Let's Clean This Up Together: a metaphor taken way too far
The other night, as I was reading Tim’s post about how we all need to act together to clean up the metaphorical poop being smeared on America’s walls, my husband asked for my help cleaning up an actual night-time preschooler pee accident. I jumped right in and we worked as a perfect team. He cleaned up the cold, crying kid and got dry pjs, while I pulled off the bedding to soak before washing in the morning.
My husband and I don’t always function so seamlessly, even working toward a shared goal. I can’t count how many late afternoons we text each other to figure out who is picking up the kids and what we’re having for dinner that night. But there’s something about that night-time pee accident which enables us to function at our best. And I think there’s something here that might help us address all the figurative poop to clean up in our country.
I’m not a partisan, and I’m not driven by seeing “my party” rack up wins or “the other party” rack up losses. That’s why we have college sports. For me, the priority is the lives of everyone in the country. So while the politicians and partisans fire their head coach and watch old game tapes, to figure out what they’ll do differently next season, I want to address the health, safety, and happiness of people around me. To roll up my sleeves and clean up the poop.
To that end, I want to talk about a few issues that need to be addressed so that we can all get started - whatever our political affiliation.
I love taking a metaphor a little too far, so let’s push this poop thing further than we should. (My two kids were potty trained between 1 and 5 years ago, so I’m really, really comfortable talking about pee, poop, and all the other yucky things that small kids emit. If you’d rather not read a really extended pee/poop/barf metaphor, you should probably stop now.)
If you’re still reading, here are some factors that may be influencing the way we move to clean up the pain, fear, and physical threats around us.
Do we all see/feel/smell the poop?
There are lots of reasons we might not see poop. If my husband said our older child had a pee accident, I might not have believed him at first - that’s a rare event anymore. Tim sees poop with some frequency working in a children's psychiatric unit, but I would be truly shocked if someone smeared poop on the wall at my administrative office. I would be so shocked that I might come up with a different explanation for the mess. (Is that chocolate? Definitely melted chocolate!) If I came back from vacation and a coworker told me a story about poop on the wall, it would be extremely hard for me to believe.
If someone who lives in a different context than you tells you about new and unexpected threats and danger, will you believe them or try to create an alternate explanation? Maybe those reports from liberal college campuses of anti-Semitic graffiti and attacks on Muslim students are just exaggerations from people looking for attention or trying to make a point. The sooner we can break out of shock and move to action, the sooner we can get this poop cleaned up!
Are we all bothered by the poop?
Babies emit a lot of yucky fluids. So many yucky fluids. When my kids were babies, pee seemed fine compared to all the other messes I was cleaning up. Pee was just not my biggest worry, and I might leave it for a while. Puke, however, makes me gag and has to be cleaned thoroughly ASAP. If possible, by someone else. Puke will always outrank pee as I clean messes.
Are you personally affected by the increasing rate of verbal, written, and physical attacks based on race, religion, country of origin, and more? If not, are you ignoring these attacks because you have a big mess right in front of you? What are the implications for our broader community if we never clean up this mess, and it gets bigger? Even when we’re cleaning up puke, how can we remember that we also have to deal with the issues that just seem like ‘pee’ to us?
Do we know how to clean the poop? Do we have the right tools?
At this stage in my parenting career, I am an expert on how to clean bedding. I know that a pillow protector may be a little wet, but not the pillow underneath, so I check them separately. I know that putting a pillow in with lots of sheets may keep our washer from spinning out excess water. I know where in the house to hang the mattress protector so it will dry quickly. And I can do this all while half asleep.
I wouldn’t even know where to start cleaning poop at work. Where would I look for cleaning supplies? Would I even find the right kind of cleaner to get the poop smell out of the carpet?
I know groups in my community doing good work on homelessness, education, health care. I haven’t had to look for groups working to bring the community together and reduce personal threats and violence, or support freedom of the press, among other new concerns. These issues are so urgent, and I don’t know what groups to support. How can I be effective? How can I clean this mess?
It’s not that these tools don’t exist - it’s just that a lot of us are going to have to find them and start giving them our time, money and support if we want them to be effective.
If you listen closely to stories from other people, you might find the groups on the front line. In a news article about an attack on a Muslim student at our local university, CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) played an important support and advocacy role. Can I support them with my time and money? What organizations do they partner with, and can I support those organizations too?
Suddenly, there’s just so much poop! Where do we start?
Every new parent has a story about that one, incredibly bad diaper change. Maybe more than one. I’ll spare you the details, but I have some awful memories from an airport restroom. It took me a few minutes to even figure out where to start cleaning.
A year ago, before this election cycle escalated to such threatening rhetoric, there were lots of problems to be solved. It seemed insurmountable to increase access to affordable housing, living wage jobs, clean air and water, quality education, and unbiased police and justice systems. Now there are additional official and unofficial threats to so many groups of people, as well as a lot of uncertainty around freedom of the press, international relations, stability of healthcare and social security, and so much more. I felt overwhelmed last year, and it’s gotten much worse.
But like every other seemingly insurmountable task, we have to start somewhere. And it’s better with a friend. The first time I faced down a pee-soaked bed in the middle of the night, I didn’t know where to start. (Seriously - how does one small bladder hold so much pee?) No matter how tired I was, I didn’t want to ignore my cold, wet, crying child, and I didn’t want to let that pee smell build up in my house. So with trial and error, and a great cleaning partner, I got better and better at cleaning up this mess.
The poop is real. If it’s not impacting you now, it will soon. And it’s definitely impacting someone else in our national community. So find somewhere to start, figure out what tools you can use, and get to work. And definitely bring a friend.
Since this is new to so many of us, consider leaving your favorite poop cleaning resources in the comments. We can all get started faster if we work together.
And just to be clear, I mean metaphorical poop cleaning. Not literal poop.