldn’t be beat.

Ten minutes prior to his chilling pronouncement, I had been sleeping soundly, lulled there, I suspect, by the hum of box fans my mother had leant us to combat the oppressive July heat.  I awoke in the dark to find myself wedged in the crevice of two ancient twin beds pushed together in our dorm-sized ‘master’ bedroom. But what exactly had awoken me?

“My tummy hurts,” said a small, disembodied voice.  Sounded like a muppet.

In the darkness, I looked across mattress for help from my husband. He’d wisely chosen the side of the bed snugged up against the wall, safe from intruders, as it were. He was still asleep. Allegedly.

Climbing out of bed, I shuffled my three-year-old, recently potty-trained son to the tiny-house sized bathroom. Fumbling around for the light-switch, I began to smell the problem.

Looking back now, I suspect that having been only a few months out of potty-training boot camp, my little recruit had either misjudged which type of evacuation op his lower digestive tract had planned, or he’d miscalculated the timing of deployment.

Suffice it to say, the op went FUBAR.

I know I tried to muster a serene this ain’t no big deal face for my son. The fact that he was reacting so calmly to waking up in a strange place with a Chernobyl-level disaster in his pants dictated that I respond in kind by not outwardly gagging, or panicking and calling for a Hazmat back-up.

I convinced the young lad to hand over his soiled garments and directed him to the throne. I turned, thinking to rinse his underpants out in the tiny pedestal sink. The sink we, and every other innocent vacationer hereafter, would brush teeth at. Drop contacts in. Rinse swimsuits out in. Lay relatively clean washcloths on. I couldn’t do it. It was bad enough I was going to have to give my dear, sweet, intestinally challenged son a Silkwood shower before the night was through. I knew if I let those Spiderman skivvies make direct physical contact with any solid surface of that cabin, the entire structure would have to be burned to the ground.  

I tossed the contaminated objects into the bathroom garbage can, thought better of it, pulled out the plastic grocery bag liner and tied it in a knot, sealing the biohazards inside. I silently vowed to replace his favorite Underoos once we returned to civilization.

It was then he made his pronouncement. “Something’s wrong with my butt,” he said. His little feet didn’t touch the floor, and though he was likely not in danger of falling in (though let’s be honest, a little bidet action would not have been amiss in this instance), he was hanging on to the sides of the toilet seat as if he might be sucked in, should an unexpected flush prove too powerful.

His earnest face, his double-fisted grip on the seat, his grave, quietly spoken pronouncement all pointed to his obvious conclusion: his butt was broken.

His butt.

Was broken.

This was unprecedented!

But alas, it wasn’t. Poor, intestinally challenged Bubby had been a daycare baby, and was sick so frequently during his first year of life, his father and I traded taking sick days, hoping neither of us would be fired for missing too many consecutive days at work. We had his pediatrician on speed dial. Owned a nebulizer. Bought Pedialyte in bulk. He just didn’t remember any of this.

And while the whole situation was miserable (for the both of us), I couldn’t help but smile.

“It’s ok, Bub,” I assured him. “You just have diarrhea.”

“What’s a Rhea?”

It was one of those moments of parenthood where you’re in the trenches (albeit primitive sewer type trenches), wondering how you’re going to survive the next fifteen minutes, let alone the next fifteen years. This little person who isn’t very concerned whether you ever eat a meal uninterrupted, who robs you of sleep, who gets you summarily escorted out of restaurants, is also the same person who makes you laugh without trying, makes you see the world in a different way, makes you wonder if you were ever really living before they burst into your universe.

They become central to your universe, central to your heart.

Even when there’s something wrong with their butt.


photo credit: Markus Spiske /





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