Poop happens

We saw a sign this summer when we got away from our house for a socially distanced break that said, “Poop happens. Please clean it up.”  

They were talking about dog poop but I think it can mean so much more. Many of us would probably say that 2020 is the worst year in our memory. Just when we think it can’t get worse, it does. Over and over again. It’s like a terrible groundhog day. I said to my parents when I called them today, “What’s next?  Locusts?”. I think one thing we can all agree on is that this year has been full of a whole lot of poop. 

We have been lucky that in our house we have been healthy and employed throughout 2020. I recognize that so many people have had a lot more challenges than we have had but we have all had to deal with poop in one way or another. Some poop was already there and was just uncovered more this year (like institutional racism and climate change) while some poop was new (like Coronavirus and unprecedented unemployment).  

Here’s my recollection of 2020 in a somewhat chronological order (I’m sure I am forgetting a lot but this year has been a blur):

  • Coronavirus was something that was happening in other places in the world
  • Coronavirus came to the U.S.
  • Schools shut down
  • We had to shelter in place for months
  • We started wearing masks every time we left the house 
  • We attempted to work and help kids with distance learning at the same time (barely getting by on both fronts)
  • Many people were laid off or furloughed and unemployment hit 14.7% in April
  • Many people struggled to pay their bills, rent, mortgage, etc. 
  • There were more murders of Black people but when Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were murdered, a lot of people woke up and demanded change
  • People protested. There were secret police arresting people and protestors were tear gassed 
  • The postal service is in crisis
  • ~500,000 people gathered in Sturgis, SD for the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally and almost none wore masks (We are just starting to hear the effects of that)
  • There was excessive heat around the country. It got to 107 degrees where we live in California and Death Valley got to 130 degrees
  • Over 12,000 lightning strikes occurred in California in one night and caused more than 500 wildfires 
  • Countless people had to evacuate because of wildfires and many lost their homes 
  • For those who didn’t have to evacuate from the wildfires, the smoke made the air quality too dangerous to go outside and ash was raining down from the sky 
  • Almost 6 million people in the US have gotten Coronavirus and over 176,000 people have died so far
  • Kids started going back to school, either distance learning or in person, and we have yet to learn the effects of COVID spread on both kids and adults for those who are going in person
  • College kids are heading back to campuses and COVID clusters are popping up. I suspect colleges will be sending kids back to their parents soon. 
  • There is real fear that the Presidential election might not happen in November or, if it does, mail in votes won’t be delivered and/or counted

And it’s only August.  Let me put that another way.  We are only ¾ of the way through the year.

One thing we have learned from 2020 is just when you think it can’t get worse, it does. This year has really tested everyone’s limits in so many ways.

In thinking about this unprecedented year of 2020, I started thinking of parenting.  Parenting has its own share of challenges.  You feel like you are always juggling 100 balls in the air at one time and then you are proud when you only drop 10.  

Just like 2020, sometimes you think it can’t get any harder and it does. And so you cry a lot, especially in those early years. Like leaving your baby with a stranger for the first time. There is almost nothing harder than leaving your baby with someone else when you go back to work after maternity or family leave.

I was lucky that when our oldest was born and I went back to work after maternity leave, my wife took family leave to stay home with him so I didn’t cry that day.  But when she dropped him off at daycare that first day she had to go back to work, she cried.  

After that we made the decision that she would quit her corporate job to do consulting work so she could have the flexibility to spend more time with him.  There was no right answer to that but that was our answer at the time. Parenting is a lot of impossible choices just like 2020 has been.

Parenting also changes us.  We go from carefree young adults to control freaks overnight.  We want to control our kids but at some point as parents we realize that they have free will. Darn free will. That free will serve them well when they are older but why can’t it kick in at 18?

Parenting is a lot like 2020 in that you get knocked down a lot and when you try pull yourself up off the ground, wipe away the sweat, blood, tears and poop, you get knocked down again. And some people were disadvantaged to begin with so it’s even harder for them to get up. 

Here are some parenting challenges:

  • Years of sleep deprivation
  • Cleaning up poop
  • Cleaning up throw up
  • Cleaning up dog poop (if you are a dog parent)
  • Trying to keep a job once you have a kid (or kids)
  • Trying to stay married
  • Failing to help with any homework involving  “new math”
  • Kids yelling at us
  • Fighting between/among siblings
  • Kids not listening to us
  • Kids being disrespectful 
  • Kids getting lice at school and bringing it home
  • Kids thinking that your house is a trash can
  • Kids eating the entire bunch of bananas when you needed one for your breakfast smoothie (that just happened to my wife yesterday)
  • Kids thinking the dishes and the house clean themselves
  • Kids “Zoom bombing” your important work call 
  • Kids spitting at a TSA agent (ok, maybe that was just us- back when we could fly)
  • Kids refusing to do distance learning
  • Did I mention siblings fighting?

Somehow one (2020) will be remembered as one of the worst of times and the other (parenting) is remembered as one of the best.  Ironic, right?  What makes us see one as terrible and one as amazing?  

What I didn’t mention is that in addition to all of the hard things about parenting, there are so many great things such as:

  • Screaming, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” 
  • Holding that beautiful new baby for the first time
  • Getting a big bear hug from your child
  • Hearing your child say, “I love you”
  • Watching your child do any sport or extracurricular activity
  • Teaching your child something new
  • Being proud when your child uses good manners in public
  • Snuggling with your child 
  • Hearing your child say, “Can I help bring in the groceries?” 
  • Looking to your children as the expert of all things technology in the house
  • Playing card and board games with your kids (and remembering the day they started to beat you)
  • Watching your children stand up for what they believe in 
  • Seeing your children grow into their own people
  • Eventually sending them off into the world and hoping that you prepared them well enough 

Sometimes life is not  “either or” but “yes and”. The bad happens but sometimes there is good with the bad. My wife works in the trauma and resilience space and she deals a lot with, “yes and” such as yes there has been trauma and there can also be resilience (check out her good work at https://originstraining.org/).   

Parenting is another example of “yes and”.  I wouldn’t give up being a parent just because it’s hard. In fact it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. But it is also the most rewarding. In parenting, you can’t have one without the other. You can still experience joy, even when there is poop.

Realizing that parenting is a “yes and” got me thinking about 2020. Not that I’d wish 2020 on my worst enemy (I’m not sure I have any actual enemies) but I had to think, did any good come out of it?  Was there any “yes and”?  With all of the bad, I think there has been some good such as:

  • Families are spending more time together and many of us will allocate our time differently when COVID is under control
  • There have been long-standing inequities that are being brought to light and I think we may final see a transformation around some such as institutional racism, social justice and climate change 
  • There were so many essential workers that made a difference. The ones we usually think of like doctors, nurses, teachers and firefighters but also ones we now consider essential like grocery store employees, food and package delivery folks, garbage collectors, etc. 
  • Many companies are letting employees work from home permanently and that will allow parents to spend less time commuting and more time with their families 
  • The centuries long struggle of Black people in our country is finally getting real attention and that will, hopefully, affect meaningful change
  • More people are realizing that teachers are, and have always been, rockstars 
  • We are realizing who in government, communities, corporations, etc. cares about the greater good versus who is only looking out for #1.  Many people are starting to put their time and money to support those who care about others
  • People are getting very politically motivated and we could see some real change in November (Vote!)

I think everyone will agree that it has been a terrible year so far but try to remember my 2020 motto, “Poop happens.” That phrase pretty much sums up both parenting and our lives right now. Just as we don’t quit parenting, let’s not quit 2020 and put our heads in the sand.  

There are still family, friends and neighbors who need our help, people who need our voices to stand up for what we believe in, elections to be run and laughter to ring out. 

Laughter, you say? In 2020? Even through the tough times and tears of 2020, I have laughed.  Sometimes I have laughed at the ridiculousness of the year, at a funny story that a friend, family member or co-worker told me (usually about the ridiculousness of the year) and sometimes I have just laughed maniacally because I am barely hanging on. But I have laughed.  

No one can deny that 2020 has been a year of poop (and parenting is often full of literal poop) but we need to remember that sometimes there is good that comes with the bad so we need to put on our masks, plug your noses, clean it up, wash our hands (please!), help others do the same and keep moving forward with the conviction that we can get through this and things will get better.

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