How's that for a come-back title?
I treated myself to a day-long permaculture intensive a few weeks ago and one of the opening comments was a remark upon our culture's phobia of poop and death, pretty much in that order. To give you some context, this was part of a discussion of the permaculture principle of Produce No Waste, and one of the facilitators emphasized how far our society has strayed from this principle. Poop, specifically human poop, is treated like a contaminant, flushed away and forgotten, done in small, locked rooms, denied any possibility of re-entering our ecosystem as anything other than a sewage spill. Dead bodies fare no better. And we disregard the simple compostability of these nitrogen-rich materials, she suggested, out of taboo and fear approaching loathing. Ha! I thought; just come over to my house. All day long, poop talk. All day long, discussion of mortality, decomposition, and the mayhem in between. All day long, looking at poop, be it bug poop, rabbit poop, chicken poop, dog poop, or human poop. Proud proclamations over poop. Political-scale arguments over pooping privacy, pooping compost-plans, animal poop management, the privilege of washing out a diaper.
So the death-obsession, that's a little heavier in the heart, that's navigating spiritual waters with small people, sitting with our own discomfort around our own mortality, trying to make space for the preciousness, the fear, the sadness, and the inevitability. Letting go of prized caterpillars, chickens, roly-polies, grandfathers in a photograph, and ultimately, some day, each other. We recently lost a hen to acute illness. Benen sat with her as she died. "I'm sad that chicken died, I loved her. Can we eat her?". The lessons are not clear, I could never plan them, and I'm definitely not driving the bus on this one. All I can do is sit in the darkness with him, way past bed-time, and hold his hand as he asks me, over and over, why did Nana's Daddy die? Will I die? I don't want you to die. I'm gonna kill Death with my sword and my super-hero costume.
But really, let's just be honest from the get-go, if you live in a house full of animals and small children, the possibilities are endless for an intimate knowledge of both death and poop. It's one cultural taboo that hasn't really been invited in to this house. I don't kibosh poop talk (except maybe at the dinner table, when guests are here). I might even participate. I might even expand the lexicon to include urine, flatulence, menstruation, child-birth, breast-feeding and sex. All those nasty things that humans do, that we create with our bodies and our desires and our needs - I would rather that my children get the low-down straight from me. Public restroom users who eavesdrop on our one-stall circus have received two and six-year-old friendly explanations of menstrual cycles, ecologically-friendly feminine hygiene, the difference between a vagina and a urethra, colonic health and the causes of diarrhea. Come to think of it, this is perhaps one of the unanticipated realities of having young children who are always with me - their exposure to my biology and personal ecology is vast.
In the end, they are still children. They still imbue farts with hilarity and conception with magical misunderstanding - all age-appropriate, all that they can wrap their minds around - and just because I want them to sit with the truth of these things does not mean I don't feel some sense of privilege in being able to protect them from the very hardest parts, when I can. They don't need to watch me butcher chickens or rabbits. I can lock the door to the bathroom and do whatever I please in privacy, when home. I forbid drowning roly-polies and spiders - if you are going to kill it, kill it fast, I tell them. I don't think this makes me right or wrong. I think it makes me another passenger, along for the ride, curious about our bodies and the way we fit into our world. I anticipate there will be a day when the level of sharing we currently inhabit will feel naturally embarrassing to my children, and I will welcome it as a day when they have internalized the lessons, and are busy becoming their own people, and I will relish quiet moments in bathrooms stalls all to myself.
A huge part of cleaning up our diet, our lifestyle, and our ecological foot print has been getting deep about our relationship with poop. Invariably I discuss poop with other adults at the gym at least once a week. Poop is an ultimate, and sensitive, source of bio-feedback. I spend a lot of time feeding us, insuring that what goes into our mouths nourishes us in meaningful ways. It makes sense to be attuned to the closure of that loop. As a gardener, and a woman who raises animals, poop is a serious component of doing my farm-job well. And, to be completely honest, it feels good to embrace poop in a playful, light-hearted way. I don't love poop jokes, but my 6 year old does. And I do like to see him laugh. Especially after the hard nights and the death questions.
There have been caterpillar funerals at 7:30 in the morning, a little bit of public shaming (from other people's kids, really!!!) for my willingness to let my kids watch Sponge-Bob Squarepants (is it poop jokes? I still haven't figured out what's bad about that show, except that it's really obnoxious), training children to pee in the compost bin, not on the tree, plans laid with compassionate and skilled friends to learn the intricacies of butchering our animals, and an on-going campaign to poop in a bucket. If you had told me six years ago that this would be where I was headed, you would have received a hard look. So I'm reserving judgement on the next six years. Because I won't be surprised at all if they find me, swathed in a super-hero cape, killing Death with a sword while I poop into my Home Depot painter's bucket under the starlit sky of my tiny suburban backyard.
I leave you with this:
Whaddaya call Clark Kent with diarrhea?
Got a poop joke for me? Please. I need to laugh.