About two years ago, we decided to raise chickens in our large suburban backyard. We did it because they lay eggs—one of the very few protein-rich foods Ellis likes, isn’t allergic to, and pack a bunch of nutrients that are essential for growing toddler bodies. We have a big yard, and my husband and I were psyched about being able to give these hens a good life while reaping the nutritional rewards.
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But a small flock of chickens, charming as they may be, also lays a lot of something else: poop. And they do it everywhere. One of their favorite spots just happens to be the sandbox.*
I’m always careful to make sure Ellis washes his hands after he’s been outside mingling with the livestock (especially since salmonella is on the rise, in large part to backyard chickens). But on this particular day, it had just rained and Ellis was “cleaning” his dump truck in the water that was pooled up in the sandbox. This, of course, concerned me, so I took what I could find—an empty yogurt container—and started removing the water from the box.
But then…cue the distraction: a sweet moment between my husband and our then five-month old daughter that I just had to capture. During a brief lapse in judgment, I ran across our yard to snap a quick picture, only to be snapped out of it by Ellis dramatically spitting sand and (poop) water from his mouth. (I unknowingly captured this very moment on camera; see below. Ugh.)
I had no idea how much he’d swallowed, but fecal bacteria definitely entered his mouth, and as far as I know, there’s really no recommended serving size. So I frantically called the pediatrician’s office.
“You’re going to have to wait it out. If he spikes a fever or starts vomiting and having diarrhea, take him to the ER,” said the nurse, who I’m pretty sure suppressed a laugh.
“Should I give him a little whiskey?” I asked desperately, and sort of jokingly. “That would kill the germs, right?”
Apparently this all-purpose parenting elixir of the past is not the best remedy, even for teething.
So I waited, all the while Googling potential outcomes and visiting parenting forums. I was temporarily consoled by the fact that kids have eaten a lot of weird crap (both literally and figuratively) and that, in general, spending time outdoors playing in the dirt is a great thing for their immune systems—yet I still managed to make myself sick with worry. Because he ATE poop!
But you want to know what happened? Nothing. He was completely fine. Not even a tiny bit of indigestion.
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After spending some time making myself feel like a negligent mother that day, and considering keeping Ellis on a child leash, I decided to say “screw it” and let go of all those counterproductive thoughts running through my head (something all moms should try).
The thing I’ve come to realize is that we can still be "good moms" and mess up. Mistakes are inevitable. And feeling a tinge of guilt or worry from time to time—say, when we use the TV as a babysitter, skip the veggies, or unintentionally let our kids eat animal feces—well, that's just a symptom of how much we care. If we weren’t good moms, our missteps wouldn’t upset us like they do now. But we don't have to dwell on them in order to learn from them.
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So, yes, I still consider myself a good mom. And when self-doubt sets in, I pour myself a glass of wine after the kids are tucked in and peruse parenting forums, finding tremendous comfort in the fact that, despite what my kids have eaten today, someone else’s child ate or did something much, much worse. And that kid will probably live too—because they have parents who care.
*The chickens have since been fenced in the back, with a long run, and the sandbox now belongs entirely to them.