When I was a third grade teacher, I took my class on a field trip to a dance performance. The children were sitting in their seats under strict instructions to be quiet and I was kind of spacing out (I’m not a huge fan of dance) when I noticed one of my students trying to get my attention. I held my finger to my lips and tried to get him to sit back down but he was insistent. There was something he needed to give me. Fine. Whatever. If it would make him sit down, I’d take whatever he had. It was probably some fuzz from his sweater or a Cheerio he found in his pocket. It wasn’t.
It was a booger. A really big, gross booger. And it was in my hand. I’ll repeat that. It was In. My. Hand. The kid was going back to his seat, transaction completed. And I was sitting there holding his dried up mucus. “Wait!” I hissed, breaking my own rules and not even really sure what I was going to say. “We don’t hand our mucus to other people!” And I ran out of the theater to wash my hands. Eight million times.
Fast-forward about fifteen years and I’m crouched over my two-year-old son, picking his nose. He has a cold and he hasn’t yet learned to blow his own nose. He’s lying on the floor dutifully looking up at the ceiling while I pull enormous boogers out of his nostrils. Whenever I get one out we examine it together, wrinkle our noses and say “Eeeew!”
And just yesterday, my son and I stood in the bathroom peering curiously into the toilet at his poop. “It’s brown,” he said. “And big.” “Yup,” I said. “Ready to flush?” “Ready!” “Bye-bye poop!” we said together.
Clearly, my threshold for this kind of thing has changed. My toddler is a walking gross-out machine. If it’s not mucus, it’s poop, if it’s not poop, it’s pee. If it’s not some bodily function that really ought to be kept private, it’s dirt from the playground or a piece of chewed-up gum he found on the sidewalk. Nothing is too disgusting for him to want to touch. In fact, the grosser it is the more interesting it seems to him. These days, it’s not “We don’t hand our mucus to other people,” but rather, “Please hand me your mucus” (or whatever other gross thing he’s holding). It sure beats the alternative.
It’s not that I suddenly enjoy dealing with all this stuff. And I definitely look forward to a time when he can blow his own nose and use the bathroom in private. But it really doesn’t phase me anymore at all. If that kid from my class tried to hand me his booger today, I don’t think it would even register. Just one more to add to the collection. (Just for the record, I don’t actually have a booger collection. In case you were thinking of writing to me and telling me about yours or something.)
The thing of it is, my son was so much grosser a year ago than he is now. A potty full of pee, or an unidentified object slipped into my hand seem like nothing at all at this point. I used to be covered, literally from head to toe, in spit-up. There used to be poop in my hair. I used to slip in puddles of drool on the floor. This: this is nothing.
So, we’re moving in the right direction. One day, maybe, I won’t have to discuss the physical properties of poop. Or I’ll be able to simply hand my son a tissue when he has a cold. I mean, though I’m inured to it all now, I still think I gave that kid good advice all those years ago. “We don’t hand our mucus to other people.” Something to strive for.