We have traveled far and are in a new place, the differences subtle but there. Away for the weekend for a little fun. Our hotel has a pool which, for my daughter, is all she needs to make the (somewhat unsettling) adventure worthwhile. Today we took a tour of the Jelly Belly factory in her first "train" ride (it was stressful but she eventually enjoyed it), went shopping (which she always enjoys), lunched at Cracker Barrel (she loved the rocking chairs and checker boards, not to mention all the candy at her eye level), and came back to the hotel for a nap before a swim. Mommy and Daddy are tired too, so after she goes down we follow suit. Even the trampoline that poses for a bed here cannot keep us from eventually drifting off. There is silence from the other room (we have a suite), the air is cool and dry and there is a constant low-level hum from the air conditioner. Everything conspires to send us uneventfully off to the land of dreams.
I wake gradually to the hushed sounds of a child trying not to be heard. I wish it had registered earlier that a child trying not to be heard is a child who needs to be investigated - NOW! Alas, my mind has not quite returned from the delights of unreality and the thought drifts lazily through my mind: "As long as she stays quiet and doesn't bother us, she's fine. Then I can get some more sleep." I turn over, the noises cease (WARNING! WARNING Will Robinson!), I begin to drift away again thinking perhaps she's gone back to sleep, wise child that she is. Oh how I wish I could go back and slap myself upside the head.
The noises resume, perhaps a titch quieter now. The klaxon is beginning to pierce the fog that hovers in that twilight between dreaming and waking, though it has still not come to its full power. This time the thought develops: "Well, I guess I need to get up, but as long as she's quiet I can do it kind of slowly and gradually." What?! Hello! Moron! Get it together! I know you're tired, but c'mon. Did I really just say that to myself?!
I sense her presence in the doorway and all of a sudden I am on full alert. Why? Not because of anything I think she might have been doing, oh no. That thought hasn't even poked its little head up yet. No, it's just that I don't want to wake my wife and I know the only way to do that is to keep my charming little troublemaker out of the room. I sit up, wave the nose miner out of the room and stand up, relieved that we haven't disturbed the love of my life. Little did I know that shortly I would be the one disturbing her sleep.
I step through the french doors that separate the bedroom from the living room and freeze. Something is wrong, I know that much, but it takes a beat for my mind to register what exactly has troubled me. Oh shit! And I mean that in the most literal sense possible. Smeared in thick swathes on the maroon carpeted floor, and in thinner crusted streaks on the beige walls is my dear, dear (I have to keep reminding myself of that) daughter's poo. At 3 1/2 she is mostly potty trained, but hasn't quite gotten the hang of holding on until she wakes up. She has accidents in her diapers sometimes while she's asleep. No problem. It's normal. It'll happen in time. Great. But sticking her hands deep into that accident and using it as finger paint? Oh no, no, no, no NO! I'm telling you now, she better grow out of that one fast. And she knows it's wrong because she's trying to hide it from me.
"Don't spank me!" she says, seeing the look on my face, hearing the cry of utter despair that has been ripped from my throat.
Spank? I'm thinking knock you into the middle of next week! (Worry not, gentle readers. I would never do that, even if I could. It was simply my initial emotional response. There is a reason you're supposed to take time to calm down before administering discipline.) I continue yelling, ranting and raving for a minute, so off the scale is my horror at what she's done. One should not be forced to face something like that so shortly after waking up. Of course my beautiful beloved is irrevocably awake now, and equally upset. Upon inspection, not only has she spread it around the room, but she took her diaper off and then put jeans and a t-shirt on, so they are now contaminated since her bum and hands and feet are still covered in fecal matter. We strip her and force her to stand in the shower while we take the time to collect ourselves and decide on a course of action. This is the first phase of her discipline.
We decide eventually to go ahead and shower her and get her cleaned up, clean up the tile floor in the bathroom so she (and we) won't continue to spread little footprints of joy throughout the suite, pick up or off the larger globules, and then I will go to the front desk to advise them of what's happened and find out what they want to do. I think that if this had occurred at home it would have been horrifying enough, but more easily dealt with. The fact that the property belonged to somebody else, that probably somebody else would have to clean it up, that indeed other people would be staying in this defiled place, made it seem worse to me.
So, we have cleaned up as much as we can and I am at the front desk.
"I'm horrified to have to tell you this," I begin.
"Uh-oh," says the desk clerk. You have no idea!
I describe the incident and apologize profusely. She smiles.
"Don't worry. This is good birth control for me." I have to laugh at that one. "The problem is, I don't have anybody around to clean it up right now, but I can give you some cleaners and rags and you can clean it up." In any other situation I might think of this as poor service, but the thought of forcing someone else to clean up my own daughter's poo is distasteful to me, and I jump at this opportunity to take care of it myself.
Several rags and half a bottle of cleaner later the room is back to its pristine state. I have to say, I'm impressed with their cleaners. I want me some of that at home! The second phase of her discipline is that she has to sit still and watch me clean it up, so she has some idea of the consequences of her actions. When I return the cleaners to the front desk I take my daughter with me for the third phase - apology. Again, impressing on her the significance and wrongness of what she's done.
"Can you say I'm sorry for making such a bad choice?"
"No," she whispers, and turns her head into my shoulder, a move that always melts my heart. But I must be strong.
She holds tight to me, looking shy and embarrassed, and refuses to speak.
"All you need to do is say I'm sorry," I push, "and then we're done.
"I'm sorry," she finally whispers, but loud enough for the clerk to hear.
"Oh, that's okay," she replies cheerfully, eliciting a shy smile from my daughter.
I smile back. "Thank you," I say to reinforce this little lesson. I kiss her on the cheek. "Good job.
We head back to our newly scrubbed suite. I am unsure what, if anything, she has taken away from this little life learning opportunity. I guess only time will tell, I muse to myself.
Later, though, I am somewhat gratified to overhear her playing with her doll in the other room. Who she is talking to, I don't know, but this is what she says about her doll:
"I have to clean her up and she gets a time out because she made a BAD choice and played with her poo."
I have to keep reminding myself that this is a long term investment. We have to remain consistent, never lie down on the job, never give up. We may not see the full results this month or this year, or next year even. But nonetheless, these experiences shape her, form her. And one day we will see the full flowering of our love and efforts.
Shit happens. And sometimes it gets played with. I can only hope that some day I will look back and realize it was only fertilizer for something beautiful.