The other day I was asked, what is the worst thing about parenting that they don’t warn you about in the parenting books? I think, hands down, no one warns how very gross small children can be. And I mean that in the nicest way, of course.
Everyone talks about changing baby diapers and how yucky that is, but really, it pales in comparison to the post-diaper phase. Give me a dozen diapers to change any day. They’re a little stinky sometimes, but at least the mess is usually contained, and there are policies and procedures in place for how to deal with them. The wipes and diapers are in a specified location, and unless you‘ve had the misfortune (as I did for a time) of being tricked into believing cloth diapers are a moral imperative, you’re left with one neat, tidy and disposable package of yuck.
Diapers don’t have that dreaded “element of surprise” that, say, potty training a two-year-old can have. During potty training, the best case scenario is that you’ll be mopping up pee off the tile (usually just as the new baby’s screaming to be fed, someone’s repeatedly ringing the doorbell or something is half a second from burning in the kitchen) while your toddler dances and stomps in the puddle and you try to catch him to wipe him down before he makes it to the carpet. It’s not so bad really, as next time you might be trying to pick poop up off the carpet without smearing it in… or, worst case, you’ll walk in your toddler’s room to find the resourceful little artist honing his craft, creating a masterpiece out of nothing but curtains, excrement and Tickle Me Elmo.
They warn you about babies spitting up their milk, but really, this is nothing compared to your three-year-old just suddenly throwing up in his car seat as you’re cruising 65 miles an hour on the freeway. I mean, couldn’t he have said, “I have a stomach ache” or something? The worst thing about this situation is, with a baby you always know to have several changes of clothes on hand. But with a three-year-old, you have to dig out an old, ratty, adult-sized t-shirt (kept in the trunk as a mechanical-emergencies rag) to put on him, and then hope you weren’t going anywhere important. And, finally, you have to pray the rest of you don’t get sick from the stench that doesn’t really leave the car.
They tell you about that snot-sucker thing you have to do to babies, but preschooler nose picking isn’t mentioned anywhere. I thought my son was such an awful nose-picker that I was ready to take him to therapy so he wouldn’t grow up to be… you know, the gross person who picks his nose. Luckily, before I had the chance, I enrolled him in preschool, where I immediately saw eighteen out of twenty children with their fingers in their noses at any given time. On one hand, I was relieved to know my kid’s “normal.” On the other hand, I was completely horrified to know these little germ-spreaders would be sharing toys and crayons with him every day. But he will need therapy if I teach him to obsess over germs the way I do, so I try to just look the other way and look forward to the day he and his friends will be civilized enough to pick their noses in private (and, hopefully, wash their hands afterward).
In the end, one thing I know for sure… a mother must have coined the phrase Don’t cry over spilled milk. Because every mother of small children knows, a little milk on the floor (even if Cheerios and broken glass are involved) is no big deal. Just suck it up, because sooner or later they’ll really give you something to cry about.