We’re heading back to Australia tomorrow for our two-week “summer holiday”. I’m led to believe it tops out at about 7 degrees most days in Melbourne at the moment, which will not be a welcome change from the 30 or so we’re enjoying currently in Hong Kong. Also unwelcome is the fact that all our winter clothes, in storage here for the past six months, are covered in mould from the tropical humidity, so we’re going to roll into Tullamarine in shin-length trackpants (the kids) and inappropriate summer dresses/shorts (the adults).
Our fortnight will be packed with exciting times, chief of which will be meeting my newborn niece for the first time (of which more later). Probably the least exciting thing we will do will be the kids’ appointments at the Maternal and Child Health Centre. Oh right and we’re also getting our tax done, which I guess will be less exciting, but the MCHC appointment will be right down there in anticipation, particularly as it involves IMMUNISATIONS.
I’m preparing myself for the trauma of getting two kids immunised at the same time by calibrating it against the memory of past bad times at the MCHC. And I remembered the time I had to put a poo in my handbag. And now the jabs aren’t going to be so hard to deal with.
The shit went down when Rufus had his 18-month check-up. I’m convinced these “check-ups” exist mainly so the government can get their hands on statistical data about the race, though ostensibly they are to allay parental concerns regarding feeding, sleeping, social abilities, motor skill development, and over-large craniums (in our case). One’s child gets poked, prodded, measured, tested and standardised across a gamut of skill sets we’re otherwise told are completely arbitrary. “Every child is different”, sure, but they get a big “A” for absent if they can’t exhibit, for example, ‘scribbling with palmar grasp’.
So basically it’s a bit of a crock, but nonetheless induces a certain regrettable performance anxiety on the part of the parent – that competitive instinct you were sure you would be able to suppress and, having failed to do so, resignedly (but excitedly) extrapolate out to the performance of four parts of a violin concerto at Grade 1 assembly, winning the 14th season of Idol, and graduating Year 12 dux.
For the hour you’re with the Maternal and Child Health nurse, you want your little gem to outshine his peers and rise meteorically above the standard percentiles in ‘early pretend play’, ‘use of 5-10 words’, ‘fine pincer grip’, ‘descension of testes’ and ‘closure of fontanelle’. Bad.
My need for this validation was particularly acute that day since it was our first visit to our local centre, having moved municipalities since our previous check-up. Rufus’s pre-appointment nap had been lengthy and refreshing, his disposition was cheerful and engaging, he was loaded up on complex carbohydrate obtained from a natural source (banana), and I’d combed his hair deceptively at the back to cover that bit where I started giving him a haircut last week but fucked it up and stopped after two curls, giving him the appearance of having an asymmetrical jaw. Whatev, my home barbery almost saved us $8. (Never mind that it cost us an additional $20 at a real hairdresser to fix the damage.)
My fears were concurrently reduced and heightened when we arrived at the centre. It was immediately clear that the nurse in our new area, Irma, was an intelligent, accomplished professional, unlike the old dumb-arse at our previous centre whose advice on everything centered around home ‘remedies’ all utilising a broth made from the water used to boil vegetables. Or making the baby wear more jumpers, or get more fresh air.
Oh that’s right, the poo. Circular narrative ahoy.
The motor skill part of the examination being nearly complete, Rufus was tasked finally with making a tower out of little wooden blocks. Should he be successful, he would be rewarded with some hundreds’n’thousands. This seemed an oddly dangerous choice of treat to me; I assumed it served the double purpose of the child having to exhibit their dragee grip or something. But still, not an ideal snack for a toddler. Luckily at that time, having only one child and the associated earnest effort, I always carried a flask of boiled-vegetable-water broth in my bag to dislodge any gullet obstruction Rufus may suffer. Mmm barley water.
However, the blocks didn’t tempt him, and nor did the hundreds’n’thousands: he kept wanting to sit down and read the book from the previous task again. It had in it a duck, some shoes, a ball AND a flower, so fair enough. I conjured up a question about immunisation and loudly asked it of Irma while speedily constructing the tower myself as she consulted some medical propaganda booklet for the answer. The tower I’d sleightly made stood sturdily, and I waited quietly for praise to be showered down on Rufus. Then suddenly the air was broken by a piercing shriek and a foul malodorous stench. A sure sign Rufus was packing his dacks, at an unscheduled and irregular time of day for him.
After much unseemly grunting and straining, the job was done, and Irma required me to change Rufus in a small anteroom prior to the examination continuing. As I did so, I congratulated myself on having a fresh nappy in my bag. Usually Rufus’s poo schedule was so predictable, I never carried a spare nappy with me for short visits such as to the Maternal and Child Health Centre. On this occasion I had happened to grab a spare one at the last minute on the way out because I knew there was usually a part of the examination where the child must be naked, and if he’d done a little wee, he shouldn’t have to put the partly wet nappy back on, what. Oh good parenting. But normally I wouldn’t have bothered to put one in my bag.
So I stripped Rufus off, arrogant in my supreme preparation, congratulated him on the firm ball of poo which was so neat it didn’t even require any wiping (luckily, because I hadn’t brought any baby wipes), wrapped the tidy (if outsized) turd in the nappy and put it discreetly in my handbag for later disposal. (Though the gov want all your child’s stats, surprisingly they don’t want a poo sample, and you have to take all soiled nappies home).
We returned to Irma’s office and the examination resumed. No sooner had Rufus been rewarded for “his” tower of blocks than a vile odour, three times as offensive as the one pertaining to the previous rectal activity (though perhaps that was still lingering, compounding the rankness), rushed into my nostrils. Even Irma blanched slightly (yet professionally and intelligently, and with no mention of barley water or bracing weather). She requested I change him again.
At that point it was my turn to almost void my bowels, for I alone was privy to the knowledge that I had only bought one nappy. Irma, intelligence and professionalism withstanding, had been fooled by the artful deceit of my veneer of accomplished parenting, well-practised as it is, and naturally assumed I’d bought many spare nappies, some eucalyptus-scented disposal bags, and an assortment of bum powers and creams. Instead of owning up, I again carried Rufus into the antechamber and stripped him off. Imagine my dismay to see his entire undercarriage was smeared with that vile squishy almost diarrhoeal matter that invariably contains a corn kernel, two peas and a sultana, and seeps greenly in rings around the baby’s thigh fat rolls. I stood rooted in indecision, one hand holding my son’s legs together and up in the air away from his rancid arse-end, the other foraging vainly in my handbag for the baby wipes I knew weren’t there. Or a sock or a chocolate-bar wrapper or a leaf. The search yielded nought but keys and my eelskin purse what cost too many dollars to be used as a toilet paper substitute.
I popped my head back into Irma’s office, laughing casually as I plucked some tissues from a handy box on the shelf, and, out of eyesight again, sweated tensely as I spat on one of them and tried to staunch the filthy spread. I was saved – and yet crucified – by Irma calling out to me not to bother dressing him as she wanted to weigh and measure him naked at that point anyhow. I wiped Rufus off as best I could, carried him against my hip with nary a thought for the unpleasant poo stain he left on my shirt, and put him down on the measuring table. He smelled terrible, but I thought I could get away with his soiled lower region since they’re meant to be measured with their legs together. But of course Irma had to have a good feel of his testes and separated his legs bandily to do so. She momentarily peered sideways at me but didn’t say anything as she took in his stained legs, made her measurements and wrote her notes. I made a big show about picking him up and announcing loudly to him in babytalk that we were going back into the other room to finish changing him now that he was a big boy who had finished his examination.
To whit, three options presented themselves:
1. Let him go home nappiless (ba-bowwww, since he was on his last pair of clean pants already – whoo, competent parenting AND laundering!).
2. Put him back in the diarrhoeal nap (ba-bowwww, shit was DISGUSTING).
3. Clean out the first poo nap as best I could under the constraints and put it back on him.
So you know I scooped that stinking turd out of the first nappy with my bare hand, dropped it in my handbag, squashed the diarrhoea nap in on top of it, then the manky tissues, zipped the lot up, put the half-soiled nappy back on Rufus, made a detour past Irma to collect our report, and exited the centre in a noxious and expeditious cloud. For those who have child welfare concerns, we lived only 5 minutes from the centre so Rufus was fresh as a daisy again quicker than, according to his report, he could say “cat dog mama dada spoon bottle toot-toot”.
This protracted shit-related incident is easily the worst I’ve experienced between the two kids, and that includes the time I neglected to re-nap Rufus again quick enough, and while I was at the other end of the house fetching new pants, leaving him bare-bottomed in the laundry, he laid many eggs and put them all in the washing machine. And the time I had a bath with Zadie and she shit on my lap. And the time she was having a wash in the trough and stood up and backed one out in the hand I awkwardly put out for the purpose, not really knowing what else to do.
My kids are surely in the 98th percentile for bad poo times. Or else I’m in the 98th percentile for SHIT PARENTING.
Either way, I’m pretty sure the immunisations are going to be a breeze this Monday. A nice, refreshing breeze.