Adulthood doesn't come free, or easy

Robert Fulghum, author of "All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" said during a speech to a high school graduating class that the measure of our ability to become fully-functional adults is our ability to deal with "yuck."

Those weren't his exact words, but they're close. He said to those bright-faced teens that they were really only ready to graduate and enter the world of 9 to 5 and bills and "freedom" if they were willing to touch the stuff they probably still believed melted your hands on contact. They had to be able to scoop up the goop left in the sink after the dishes are done, gather up a week's worth of trash when the bottom of the bag splits, clean up after a dog with questionable intestinal integrity.

They laughed.

They laughed because they didn't quite believe him.

I used to laugh, too.

It takes a strong stomach to be an adult. It takes and even stronger one to be a parent. The level of "yuck" you can stand without losing your lunch earns the admiration of friends, a "big deal" from other parents and a patronizing "what goes around comes around" from your own parents.

It's not until parenthood that you realize how many openings there are on the human body, and how many of those openings are escape hatches for "yuck" stuff that you, as a parent, are totally responsible for.

There's no escape. There's no assigning the job to someone else. It's what you signed on for. And it's funny when you find that the clean-up is a small price to pay for that fleeting whiff of baby scent powder, lotion and their own God-given perfume that drives men and women alike to bury their noses into those delicate necks to catch another smell.

It's not until parenthood that you realize that you can handle what comes out of those openings and advance to a level of detachment, even curiosity, when the explosion comes.

Pure love radiated from me when my second daughter gooey and red was placed in my arms. In return I got warm urine and black poop, the consistency of tar, all over my stomach.

I loved her in spite of that.

I loved her because of it.

But she wasn't finished with me by any stretch of the imagination (although you do hope). From there they progress into spitting up and peeing and pooping 12 times a day. The baby really tested my mettle when she did all three at once at the same time tears and snot were oozing down Katie's face.

But that's just a beginning of the "yuck" children produce, and share, throughout their lifetimes.

Katie now spends the day with other children at the baby-sitter's house, and though they haven't mastered the discipline of sharing toys or attention, they're experts at the transfer of germs.

They've been sharing a raging case of conjunctivitis pink eye to those without a medical degree.

It opened my eyes to a form of "yuck" I hadn't considered (and I am, obviously, spending a lot of time considering the phenomenon).

Katie woke each morning for days with her eyes glued shut, and she would have been happy let them stay that way if I would just leave them alone.

Apparently, having the softest washcloth in the house wet down with warm water and placed gently on the eyes is a new form of torture that, by Katie's reaction, could have dragged a truthful statement from Bill Clinton.

I had to use our pin-her-to-the-ground-face-cleaning technique on her.

Then, I had to inspect the goop to determine its color and consistency.

The doctor asks about those sorts of things (there may be yuckier things than being a parent).

Then, she got hit with a stomach bug. We spent the night pacing and cuddling while she cried and screamed in pain. Finally, while laying on the couch and rubbing her back, the end came into sight, literally. She threw up.

In that situation, parents aren't very delicate. Kids get picked up in whatever position they happen to be in and hauled, at a run, to the nearest sink or toilet.

It's usually too late, as I discovered. Because of my heroics, I had to clean a trail of vomit that strung from the living room to the kitchen. I didn't manage to get a single chunk into the sink. I did manage to get it in my hair, down my shirt and between my toes.

Then, I had to inspect the goop to determine its color and consistency.

The doctor asks about those sorts of things.

The epitome of "yuck."

Most parents know better. They don't even try the mad dash. They simply stick out their hands and catch. It's easier that way. It also makes the inspection process faster and more accurate. You can tell for sure if that masticated piece of chicken is recent or a by-product of the food-fight at dinner time (not really "fight," Katie chews some food, spits it out and throws it at the dog. Fight's the wrong word, because it's the best part of the dog's day.).

Dinner. That's another form of "yuck" you don't expect, though when you're a seasoned parent, it fails to make you lose your appetite.

Food doesn't touch on my plate. Katie, on the other hand, dumps it off her plate and onto her tray, mushes it together, and then stirs in apple juice.

She won't even eat it then, so off comes the tray and over comes the dog. She's good for something (the dog, that is).

I spent my entire childhood waiting to grow up. I was itching to make the decisions. To have my own money. To have freedom to do what I wanted.

I'm still waiting.

In exchange for a driver's license, a car and a home, I get a carpet shampooer, industrial strength cleaner and go through a bottle of laundry pretreater every two weeks (that's not an exaggeration.)

I also have less freedom now than ever, less money than I did as a 16-year-old plebe at the front counter of McDonald's and still have to share a bedroom.

My commitment to adulthood is tested every day in my ability to deal with life's messes.

According to Robert Fulghum's standards, every time I don't gag when I clean a bottle of milk I found stuffed behind the freezer God knows how long ago, I'm renewing my commitment as a card-carrying member of the society of adults.

I'm trying not to make a mess of it.

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