Before I had my first child, one of my biggest fears was taking him to the bathroom at a sporting event. While other men worried about midnight feedings and dropping a baby on his head, I fretted over a trip to one of the satellite offices of Germ Industries.
Flash forward to Benjamin's first pro baseball game. With the sun shining and the home team winning, I was in heaven as I sat with my three-year-old, cracking peanut shells. In the eighth inning, Benjamin finished his lemonade, jumped up, and did the "pee dance." My stomach dropped.
"If you can wait, we'll be home in a half-hour," I lied.
Benjamin's eyes nearly crossed as he held it all in. So I walked him up the stairs as if approaching the door to Linda Blair's room in The Exorcist, and entered the eighth-level of hell.
As we moved through an oppressive crowd of beer-drenched guys, Benjamin bee-lined for the urine "trough" and was about to reach his hand in to play with the deodorizing cakes when I pulled him back with enough force to make him cry. After calming him down, we got in line for a toilet, and waited an eternity in the hot, pungent room.
Once inside a stall, Benjamin was awed by the double toilet-paper dispenser, the sanitary seat covers, and the cool oval-shaped toilet seat.
"Don't - touch - ANY - THING!" I bellowed, startling him again.
"OK, but I have to go poopie," he said pitifully.
With every obsessive-compulsive alarm shouting at me, I cleaned the puddles off the seat with toilet paper. Disgusted, I pulled him out of the stall to quickly wash my hands, and returned to find another man using our toilet. He soon left, but I went back in to find -- the seat newly sprayed!
At this point, I lost all sense of decorum. I wiped the seat, pulled out a tissue cover, and sat my son down. Frankly, Benjamin could care less about the microbes attacking us from all sides. He just did his business, asking questions about baseball, monkeys, and hot dog condiments.
When we finally left, only a half-inning had expired, but I felt strangely different. I realized no one was going to die of bacterial infection and there was a ballgame to watch with my son.
Parenthood has changed my attitude toward a lot of things I once considered too disgusting to handle. Now on my third infant, I barely notice yellowish-brown poop splotches on my sleeve and wear spit-up like a badge of honor. The cheesy white stuff on the back of my black T-shirt says, "Nothing grosses me out -- I'm a father."
I used to wince at seeing adults clean boogers with flimsy tissues, but now I willingly offer my sleeve to wipe my kids' noses. My wife goes one better. In the middle of a charming musical performance at school, Jacob (3) let out a sneeze that would've made the old whale in Pinocchio proud. And there, for all to see, was a drooping trail of snot that had the parents in the audience repelled and giggling. Without hesitation, Wendy ran up to the stage and wiped her little guy's nose clean with her bare hand!
All that mucous is nothing compared to my pre-parenthood fear of long-tailed, disease-ridden rats. I had nightmares of having to climb through infested attics to change traps and meet angry rodent relatives. Well, a few weeks back, I was pulling into my driveway when my sister, visiting with her family, waved to me from the front door. Not realizing that she was warning and not greeting, I rolled into my parking spot -- right over the carcass of a dead rat. The popping sound alone was enough to make me cringe. Worse was having to clean up the carnage without looking like the total ninny that I felt like.
My brother-in-law, Tim, himself a little shy about rat entrails, volunteered to help me dispose of the unfortunate creature. His bravery had the same motivation as mine. We wanted to show our kids that things like this just happen and can be handled without freaking out like some weak contestant on Fear Factor. So, Tim scooped up the deceased while I held the body bag and hosed the remains down the driveway.
Before children, I would have hired a specialist to get rid of a dead rat and called a Hazardous Materials team to change a diaper. But I've changed for the better. By handling guts and germs without publicly cringing, I'm teaching my kids not to fear these little disgusting parts of life. I'd rather they fear strangers, oncoming cars, and hot stoves than microorganisms and natural body functions. Yeah, I'm one tough daddy now -- just don't ask me to clean a high chair. Now THAT's gross.
© 2005 Gregory Keer. All rights reserved.