The extended-family gathering is in full swing, and as usual, it is noisy. Everyone is laughing, talking, eating, mingling. My two-year-old is in full swing as well. As in, swinging from the kitchen cupboard doors. I’m trying to have a conversation with a cousin I haven’t seen in a while, but my toddler interrupts to ask for more candy, and then juice, and then more crackers, and then please more candy. She spills half the juice and leaves a very sticky chocolate on an upholstered kitchen chair, all while I try to continue to chat. Finally, she runs off to see what the other kids are up to, giving me three minutes to pretend I’ve been paying attention to what my cousin has been saying.
Then from the other room comes the indignant scream that almost certainly means my kid has stolen a toy from another kid. I sigh and grit my teeth and try to keep smiling while I hurry over to negotiate, and also to comfort my daughter who will definitely be furious when I give the toy back to the little boy she stole it from. I carry her back to the kitchen as she screams, reassuring the people I pass that she’s actually fine and they shouldn’t worry, and then I bribe her to stop screaming by giving her yet another candy. She finally runs off to play for a minute and I take the opportunity to apologize to my cousin, who is, by now, talking to someone else in the noisy room. I am just about to jump in on a shouted conversation between my husband, my brother, and my uncle about the merits of Dutch football, when suddenly my toddler is back.
“Mommy, I poopy.” She says. At least, that’s what I think she says. The room is so busy and loud, it’s actually difficult to hear her when she’s not screaming. I pick her up and step over people’s legs to make our way to the foyer, where I dig through the coats in search of my diaper bag, and then back through the crowd with a diaper and wipes in my hand, toward the guest bathroom, laughing and smiling and chatting with people as I go.
I take my toddler into the bathroom and close the door behind us. And just like that, it’s quiet.
I sit on the floor, and then kiss my girl’s forehead as I lower her to the ground to begin the familiar and unpleasant task at hand. It’s not a desirable job, but I’m so used to it I barely notice what I’m doing.
“I poopy, Mommy?”
“Yes, you’re poopy.”
“I a stinky butt?”
“Yes, you sure do have a stinky butt.”
“You love my stinky butt?”
“I clean your stinky butt, you goof. I love you.”
“Mama, uuuuuummmmm, well, I go swimming tomorrow!”
“And I go skating tomorrow! I go swimming and skating! Tomorrow. Right, Mommy?”
“How about later, baby? How about we go swimming and skating sometime soon?” I finish the job and lift her to her feet to pull her pants back up.
“Okay, Mommy. We go swimming later. Thanks, Mommy.” And she grabs my face with her sticky little hands and kisses my head. I laugh, so she does it three more times, proud of herself. As I wash our hands, I purposely move slowly and let her play with the warm water for a minute, knowing that this is the last few moments of quiet time with my sweet and silly girl before we head back into the chaos and noise and all the necessary distraction from each other that will resume when we’re on the other side of the bathroom door. When I do open it, she’s off immediately; she obviously has clear plans for her immediate future – more candy or toy stealing, I assume.
I follow behind her and think about what just happened. Changing a toddler’s dirty diapers is truly one of the worst things you have to do as a parent, but somehow those five minutes were some of the best of my night. Maybe it’s true, what they say. Maybe someday I will, somehow, miss even this.