Back in those heady days at college — before engagement, before marriage, and before Fin — I helped Deirdre through a stressful study session by reading her Freud on feces. We were in a classroom, it was late at night and late in finals week, and she was fritzed, near tears. I cast about comic relief, pulled Freud from the room's Great Books set, and regaled her with fulminations on children's delight in the creation of poop and their subsequent repression following parental scoldings. In her punchy, overworked state, she found the subject ripe. She laughed and laughed, oblivious of what was to come.
What came was Fin, and with Fin, poop. His intial offerings were meconium, greenish-black, thick and sticky as tar. As soon as we got his diaper off, he dunked one foot and then the other into the mess, leading me to dub him a more colorful version of Finian Poopfoot. A few days ago, he stood in his crib next to my desk, hanging onto the rail, bouncing and chattering, naked and perfect. There is nothing cuter than a naked baby, until he poops. Then he is just an undiapered baby.
It's a visceral topic, baby messiness. As with sex and violence in movies, a gut reaction is guaranteed. And mopping up is perhaps the least subtle aspect of parenting. Nevertheless, it is a big aspect and so deserves some mention. Besides, Freud might have been on to more than I gave him credit for that night. Maybe excretions do signify. Maybe Fin communicates with the world by launching at it.
I am protected from revulsion, both in dealing with and writing about this topic, by the fact that Fin is my baby. This protection is real and powerful, and no one should avoid having children just because they're messy — I don't love Fin any less for his ways. He is unconstrained, not only physically, but morally. He cannot control his sphincter, and he has no interested in doing so. He is unaware of his effect on others. His behavior is innocent, but it still might be unpleasant to read about.
Fin the excreter has several incarnations. We have met poop boy. Now for snot boy. I don't remember when Fin got his first cold. I do remember Deirdre staring at him after he sneezed and exclaiming, "Twin towers!" My stare followed hers, and I beheld two pillars of bright-green snot, applied as if by pastry bag from Fin's nostrils to his chin. I know a walrus's tusks originate in its mouth, but walrus tusks are what came to mind.
Fin is protective of his snot. The tissue has become for him like fire for man — both treasured gift and mortal enemy. From the first days of grabbing things and stuffing them into his mouth, he has been a billy goat — he loves nothing so much as paper, the flimsier the better. Tissues are therefor highly prized, and now that he's mobile, he fishes them out of wastebaskets, a practice that involves parental snot, and so turns even a parental stomach. We snatch them away amid howls of protest.
Prized though they are, tissues are also used in the swift pinching motion that cleanses the region between nostril and upper lip; they are the tool that lets me pilfer what Fin has produced. When he sees one coming, he throws his head back in an initial dodge, creating space between him and his opponent. He then has room to swing his chin along his chest from shoulder to shoulder, shielding his nose with his hands, smearing snot between his fingers, across his face, up toward his eyes. When Da wins, as he always does, Fin cries. A part of him is gone forever.
As I say, Fin is protective of his snot, protective in direct proportion to my desire to remove it. He reads its greenness in my face and struggles all the harder. I have an easier time with the clear stuff brought on by teething. My friend Matt marvels that a process as natural as any other can bring on gushing noses, fevers, green slimy poops, and, as he puts it, "baby meltdown" Teething has also increased Fin's desire to chew, and he bobs his mouth against my shoulder when I hold him, thus dabbing my shirt with his nose. The shiny slime he leaves makes me look like a perch for slugs.
In close connection to snot boy is drool boy. Finian's drool resembles glycerin in its gelatinous clinginess, sea scum in its foaminess, and egg white in the way a tentacle will stretch from some surface to his lower lip, suspended, sparkling in the light. There are still scars on Deirdre's psyche from the morning she woke up to find Fin's face hovering over hers, mouth open, gurgling, a mass of drool beginning its slippery descent from several places on his cheeks and chin. The foam appears when Fin makes raspberries, raspberries that mimic a playing card against the spokes of a bicycle wheel.
Rin's grossatating (a word from childhood, the meaning of which has since deepened) triumph in the realm of spittle came when he deposited a puddle of it ont he kitchen floor, then rubbed the top of his head in the puddle. His hair was '50s click. Why did he do it? Why indeed.
Most alarming is cheese boy. Cheese is my friend Ernie's euphemism for regurgitated breast milk. The milk is accompanied by what I assume are digestive fluids, and though Fin is unfazed by the warm, white-flecked goop spilling from his mouth, we can't ignore it. Simultaneously liquid and solid, like mercury, it slides its way around a while before sticking and sending its sour reek toward our noses. Though we have both been cheesed, only Deirdre has become a cheesehead.
Less disturbing, but still worth noting, is Fin's penchant for the potty. Leaving the kitchen, toilet boy makes his first move slowly, waiting for the "No!" to sound in his ears. This time, it doesn't come. He breaks for the bathroom, all tentativeness gone from his crawl, only to find the lid down. No matter, there's still the bathroom off the master bedroom. Off he goes, and if the lid is up, or if we don't get there first, he stands and splashes in a happy trance, his face lit from within.