Sh!t Wars: What to do when your kid won't poop.

Yes, this post will be talking about poo. Personally, the talk of all things fecal doesn't really bother me. I've cleaned out crap from under my fingernails, washed up and then continued to stuff my face. I guess it's something that happens after having 4 kids in diapers for what felt like forever.

But I understand that for some people, this kind of talk is unsettling. So I'm warning you now. There will be shit in this post. Lots of it, and I can attest that for some reason, when you read or write about it you may actually start smelling it. Come back later this week, I'm trying to be a little more upbeat and funny, and nothing says upbeat and funny to me like one of my victims. There are a couple I haven't covered here, and I'm itching to share.

So...are the faint of heart all gone now? Sweet. Here we go.

When I mention kids who won't poop, or constipated kids, some people look a little confused. But other people get that dazed, wounded look in their eyes. Like the eyes of soldiers when they return home after a long, exhausting and horrific battle (ok not that bad, but you know what I mean). In my own little circle of friends, there are several of us who have lived through it. Mostly, it happens with boys. I suppose we could go off on a Fruedian mother-son-poop tangent but we'll save that for later. I'm just saying, from what I've heard this is usually a boy issue.

Shit Wars. Like Star Wars, only messier. And George Lucas has nothing to do with it. Once you live through it, you become part of a sad little club. You will find other parents who have been through it, and if you're lucky, you can all laugh about it now. You will never forget the stress, the frustration, and oh sweet baby Jesus..you will never forget the smell.

One of my kids was a "holder". His poop history started out normal. He was breastfed, so the diapers were numerous, but not awful. It wasn't until he was about 2 that the Shit Wars started.

I remember noticing that he wouldn't go every single day like earlier siblings had. And when he did go, what I found in the diaper was shocking. Big, ugly and shocking. I nicknamed him "The Brick Layer" during this little phase of his life. Because that's what he produced. I brought it up at the pediatrician's office, and he suggested more juice, more fresh fruit, more whole grains. I did that, and the big bricks kept coming.

Until one day, they stopped coming. Said child didn't poo for what seemed like a week. I noticed him rocking a lot, like sitting down on his feet, and rocking. He said his tummy hurt. His appetite waned. I called the doctor again, who suggested adding some powdered Metamucil (or something like that), sprinkled on his cereal or in his juice/milk. Nothing.

To be totally honest with you, at this point I was more annoyed than concerned. I had trouble understanding this situation...I mean, really, how hard is it to poop? I negotiated with him, begged him, tried to bribe him. Nothing worked.

One night, Big Daddy and I needed to get out. Back then we often traded babysitting with my old BFF, Big Red, and her hubby. So we drop the kids off, go out, have a grand old time. I'm sure it was something thrilling, like dinner and a movie. When we got back to Big Red's house, she pulled me aside.

"You won't believe what happened." She then went on regale me with the tale of my Poop Holder and the Poop that Finally Was. Apparently, the Holding Child had started screaming, crying, writhing. Big Red had been told of this issue, so she figured that she had simply been lucky enough to be here for the big event. My poor kid finally did it. And Big Red, being a good best friend, had saved it for me.

If I remember correctly (it was a long time ago, and like your grandpa's tales about fish he caught, time may have skewed my memory), it was the size of a softball. Somehow, my sweet little boy and his tiny butt produced what looked like the world's most awful softball.

So this went on for a while. For a day or two or three after the giant poop, he'd be all sunshine and happiness. But once I'd see him rocking on his feet, or notice him not eating as much, the cycle would begin again.

Calls to the doctor led to visits, and the visits led to frustration and growing anxiety (for me, not the kid). I learned more about childhood constipation than I ever wanted to know. About how it's caused by any number of things: a bad potty training (this didn't apply to my kid, because it all started when he was still in diapers), one bad experience with a painful poop, physical issues, mental issues, etc.

Suddenly, the term anal-retentive had a whole new meaning.

It continued for a few years. There was brief talk of surgery (exploratory, to see if he really did have something physically wrong with him). There were countless pairs of Batman, Transformers and Superman undies tossed into the trash (at some point, the actual process of cleaning these stinky, stained monstrosities trumped my incessant compulsion to be green).

Oh, and the sharting. Shall we talk sharts? For those who don't know, a shart is a hybrid. A toxic blend of shitting and farting. Some people call them "farts with dressing" or "juicy toots". They are what happens when a child who has been holding onto a log for way too long tries to expel the foul gas that's building up behind the behemoth clog in his colon.

This is when you actually start to fear that your kid is going to be THAT kid in school. The one who smells like poop. You start to become a sniffer, you watch for the telltale "clenched bun" walk they develop. You notice if he's picking at the butt of his pants.

And all along, you do everything you're told. You feed him grapefruit, oranges, sweet potatoes, grapes. Popcorn, beans, bread so dense and heavy that you could probably pumice your heels with it. You give him doses of mineral oil, prescription stuff that tastes like the shit you're trying to expel (seriously, why did it take so long for the pharmaceutical companies to come up with good flavored meds for kids?). We had a shelf in the cupboard set aside solely for my poor kid's collection of poop medicine.

You try not to make a big deal out of it, but in all seriousness, it causes great strife and stress in a family. The child in question has the ability to turn an entire family upside down all because they won't, or can't, poop. I remember yelling at this kid, out of exhaustion and desperation one night. This poor kid who has made himself a neurotic basketcase now had his mommy yelling at him. I remember Big Daddy getting angry, throwing the child on the potty seat and making him sit there through meals.

I guess that's the number one lesson I learned through my poop journey: you can't get mad at the kid. But it's hard not to, trust me.

Long, unappetizing story even longer: This too shall pass (pun intended). The child I'm speaking of eventually got a handle on it, and through often-annoying but effective reminders from Mommy to "go potty" and asking him, "Have you pooped today?" we made it through Shit Wars alive.

But not without lingering effects...

Want to know what triggered this post? After all, I haven't had diapers on the Target list for 9 years now.

A couple of days ago, I was doing laundry. The laundry room is in the mancave, and the mancave bathroom is in the laundry room. So I of course am now entering the fun part of womanhood where your bladder can go from "we be chillin', mon" to "holeee crap if I don't find a toilet now there's going to be trouble" in the blink of an eye. So, naturally I bolt into the boy's bathroom.

There, in the toilet, was something other-worldly. It almost looked like a chubby 18 month old's entire arm. If you can picture a chubby 18 month old composed entirely of shit.

Yes, friends, one of the fun things that your child will take away from this experience is gigantic bowel movements. The kind that those idiot boys in the dorms at my college used to take pictures of, for bragging rights (I'm so glad we didn't have cell phones back then).

This particular work of art was just sitting there, swathed in a foul wrapping of wet toilet paper. So I flushed it, even though I could see and comprehend that there was no way this was going down any household plumbing fixture.

Sure enough, the water swirled around it, the wet toilet paper waved back and forth like some nightmarish seaweed. The poopy baby arm stayed put.

Of course, dealing with this issue has found me in this exact same scenario before. Plunging doesn't work. Letting it sit for a while doesn't work either. There are only two things you can do. And both of these things, I think, prove just how much we love our kids.

Solution number one: item in toilet can be dismantled into flushable pieces. I've done this, a couple of times, and both times nearly puked. I think I used a wire dry-cleaning hanger, and yes, the back-alley references were at the forefront of my brain too. This works, and if you're lucky all you'll have to deal with is the hanger. Which I dealt with by wrapping it in yards of paper towel and then tying it in a garbage bag and running it out to the garbage.

Solution number two (again, pun intended) is not for the easily ruffled. And it's what I opted for during this particular standoff at the Poopy Ok Corral. The offending child was in the other room, probably feeling much lighter and most likely amazed at his new-found ability to bend at the waist. I calmly walked out and told the child, "You have to come deal with this poop." He put down his XBOX controller without objection, and duly followed me into the crime scene.

I gave him the tools of extraction: Rubber gloves. Three plastic Target bags layered together to form one, triple layered bag. One larger trash bag. Paper towels. And last but not least, a spray bottle filled with bleach.

And I made my child, my sweet baby, my little bundle of joy pick up his own bundle of joy and put it in the triple layer bag. We dropped it into the bigger garbage bag, tied it up and that darling boy of mine ran it outside to the garbage can like a good soldier. I bleached the entire bathroom so thoroughly that I'm pretty sure I may have suffered some brain-damage from the fumes.

So ends the saga of Shit Wars. If you're smack dab in the middle of it, hang in there. You will survive, your child will survive. Many plungers will be broken, many pairs of miniature cotton undies will be thrown away, but you will get through this.

May the force be with you.


  1. Omg--this post made me laugh out loud, several times...don't know what's so funny about poop.
    If you haven't seen it, you have to watch the South Park Episode called "More Crap". You might be able to identify with it :)

  2. Too funny, this post brought back memories or are they called flashbacks when they are all about the trauma of shit wars?

  3. OMG Jenny, I so feel your pain here. My daughter suffers from this. For years we've asked her doctor about how we could help her and we're told it's just a phase. So many days I've picked her up at school and she's hunched in the corner somewhere and I can tell by the look on her face that she has to go even though she insists she doesn't. I've gotten calls from her teacher asking me to pick her up because she's had an accident at school. I worry that she'll be known as Poopy Pants the rest of her life. It's awful, just awful.

  4. OMG we are living the same nightmare, years apart.

    1. I can be your Obi Wan...it's all gonna be alright.

  5. OMG, I wish this post had existed during my own poop wars 1998-2008 or so. My son drove me nuts and I thought we were alone in this war. I did everything you did. Sadly, he has now developed Ulcerative Colitis so usually his problem is the opposite...strange now to be a little happy when I realize he's clogged the toilet again.


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