The Poo Painter

Art.  A beautiful reflection of the human soul.  It can move us to tears.  It can cause joy to well up inside of us.  It can cause us to experience something almost divine and awaken us to the realisation that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves.  The artist can use many mediums to express the inexpressible.  And sometimes the choice of medium causes us, the viewer, to have a new insight and appreciation for art.  But what if the choice of medium is poo?

It was back in those beautiful days of early parenthood.  Just one child.  One child who still slept in a crib and couldn’t climb out of that crib.  We could wake at a reasonable hour and wander down to Sam’s room, ready to pick up our very huggable bundle of one-year-old cuteness and chatter on about how great it was to have a new day…until the day said cuteness discovered poo as a desirable medium for crib art.

The Poo Painter, age 1

The Poo Painter, age 1

I was horrified.  His room reeked.  His hands, face and hair were covered…with poo.  The sides of the crib were coated.  Sheets and blankets had received their fair share of daubing.  Even the walls were not immune.  He had obviously been enjoying himself.  Mummy may have uttered a few choice epithets.  Realising his predicament, Sam started crying and held out his chubby little arms wanting me to pick him up and hug him.  Not to be, buddy.  I picked him up at arm’s length, turning my head to try and avoid the rank smell getting into my nostrils and marched him down to the shower, expostulating the whole way.  I recruited my husband who took it upon himself to start the clean-up process in Sam’s room.  It is not easy to get poo off a squirming toddler.  Running a shower over a poo smeared body does not result in nice easy removal.  No, poo dries and sticks.  You have to get your hands dirty to get it off.  Gross.

I thought it would be a one off.  But, no.  Pint-sized Picasso had discovered his favoured art medium.  Over the coming weeks, we faced poo art several times a week.  After a few episodes, my husband and I were like a Poo Swat Team.  “Right, I’ll clean the kid.”  “And, I’ll clean the room.”

I wondered what diabolical mental illness my child was harbouring and researched on the web.  This latest escapade was not something I was inclined to boast of to my mummy friends.  Google received such entries as “toddler playing with poo”, “poo smearing”, “how to stop your child playing with poo”.  I struck gold one day when I found a whole forum devoted to this topic.  I was not the only one with a monster child who repeatedly dipped into his full diaper and smeared the contents over himself and his surroundings.  My favourite response on this forum was a young woman who dobbed in her brother as a poo painter in his toddlerhood.  He had grown to respectable adulthood and now held a PhD.  And was relatively normal.  I found out something else too – poo play is not a sign of depravity or mental illness.  No, toddlers see poo as little different to play dough – a nice squishy substance they can manipulate and mould.

But how to stop it.  There were many suggestions, from gaffer taped nappies to giving your child opportunity to play with other substances such as mud and play dough, to remaining calm and unemotional when confronted with a poo smeared toddler and telling them,”Poo is yucky.  We don’t play with poo”.  The best suggestion was to put your child in a long legged onesie, but to put it on back to front so they couldn’t access their diaper.  I purchased a black and white striped number.  He looked just like a cute little jail bird.  And it worked.  Poo play came to an end…for the time being.

We were blessed with yet another period of poo play when baby number 2 arrived.  Sam took the opportunity during ‘nap time’ to play with poo in his room, now at age two.  It was gross.  I wondered how long it would last.  But it passed.  Yet another glorious phase of parenthood survived.  And I swore I would keep these tales alive and well for his 21st birthday!

(NB. Sam has since moved onto more acceptable mediums for art work, favouring collage and painting.  I have since met another mum whose child also went through this delightful phase.  We are now in recovery mode, having formed our own support group – POPPA – Parents of Poo Painters Anonymous.)

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Why does this baby only have one eye?

Inevitably our children will ask us difficult questions at times.  Sometimes it is hard to give a good answer.  Occasionally we will ask our own children difficult questions.  And sometimes they will surprise us with their answers.

Sam is our oldest boy.  He is very sweet and compassionate.  He is also very curious about the way things work and why things are the way they are.  When Sam was five years old, we went to China.  It was a family trip.  We were going to visit friends who worked with children who had disabilities in an orphanage and to be a part of their work for a week.  China itself is confronting.  Visiting an orphanage where every child has some form of disability is very confronting.

Yet, Sam made no difference.  There were children in wheelchairs, some using crutches or frames, some with twisted limbs or with missing fingers.  And into this mix ran Sam, eager to interact with the children and be a part of their games.  One afternoon, Sam had disappeared.  It was after lunch when the children usually had a nap in their dorms.  I found Sam in one of the boys’ dorms racing around playing Star Wars.  He was shooting an imaginary gun and calling out, “Pow, pow!  Ping, ping!”  One tiny little boy on a walking frame lifted up his hand to make an imaginary gun too and returned fire,”Ping, ping!”  They were both having a great time.

There was a babies unit where we took Sam to visit.  Sam loves babies, adores them.  He can’t go past one in the park or at the shops without running up to smile, chat, play or do his crazy baby dance designed to cause any baby to smile and laugh at him.  He usually makes the mums smile as well by telling them, “Your baby is sooo cute.”

Sam was a frequent flier at the babies unit.  It was here that we met a 14 month old baby named Alec.  He was beautiful.  He had thick black hair and the loveliest smile.  He would wriggle and giggle when we interacted with him.  Sam loved him.  But he did notice a difference.  “Mummy, why does this baby only have one eye?”  A difficult question.  I replied,”He was just born that way.”  Sam, deeply concerned asked,”When will his other eye grow?”  An even more difficult question.  This time I said,”It won’t.”  Sam simply said,”Mummy, can we pray for this baby?”  “Of course we can.”  Sam immediately laid a hand on baby Alec and prayed, asking God to make his other eye grow.  For months afterwards, Sam continued to pray for Alec.  We all loved Alec and wished we could take him home as part of our family.  Sam saw Alec had only one eye and with his childlike faith believed that God could do something significant in Alec’s life.

Alec

Alec

Sam wanted to know why Alec only had one eye.  It reminds me of the story where Jesus and his disciples walk past a blind man and his disciples ask,”Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”  They were trying to figure out why he was born blind.  Jesus gave them this answer,”Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:2-4).  Jesus healed the man.  His sight was restored.  This man came to believe that Jesus was the Son of God and went on to tell many people about what Jesus had done for him.

Sam’s younger brother, Noah is three and has a condition known as Childhood Apraxia of Speech.  It means that Noah has a lot of difficulty speaking.  He understands what is said to him and even knows what he wants to say.  But his brain is unable to send signals to the muscles of the mouth, tongue and palate to tell them how to move when he tries to speak.  Sam loves his little brother.  He has asked why Noah can’t talk much and I have explained as best I could.  He prays for Noah as well, asking God to help him to be able to talk.  One night I asked Sam how he felt about Noah not being able to talk much.  His answer floored me.  He said,”I don’t mind.  I like him just the way he is.  He’s cute.”

And there we have it.  So much of the time we focus on the question,”What caused this?” when it comes to illness or disability.  And it’s a useful question in its place.   It’s also a question than can get in the way, especially if we look to blame ourselves or someone or something for the illness or disability of a loved one.  We can also get stuck focussing on the difficulties of disability and the limitations it can bring to a person’s life.  But perhaps we can look at things from a different perspective, simply accepting the person as they are, created by God, loved by God and living a life through which God can show His glory.  Sam was able to do this with Alec and also with his own brother, Noah.  And he is teaching me to do this too, simply accepting Noah as he is and trusting God for the rest.

So, why was Noah born with apraxia of speech?  I can honestly say I don’t think about causes or why very much, because it can be heart wrenching.  But, I can picture Jesus saying,”This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in Noah.”  And that is comforting, amazing, wonderful.