Friends came for a recent visit with their two adorable daughters, ages 3 and 1.5, in tow. The kids were bright, energetic, charming and maddening — usually all at once. While Carol and I are creeping up on our 60s (well, I am — Carol appears to be holding steady at 35), we have a number of friends we consider “young marrieds,” many of whom have children who are at or below kindergarten age. We love being referred to as “Aunt Carol” and “Uncle John” (if our friends weren’t flattering us by encouraging the kids to call us by those titles, “Grandma Carol” and “Pa-Pa John” would be more accurate) and do our best to be the kind of up-for-anything and cuddly faux-relatives all youngsters should have in their lives.

Except when the kids do something to piss us off. Then the laughter and popsicles and gentle sing-song voices quickly disappear and we become crotchety and irritable. Books being read from are snapped shut. Smiles turn to scowls. Fun and games becomes “Law & Order.” We try very hard to refrain from getting involved in disciplining other people’s children — that’s their parents’ job, and our various friends really do have a great handle on raising their kids with the right mix of encouragement, boundary setting and age-appropriate discipline. But sometimes something happens and we just… can’t… help ourselves. Carol is big on table manners: “Don’t play with your food,” “No dessert until you eat your vegetables,” that kind of thing. I exercised restraint during several parent-and-child standoffs until I ducked barefoot into our bathroom after coming in from the lake and stepped on some little person’s turd.

“WHO WAS JUST IN THE BATHROOM?? WHO USED THE TOILET LAST??” I calmly inquired as I strode out, using just the heel of one foot. My questions were met by startled expressions and silence. “WHO WAS IN THERE BEFORE ME??” I rephrased. “I STEPPED ON A PIECE OF SHI… er, there was POOP ON THE FLOOR!!” If neither of the children had gone Number Two previously, they surely had a strong urge to now.

The younger one is still in diapers, so the only viable suspects were her older sister or one of our cats. The cats spent most of our friends’ visit hiding under the beds upstairs, preferring to remain as far from the strangers in their house as the floor plan would allow. It was entirely possible one of the cats might have dragged a “deposit” from the litter box to another location. However, as a long-time cat owner, I have a pretty discriminating eye and can distinguish between human and feline scat. This was people-poop stuck to the arch of my right foot.

Inexplicably, both girls began to cry as though they’d been subjected to a grueling interrogation rather than simply asked to confirm their recent presence in the loo. Carol gave me her “See what you’ve done?” look while their parents exchanged embarrassed glances and rushed to check for soiled diapers and underwear along with any other evidence of errant excretions. While I felt my response had been quite temperate under the circumstances (hey — do you speak in calm and measured tones after stepping in shit?), I tried to reset the tone by shouting merrily above the resulting fray, “WHO’S READY FOR SOME ICE CREAM?!”

Just that quickly, I’d stepped in it again.