01/17/2012 12:54 am ET Updated Mar 17, 2012

The Good, The Bad, And The Gross

As we all know, there's a lot people don't tell you about having kids. We do hear about how hard it is, all of the challenges, the lack of sleep, the tantrums of toddlerhood, the angst of the teenage years, yada, yada, yada.

But nobody, absolutely nobody, ever tells you this: parenting can be truly gross.

I'm not talking about the normal diaper stuff. I'm talking about bodily discharge in motion, vaguely cannibalistic activities, and microscopic familiarity with our kiddies' anatomies. I'm talking about things that should probably not be memorialized in writing.

I've caught flying puke with my bare hands. More than once. My son gets extraordinarily carsick, so even a twenty-minute drive to the local Target is laced with anxiety. In one memorable episode, my husband and I were pulling off the highway after a short drive to a lacrosse game when my son's lips turned white. I knew what was coming and got my front seat window down in a flash before getting on my knees and spinning around to face my son in the back seat.

As my boy began to spew, I put my hands under his mouth to catch the remains of the morning's raisin bran, intending to gallantly fling the pile out the window -- which would have been a better idea had we been parked. I also had never practiced swiveling from the backseat to the front seat with handfuls of vomit and curdled milk. About three-quarters of the way into my pivot I flung the entire pile all over the dashboard, the gear-shift, the cup holders, and my husband's head, neck, and shoulders.

Today, we never travel anywhere without a change of clothes, paper towels, plastic bags and Ozium. The bags are strategically placed on the seat next to my son so I never have to play catcher again.

None of the parenting books I read had episodes like this.

Over the holidays my son asked me to cut one of his toenails. The nail clippers were upstairs. I was feeling lazy. He refused to wait. "Please do it now, Mommy. You could just bite it off." Moments later I was sitting on the living room floor with my son's toe in my mouth. My sole defense is that a pediatrician friend of mind told me that it was perfectly acceptable to nibble off baby fingernails. She didn't give me a cut-off date. (I am, however, going to stick an extra set of clippers on the first floor, just in case this comes up again.)

I don't really like poop. Or vomit. Or snot. In my life before kids, I avoided them. But once you're a parent, that's not really an option. So, I've developed a strong stomach, a poor sense of smell and a good sense of humor these past several years.

In fact, my latest parenting indignity hardly threw me at all.

The other day I had an unplanned anatomy and astronomy lesson with my son -- and we don't homeschool. I was doing some mom-like thing in the kitchen when my son called to me to come upstairs. Although I generally blow him off when he summons me from across the house, we're in the midst of potty-training and so I rushed upstairs to find my four-year old in his bedroom with his hands down the back of his jeans, staring up at me with eyes the size of saucers.

He solemnly asked me to get some diaper cream because his bottom itched. I took of his pants and underwear and then grabbed a tube of Balmex. When I turned around, my son was bent over his knees, his naked backside propped toward me high in the air, his hands spreading his butt-cheeks wide apart, his anus on display for all to see.

"See, Mommy?" he said, helpfully. "It itches."

No matter how cute, even preschooler buttocks lose some of their charm at close range.

Part of me realizes that I end up in these ignominious positions because my son trusts me and he hasn't yet learned to be ashamed of whatever his body throws his way. He has complete confidence that mommy (or daddy) can fix whatever is wrong. That part of me is touched. At some point my son will be a teenager and will stop talking to me completely, and then I know I'll miss these days. (He won't however, be asking me to put cream on his butt, so that will be a plus.)

I also remind myself that there are far more disgusting things in world than cleaning up your kid. If you've ever watched Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, you know what I'm talking about. I didn't know that jobs like skull cleaner or maggot farmer existed. Parenting may expose you to a special and uniquely intimate level of icky, but it's not at the removing-dead-tissue-from-bone level of gross. I cling to that.

Still, I could do without the taste of toenail in my mouth.