Fecal Friday: the wilderness poop

When I was a little girl, I lived in Korea where people would often sit comfortably in a wide full squat, feet flat on the ground, their arms or armpits resting on their knees. Very relaxing. My grandma’s home had a well-dressed latrine hole in the bathroom for human waste, so if I had to vent when I visited her, I squatted just like that. It worked great. But by the time I grew up and was going backcountry, I had lost the knack.

Americans don’t do much squatting except in exercise routines, and that sort of half-squat will do you no good when it comes to a comfortable rest, a bowel movement, or child birth for that matter. My brother Mark (who is weirdly full of sage and practical information) once told me that the best approach to a wilderness dump is to find a young sapling you can grab with both hands as you squat, and that lets you bear down without falling over. It was great advice.

I have very few memories of pooping in the wild, but I must have done it many times. I assume it must be traumatic in some way, so that I block it out. I don’t get it. I don’t want my kids to feel weird about it. I just want them to comfortably go about the business of voiding their waste, with no fuss, taboo, or remorse.

Nick was born ready for the wilderness poop. He learned not to crap in his pants mainly by running outside and pooping in our yard. He would just drop his ass down into a textbook poop-squat, his hands resting lightly on the ground in front of him, and let loose. Since his tiny cheeks were spread so wide by the stance, usually there was nothing to clean off his butt. One little wipe to make sure, and done. If you’ve ever pooped in the wilderness and handled it right, then you appreciate what a great thing this is. You pack out what you pack in, including used toilet paper, so a low-maintenance poop is highly valuable. Way to go, Nick!

I used to think the OCD would make wilderness pooping extremely difficult for Jesse. But Jesse’s OCD, like many mental disorders in kids, doesn’t seem to exist in a wilder setting. Nature begets all kinds of wellness. The foul, filthy outhouses we often find in campsites drive Jesse (and me) to madness. On the other hand, she’s perfectly fine with a lovely bit of earth covered in leaf mold and peopled with a few creepy crawlies.

One day on a hike through some woods and meadows in the Tetons, Jesse had a sudden and desperate need to poo. We scurried off the trail and looked for a good spot. It was a bit marshy, but we managed to find a place dry enough to set her feet on firmly. She settled down and issued one of those enormous stools that sometimes come out of children, an anatomical impossibility. It took a while for her to clear her colon, and of course flies gathered, buzzing the poop and Jesse’s bare ass. Jesse wanted to know what the flies were doing on her shit. Eating it, I answered. It’s fresh food for them. La la la. We took care of business, wiped Jesse’s ass down, bagged the used TP in a ziplock. We headed back to the trail, but after a few paces Jesse paused and looked back. “FLIES!” she cried out joyfully and musically, throwing her arms wide with a Broadway flair. “FLIES, come eat!! I have left a Jesse poop feast for you!”

Now that’s the right proper spirit of a wilderness poop.

grumpy about greed

Jesse has never really been greedy, apart from rare phases of normal childhood jealousy and desire. She’s not that into stuff, even though she has a lot of it, and she shares without reservation. After the dentist pulled two molars out of her mouth yesterday, I wondered aloud what the tooth fairy might bring. Usually it’s books or toys, but I was thinking maybe this time the tooth fairy might bring money. Because maybe that would be easier for the tooth fairy, hypothetically speaking. But Jesse told me she hoped the tooth fairy didn’t do that, because she already has money. So next I asked her what she would want. She answered, “I don’t really like to say ‘I want’, mommy, because that sounds very selfish. ‘I want I want.’ It just sounds greedy, and I don’t really need anything.”

Contented sighs filled my heart. And yet, because Jesse is who she is, it would never occur to her that she could refuse to put her teeth out and tell Tooth Fairy not to bring her anything. That would be hubris. So she wrote a note to T.F.:

tf note

“Please don’t send money because I am already earning money.” Wow. I wonder what the world would be like if more adults felt that way. Also I think it’s sweet that Jesse warned Ms. Fairy about the stink of her rotten teeth.

Nick has always been naturally more greedy than Jesse. He wants a piece of the action, no matter what it is. He wants stuff. He’s still good at sharing (he’s had a nearly-perfect role model in Jesse since the day he was born), but he’s more materialistic. I don’t fault him for this, because I think it’s just how he’s wired up, and we’re working on it gently. This morning I was pottering about taking care of mommy business while he played. He took note of me writing a check and asked me what I was doing. “I’m giving money to your school,” I answered. “They’re collecting money from families to build a cabin in the woods space.”

Nick goes to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Preschool. Today is his last day at the preschool, ever. There are three outdoor classrooms. The only one without a house-like-structure is known as “the woods space,” and a wonderful mom has spear-headed an effort to get families in the class of 2013-14 to donate money to buy a cabin for it. It ain’t cheap. If you donate a hundred bucks, you can have a hand-carved wooden oak leaf attached to the cabin with whatever names on it you want. I’m going for it. I think it’ll be a pretty cool legacy to the school from our year. Plus I’d like to see a leaf on the cabin with Nick’s and Jesse’s names, since they’ve both spent many delightful hours at the school. In the years to come, we can go visit the building and find their names, retrieve happy memories, and thus hold onto a piece of these joyful early years.  As such, for me it feels less like a charitable donation and more like a selfish act. I’m still being greedy, even though I’m giving money away.

Nick was contemplative when I told him what I was doing. He stared out the window into our back yard for a moment, and then he looked up at me, speaking his four-year-old mind. “Ooooh. The woods doesn’t have a cabin… We can buy one for it?”

“Yup. That’s why mommies and daddies are donating money.”

“Can I give some of my money too?”

(more contented sighs in my heart.)

“You don’t have to, but yes, you can.”

He ran upstairs to find his tiny cache of cash. I honestly don’t know where he keeps it. He came down with a dollar bill. This is a mighty treasure, exceeding an ordinary tithe by a wide margin. I put it in the envelope and bit my tongue, which wanted to tell Nick he didn’t have to give that much.

“Is that enough to buy the cabin, mommy?”

“No,” I chuckled, remembering that wee kids have no concept of scale when it comes to cost. “It’ll take a lot more than that.”

“Wait a minute,” he announced, as he ran upstairs again. He came down next with his tiny hand full of change from his piggy bank, to add to the kitty. Three trips later, he was finally done, but only because I had sealed the envelope, and also I fibbed. “Yes, Nick, I think that’s finally enough to buy the cabin.”

After I tucked the envelope in a safe place, I melted into a puddle of happy on the floor of my living room. My kids have given the one-two punch to greed in the last 24 hours. I hope they hold onto that goodness in their adult years and keep teaching me lessons in generosity after I’ve forgotten them myself. The road to greed is broad and well-trodden, a veritable trench. I wish with all my soul that my kids take the road less traveled by, and perhaps make all the difference.