Our eldest son Jack, who’s three-and-a-bit, gets a small cup of fruit juice first thing in the morning with his breakfast, and pretty much drinks water the rest of the time, give or take the odd swig of diluting juice as a treat. In Scotland, where teeth and hearts have a significantly lower life-span than their host bodies, it makes sense to encourage as many healthy habits as possible, as early as possible. While our pro-H20 stance is certainly commendable it has had the unfortunate side-effect of making juice something of a taboo, and we all know how children swarm to taboos like wasps to open cans of Cola. If we’re ever lax enough to leave our own flagons of diluting juice within his reach – and we are that lax, painfully often – he’ll stand there with his fingers twitching at his side like a gunslinger’s, before grabbing for that juice as if his life depended upon it. He might manage to glug a small cup’s worth, he might manage to glug a litre. One thing’s for sure: we’re rarely quick enough to stop him.
One morning between Christmas and New Year I took him and his little brother Christopher (who’s not long turned 1) to the historic village of Culross – a favourite family haunt of ours. In the rush to get all of us ready to go I neglected to notice a big bottle of pre-mixed Ribena sitting unattended on a table-top. Jack managed to down an indeterminate volume of juice before I clocked on and managed to snatch the bottle away from him.
Even though I bade him piss before we left the house we still had to pull over on a dual carriageway minutes into the journey so he could relieve himself. We stopped again just over the bridge in the village of Kincardine, where he had to piss against one of our car’s front wheels. I caught a bit of friendly fire splash-back on my hand, so took baby-wipes out of little Chrissy’s travel-bag, spilling some of the bag’s contents on to the floor of the car in the process. We eventually reached Culross, and I hoped that Jack’s tank was now empty. It had to be, I told myself, else his bladder’s a bloody TARDIS. The three of us larked in the play-park as the winter wind threw handfuls of invisible ice at us. I ran between two swings at opposite ends of the small park – little safety-swing for Chris, big half-moon wrecking-ball swing for Jack – pushing the kids for a few seconds each time, to warm myself up as much as to amuse the boys. I soon realised that it was too cold to linger long at the unsheltered shore, so we started walking, Jack jumping along by my side, little Christopher warmly ensconced in his wind-proof buggy as I pushed and puffed him along the street.
We normally head up the hill – up the narrow, cobbled streets with their tiny hobbit doors, to the old, cold church that overlooks the town – but today I decided, in no uncertain terms, ‘fuck that’. Let’s go sideways. Let’s buck the trend and spend the entirety of our trip today going ‘along’ instead of ‘up’. Fuck ‘up’. My bones creaked with gratitude; my heart even gave a little double-thump salute. Unbeknownst to us all, horror lay along that long, flat road. I’d been so focused on dealing with the pee-pee situation that I hadn’t even considered the possibility of emergent poo-poo. I was going to pay for my poo-bris. We were about to move to Defcon BUM.
I was glad we’d gone ‘along’, as before long we discovered a community garden we hadn’t known existed. There was a large, decorated Christmas Tree just inside the entrance gate, something that wouldn’t have lasted intact for a single evening had it been erected in my urban shithole of a town; there was a pagoda, various little potting sheds, and as the garden sloped up it sent steps up past clumps of wild flowers, herbs and mini-thickets of trees, and back down again, with benches dotted at strategic points around the loop. It’s beautiful: obviously well-used and well-maintained; a real labour of love by the locals.
And we shat in it.
I’d taken Christopher out of his buggy, and left it at the main gate (again, that buggy would’ve been on bricks and on E-Bay along with the Christmas tree if this had been Grangemouth!). Jack wanted to walk up and around, and back down the garden, again and again, again and again, and we accompanied him, Jack light and spry on his feet, me beginning to feel the strain of the inert boulder of my second-born against my biceps. We’d done about four or five loops, and I just wanted it to end, and for the journey into the unknown ‘along’ to continue. But be careful what you wish for, right?
‘Daddy, I need a poo-poo! I need a poo-poo!’ cried Jack, beginning to waddle like a cowboy penguin, a hand reaching down to cup his bum.
I scanned the area. There was nowhere for him to defecate that wouldn’t be plainly visible to the whole of creation. The public toilets were a ten-minute walk away. I had to help him, but I had Christopher in my arms, and we were far away from the buggy, too far away for me to have run back to it, strapped Christopher in and wheeled him back to Jack before the klaxxon sounded for Code Brown. Shit, shit, shit, I thought – rather appositely, I suppose.
‘Daddy!’ Jack wailed.
‘OK,’ I said, beginning to pull myself together, ‘OK, down over there, behind that shed, there are a couple of trees, can you make it?’
He added a little quick-step dance to his waddle.
‘JACK, CAN YOU MAKE IT?’
This was turning into an episode of 24. DAMN IT!
‘You can do this, son, come on, hold it in, you’re almost there.’
I bent down to help him pull down his trousers, as Christopher dangled limply over the precipice of my shoulder. There was nothing for Jack to steady himself against, so he was forced to squat. In the haste and panic I’d spared no thought for the position of his pecker relative to his trousers; in any case, he’d surely pissed every centilitre of liquid from his body over the past forty-five minutes, so additional pee-pee was severely unlikely, right? Wrong. His bum may have been poised over a wet mound of leaves, but his wee willy was aimed straight at the back of his jogging bottoms, and there was definitely still juice in the tank.
‘SON OF A BITCH!’ I snarled in frustration, as the piss skooshed out.
‘Son of a bitch!’ came the parroted reply from the little shitting – and pissing – figure below me.
‘NOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooo!’ I yelled, my trademark grace-under-fire, calm-under-pressure portion of personality really kicking in. I opened Christopher’s travel-bag to take out some nappy sacks and baby wipes, but… oh no. They were all on the floor of the car. And there, at my feet, was my piss-covered, dirty bum-med child, squatting over a big, brown, highly visible poop. There were two paper hankies in my pocket, which I had to use to wipe the worst of the poo from Jack’s bum. With nowhere to put them, they fluttered to the ground like feathers. Horrible, shit-stained feathers. I tried to kick some leaves over them.
‘What have we done?’ I asked my boys, and perhaps even the Gods themselves. There was no answer.
We headed back to the car, taking the coastal path. I watched the dark circle on the back of Jack’s slacks as he happily bobbed along just in-front of us, a stark reminder of my woeful lack of parental preparedness. I put Jack in his car seat sans trousers and tucked a blanket over him.
In the long hours that followed I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d caused my son to have to make a ten-minute journey covered in his own piss. The fact that he didn’t seem to give a shit (if you’ll excuse the word choice) did nothing to salve my guilt. Neither could I stop thinking about how we’d desecrated and defiled a beautiful garden. Inside my thoughts and conscience I’d cast myself as some horrible X-rated panto villain. ‘OH, YOU’VE DONE SUCH A LOVELY JOB, BUT DO YOU KNOW WHAT WOULD BE A NICE ADDITION TO YOUR PRECIOUS SANCTUARY, CHILDREN AND OLD PEOPLE OF CULROSS? A BIG HUMAN SHIT! HA HA HA HA HA! AND SOME SHITTY HANKIES MUHAHAHAHAHA!!’
The next day I was haunted. Should I drive back to the scene of the crime to dispose of the evidence? What if some sweet old lady slips in it, or bashes it with her hoe and gets some hunks of it in her mouth? What if a kid finds one of the brown-tinged hankies and tries to blow their nose with it? I couldn’t bear it. It was like The Tell-Tale Heart, but with a jobby. Edgar Allan Poo! I wanted to confess. I needed to confess. Email the community association and say: ‘I admit the deed! Look behind the shed! Here, here! It is the steaming of my son’s hideous shit!’
But I didn’t.
People of Culross, if you’re reading this, rest assured that karma got me in the end. Literally. I’ve just recovered from a sickness and diarrhoea bug.
Head hung in shame, it’ll be a long time before I return to your Garden of Peed-in (I know my son shat in it, but there’s no such thing as the Garden of Shat-in, so I hope you’ll allow me some creative license).