(My friend, a fabulous writer named Kristen Randle, offered a challenge to write about something pivotal in our lives. I decided to write about toilet paper.)
My mom came from that old school; the one where things were not balanced; the kind of school where you might wear a nice Sunday dress with stretched out athletic tube socks and fishing boots. Some things are very earthy and raw; others are more refined.
OK, so I am going to just jump in on this one….
We were never allowed to say the word “pee” when I was growing up. I feel weird writing it. I can name people who will feel icky reading it. We didn’t say pee, and we didn’t say poop, and we didn’t say bum. It was “urine” and “bowel movement” and “butt” (as slang as we were allowed to get, for “buttocks”).
I cannot believe I am actually writing this.
There was no shame in any of this, my mom said. It’s all part of being human, a natural process of the body. But it was private and not all that pleasant and so we were required to use the medical terms, though we have used the term “tinkle” for…well, you know what I mean. And “potty, potty” is used for the other.
Oye Ve! Words can be delicate modes of communication.
We weren’t allowed to say Shut Up either. We got a nice lather of soap on the tongue for that one.
I don’t know how it happened; they didn’t learn it from me; but my kids say pee and poop. Not that it’s the topic of Sunday dinner conversations. They are in the process of raising little children and it’s a fact of life that we use some term to express what’s happening. It must be that the generation after mine just refused to use those medical terms. Little Ruby has decided she is done with diapers. So you can imagine we are talking a lot about this stuff. It is as simple a fact of her little life as eating Cheerios and watching Yo Gaba Gaba. She has taken to putting three or four or five pair of princess panties on at once. The layered look.
So I’ve been with my grandkids a lot lately, which is great. I am tired, though. My head is tired. And my bones. I was standing in the bathroom at John and Ashley’s yesterday, waiting for Ruby to go potty. Tinkle, to be exact. Pee, as she put it. “I go pee!”
She insisted that she had to do more than pee though, and she sat there on the toilet swirling her feet in little circles, humming a little tune, pointing to Mommy’s shampoo and Daddy’s shaving stuff and telling me what it was and to whom it all belonged. I stood there 15 minutes waiting. Tried to lift her off at least half a dozen times but she clamped her legs around the porcelain bowl and screamed bloody murder that she wasn’t done, so I relented. Over and over. It was nap time, and she had been zipped into the tent covering her crib once already. “Potty! Potty!”, she screamed from her room; and since I was on the team designated to help her learn, I went in her room and unzipped the net over her crib that keeps her from climbing out. She stood there in her crib, buck naked, her nose dripping from crying, with a victorious grin on her face. I gathered her clothes, including the dry pull-up she had been wearing when I put her down, and placed them on her changing table. I carried her into the bathroom and set her on the toilet, her little legs straddling that big bowl. Her knees just barely reached the rim. Ruby is only two years old. She is yet young to be doing this.
When Ruby decides something, watch out! So I stood there in front of her in the bathroom. Waiting. Waiting. She had already gone tinkle. As I repeatedly tried to remove her and put her back to bed she dug in her figurative heels deeper and deeper. That little beast that lives behind my right kidney started climbing up my esophagus, ready to burst out with some not so nice verbiage. I thought that monster had been conquered in my “maturity”. I realize now it just has not been beckoned forth by little childish demands. He is alive and well and living in ME! Sad. I have an image to uphold! I am GUMMY! I am thinking it is not good for our grandmother-grandchild relationship to have this much intimate time together, at least not when Gummy has an eternally throbbing headache. I finally pulled her kicking and screaming from the potty, forced her twisting hips to let me put the pull-up back on, and put the closest dirty shirt on her so she wouldn’t freeze. I wrapped her in her blankie, tucked her pale pink elephant “Ellie” in her arm, handed her her Bah-Bah and rocked her to sleep. Rocked us both to sleep.
I woke a few minutes later in the darkness of the room, the afternoon light barely diffusing from the edges of her soft pink curtains. I awoke with this image in my head.
The roll of toilet paper.
I woke thinking about the roll of toilet paper Ruby kept pointing to there in the Battle of the Bathroom. And this is what I was thinking as I shifted back and forth in that rocker in Ruby’s room.
I remembered years ago, on a hot summer afternoon, sitting in my own bathroom, tears streaming down my raw salt-worn cheeks. We had answered the call, the one we all have nightmares about receiving, on that sunny summer afternoon, having just returned from our family vacation in Michigan. We had sobbed and groaned and clutched our own empty chests; turned to each other and embraced, our pulsing shoulders throbbing against each other as we walked into the valley of the shadow of death and began the long painful process of grieving.
Mom Connors was dead. Grandma Connors. Helen. She had died in a car accident after dropping us off at the Saginaw airport. It was a truth that kept trying to chisel its way into our heads, but we could not allow it in. Logic told us to process it. Our hearts refused.
I found privacy and thinking space in the bathroom. I remember sitting there looking at the roll of toilet paper beside me. I remember distinctly thinking that the last time we used this she was alive and vibrant, her soft warm arms thrown out to her grandchildren, her loving eyes catching the gaze of her second son. I remember resisting using that roll of paper, thinking that if we left it the way it was time might have stood still where we left it before leaving for Michigan. I sat there a long time. Weeping. How dare the sun dip into the lake to the west of us, the world keep spinning, neighbor children keep playing out in the yard? The world should stop, out of respect if nothing else! Shouldn’t everything stop? For just a minute at least.
And yet I felt my body doing what it has done from birth. I got thirsty. And hungry. And tired. Just like it did when she was alive and well. And life-giving water processed through my body like it always had. The water I had ingested in Michigan processed through in Utah, just like nothing had happened. It just did not seem right.
Finally, I felt an overwhelming peace come to me. Right there on the toilet. God, I guess, is no respecter of people or places. I felt the warm embracing arms of faith come round me, like some angel had picked me up and wrapped me in my heavenly blankie and was willing to rock me to sleep.
It’s ok. It’s more than ok, it’s comforting to know this old earth will continue spinning, spinning, spinning. It will spin when I am gone, too. Indeed, we pause in the misty dusk of grief when we lose those we love. We pause sometimes for a long, long time. Still, the ebb and flow of life goes on around us. We think it disrespectful, when in fact it is wholly and completely respectful. We are only here for a little while. This is temporary. It is not an unimportant thing that we are here, true. But it was designed to be temporary. The earth will turn with or without us. People will drive past us when we go out to get the mail and they will have things on their mind that are important to them, but they will have no idea our world has just turned upside down. The same shows will play on TV; same clocks will rotate their arms at the same steady pace. All this says, in repeated choruses of daily existence, that we are meant to move on. We jump in, then we jump out, like Sophie in her jump rope games. The rope keeps turning, up then down, slapping against the days of all life. We enter, then we exit, and the rhythm continues without us.
I will one day jump out myself, and Ruby will take my place with her own grand-daughter. She will perhaps stand there as frustrated as I, waiting for her to go “pee”. And I, in the meantime, will hover over…up high….way high above her, and chuckle from my heaven place.