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May 9, 2019


You know that sinking feeling you get when a toilet in your home stops working properly?
3 min read

You know that sinking feeling you get when a toilet in your home stops working properly? Maybe “sinking” isn’t the right word for it. When confronted with the fact that I’m highly dependent on that porcelain appliance to whisk away my waste, that my life comes to a miserable, messy halt when this workhorse ceases to perform, I am deeply disturbed. Perhaps on an existential level, because who wants to face the fragility of their “normal”? You might as well ask me to ponder my own mortality every time my fitness tracker reminds me to get up and move during the day.

Back to the toilet. My husband tried plunging it. Using the snake. Seemed to do the trick for a short time, but then the flushing would go wonky again. Something had to be done, especially since a houseguest was on the way who would be using the bathroom in question. So I called the plumber, a cheerful, competent fellow—and lo and behold—he extracted a container of toothpaste from the bowels of the bowl that had been wedged in beyond our reach. One hour and several dollars later we were back on track once more.

Except for one thing. There were no guarantees that this little saga wouldn’t play out again. Because the toothpaste (a raucous, fruity flavor) unequivocally pointed to the guilty party, who I can promise you wasn’t feeling remotely guilty about the emotional or financial cost of his antics. My son views the world from a unique vantage point, one that declares “open season” on anything that piques his curiosity. He constantly explores the inherent properties of things: how they feel in his hands or against his face, how they sound when shaken or struck against a hard surface, how they look when they spin. (Spinning is my son’s favorite way to decompress, and he can spin just about anything).

I am guessing that the toilet bowl, with its symphonic flush and Charybdian swirl presented a temptation of biblical proportions to him. I imagine his thought process went something like this: “What happens if I throw this object down the same chute as the stuff that comes out of my body? Does it change? Does the toilet change? My, what a satisfying clunk and splash it makes. I wish I had ten more!”

In the lull that followed the plumber’s departure, I, too, faced a temptation that dangled like low-hanging fruit before my eyes. Was I going to feel angry—or worse, sorry for myself—because I have a child whose developmental deficits frequently prove so costly? The way my son’s brain is wired makes him think like a much younger child, one who does not detect the dangerous or troublesome consequences of his actions. It also makes it hard for him to understand what other people feel, especially with regard to his treatment of them.

On the flip side, my son displays an infectious wonder at even the smallest of discoveries he makes throughout the day. Discoveries such as a musical sound, an interesting visual effect, or a pleasant feeling on his body. He laughs quite a lot, jumps for joy, sings melodies he hears and also composes. Pretty much all day. As far as I can tell, it’s not normal, but in this one case my child’s deviation from the norm makes me feel incredibly blessed, rather than afflicted.

Toothpaste definitely does not belong in the toilet. And plumbers, however excellent, are expensive. There’s probably a long, exhausting list of problems my son will create in the near future when he escapes my supervision for a few seconds. I don’t know how long it will take (if it happens at all) for my son to think more safely and responsibly.  I do hold these truths to be self-evident.

But I also want to remember: I have a good plumber. I have money enough to pay him without worry. I have a husband who helps out when disaster strikes. I have a son who would rather engage the world than detach from it. There are people in my life who help bear the burdens that bring me to my knees. And while I may not get to choose what happens while I go about the business of being an imperfect human being, I do have some say as to where my mind ultimately will dwell when trouble comes.

The other truth (maybe not so self-evident) is that the fragility of my life is undergirded by provision after provision. Yes, there are dark and difficult gaps between problems and solutions, but maybe those gaps give me room to pause, take a deep breath, and look around for those points of light and love I so desperately need to thrive. I may even find myself in a position to help another’s crisis prove less costly by showing the empathy that I have been given by my Creator.

Needless to say, I threw out the toothpaste, even though my plumber joked that it was still quite useable. Upon reflection, I think it has served its purpose: keeping my thoughts healthy, if not my son’s mouth. I may be singing a different tune, however, if a piece of jewelry or my stash of deluxe chocolate goes down the toilet next. Stay tuned.