Let’s talk about wiping butts. For me, the term “wiping butts” has become a convenient shorthand for all of the disgusting, mind-numbing, ludicrously physical aspects of parenting. But today, I am not using it as shorthand. I want to talk about actually wiping butts.
First of all, I have a confession. My kids will be four in a few weeks, and I still wipe their butts. This doesn’t seem like that much of a confession, because pretty much every parent I know does the same. There are a handful of overachievers out there whose kids are completely self-sufficient in the bathroom, but most playgroups at this age involve at least one kid either wandering out bottomless in search of assistance or a yell from the throne on the theme of “Mom! I’m done! Come wipe my butt!”
So why does my preschool expect three-year-olds to be able to wipe their own butts? I know, I know, I know. I know that kids that age are learning “touch” rules and we want our kids to be safe. I know that preschool teachers are not paid nearly enough to deal with feces. I know that, at least at our preschool, teachers don’t even accompany kids to the bathroom. They send them in pairs. Two three-year-olds... holding hands... off to do their business, hopefully remembering to wash their hands afterwards.
I’m lucky. My kids have never dropped a deuce at preschool. I’m very lucky about this, because they have no earthly idea how to wipe their own butts. I don’t think they even know that it’s a possibility. I’m not alone either. A friend’s kid saw their dad finishing up his business and gasped to his mom, incredulous, “Mom, Daddy wipes his own butt!!”
Once, in a fit of “I do it myself,” my son decided to wipe his own butt. I walked into someone else’s bathroom to find thousands of tiny shreds of toilet paper on the floor, mounds of toilet paper in the toilet, poop smeared up my son’s back and onto his shirt, as well as somehow also down onto his pants and underpants and all over his hands, and a line of poop on the front of the toilet where he had slid off the seat. He had very effectively moved lots of poop around with lots of toilet paper, but still had plenty at the source as well. It was like a scene from a very bad dream in which you can’t find a clean toilet and you really have to pee. Except that this was real and I had to scrub crap off of someone else’s toilet and take my son’s clothes home in a knotted-off plastic grocery bag.
Nothing about that scene has encouraged me to try again any time soon.
I’m just gonna say it. Wiping your own butt is not easy. Apparently many grown men still can’t do it. There’s a reason that we had to make up the phrase “skid marks.” ‘Cause some fully grown dudes have yet to master this skill. We don’t expect our preschoolers to clip their own fingernails or wash their own hair, and both of those things are way easier to do than effectively wiping their own butts.
I see this butt-wiping thing as a sort of gentle harbinger. My kids are gonna make a mess of things. Right now, they’re not even four, and the consequences of letting them try and fail involve lots of Lysol wipes and a clean outfit borrowed from a friend. As they get older, they will have to learn skills like making friends, doing their homework, driving responsibly. Things for which the consequences of failure are not so easy for me to clean up. It’s terrifying. It makes me feel grateful that I get to practice letting go with something relatively simple to clean up, before the real item starts hitting the fan.