Tuesday, 23 August 2016


I loved the year I spent in the nursery of my infant school, although my memories of this period in my life are patchy.  One memory that is clear in my mind involved a poo accident, but, for once, I was not the culprit!

The toilets and washbasins set up at my nursery
was similar to in this picture, but with coats
hanging up instead of towels as it was also
the cloakroom. (c)
The nursery toilets were in the cloakroom, outside the classroom.  There were two cubicles, one each for boys and girls, denoted by pictures of a football and a princess’s tiara, an example of gender stereotyping that would be frowned upon today.  The washbasins were outside the cubicles in the communal area where pupils’ coats were hung.  This set up unfortunately offered no privacy to any child who had an accident, as the nursery assistant would change them while they stood next to the sink.  The nursery, which was in a separate building to the rest of the school, was accessed through the cloakroom, so any parent or visitor who happened to time their arrival shortly after a pupil had paid the price for neglecting their toileting needs would be confronted with a young child’s bare bottom facing them as they entered the building. 

And so on this day, when I was 4 years old, I entered the cloakroom and immediately saw a half naked girl from my class with her back turned towards me, a pooey bottom facing me and a pair of messy knickers at her feet.  I can’t remember her name, so I shall call her Holly.  Squatting in front of Holly, probably having just pulled down the girl’s pants and getting ready to clean her up, was one of the nursery assistants.   As I walked into the cloakroom, the assistant was saying to Holly, ‘You really should have gone to the toilet.’  It took my young brain a second to process this information before I realised what it meant: Holly had pooed her pants!

I was shocked by this for a number of reasons.  Firstly that another child had pooed herself like I often did.  Although I had no reason to think that this was anything other than a one-off accident, it still surprised me that Holly had done it as, although one or two of my classmates had wet themselves at nursery, I thought I was the only child who pooed in his pants.  I was even more surprised that it was a girl who had messed herself.  I believed in the nursery rhyme about little girls being made of ‘sugar and spice and all things nice,’ and never thought that a girl would dirty her knickers.  Indeed, I think it was a revelation to me that girls pooed at all!

And then Holly turned her head and looked at me and, for as long as I live, I shall never forget that anxious look on her face.  Even my immature brain could make a good guess at interpreting Holly’s expression: she was upset that someone had seen her being changed and now knew that she had pooed herself, and was worried that the whole class would soon know what she had done.  The fact that the witness was a child from her class and, even worse, a boy, probably worried her even more.  I looked at Holly and said nothing to her.  Nor did I laugh or giggle at her, or, indeed, make any sign to her that I had taken any notice of what I had seen.  Even forty years later I can clearly remember feeling a certain amount of empathy with her (even though I hadn’t heard of the word at the time), and feeling sorry for her.  I think I would have been more likely to go up to Holly and give her a hug than tease her.

I never told anyone that Holly had 
messed her pants at school, and for
a short time I felt less alone with
my poo problems.
When I went into the classroom I told absolutely no-one what I had seen, not on that day or any subsequent day.  Indeed, it was two decades later before I mentioned it to anyone, when talking with a colleague who was about to enter teacher training about young children having toilet accidents at school (she was resigned to the fact that she might be required to change wet pants, but was horrified by the thought that she may have to clean up a child who had pooed herself!)  Nor did I ever say anything to Holly herself about her messing her knickers.  I’m sure that this was because I knew what it would have been like to have been in her shoes, or rather, her pants!  She may not have thought so at the time, but I think she was lucky in that the boy who walked in on her being changed was the one child in the class who frequently pooed himself and knew all too well just what it was like to be in that situation.

In years to come, when I was still soiling my pants at an age when other children didn’t even seem to have one-off poo accidents, this incident would provide me with little comfort.  But, at the time, for a short period, I didn’t feel quite so alone with my habit.  And Holly had taught me, with an explicit demonstration, that girls do, in fact, poo!

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