People who know me know that I don’t swear often but there is a reason these words exist and I try to reserve them for such times. Shit is one of those words. Today I’m working on potty training my two year old and this seems like an appropriate time to share a few of my shit stories. Let me first say a word on potty training. I have realized that for me, the most important ingredient to potty training is parental readiness. It’s a big emotional undertaking (at least for me) to be prepare for the possibility of unconfined excrement. Poop is part of parenting. I get that. But liberating it from the diaper feels terrifying. My son hasn’t pooped since we opted for underwear yesterday, so napping in the next room is a ticking time bomb. Wish me luck and maybe find a little humor in my misfortune.
#1 – If you’ve ever driven between Boise and Portland, then you may have noticed a poplar farm on the south side of I-84. I haven’t made this drive for years so the farm might not exist anymore. The first time I encountered this grove of trees, I was completely naive to the idea of squatting. I had never considered that one could simply decide to camp on someone’s private property. It was suggested by my traveling companion that this is exactly what we would do that night. If you know me, you know my typical approach to life is to roll with it, and I did just that but I was really nervous. We parked deep in the grove of precisely lined-up trees. Looking in any direction you could see trunks, of uniform size, marching in succession. We set up our tent and warmed and ate our dinner just as night fell. I remember the light of my headlamp serving as a beacon for buzzing June bugs while I brushed my teeth. Then before bed I had to poop. I am not a stranger to pooping on the ground. I assumed the squatting position and shut off my headlamp to avoid the June bugs. I remember the eerie quiet with the soldier trees watching me as I took care of business. The silence was broken by a crunching sound not far from my perch. I squealed and jumped! I was envisioning an animal or a poplar farmer coming to disturb our camp in this most vulnerable moment. Then I realized, it was just the drip system turning on to water the menacing trees. That’s when I noticed the shit on my flip flop. My startled leap landed me right in my recent deposit! The good news is, the poplar forest didn’t seem as scary after that.
Lesson 1 — Usually when we step in shit we can blame it on someone or something else, but sometimes we step in our own shit and there is no one else to blame. This is ok. This is life. You will either clean the flip flops or throw them away in the morning. The key is to do the next right thing, which is to go to sleep in the poplar forest…or give up on camping. You get to decide.
#2 – One of the results of two major abdominal surgeries during a year of massive stress (aka cancer diagnosis) followed by more stress (aka travel), is “GI distress.” It seems the gut is one of the first places stress can manifest. GI distress was a characteristic of my early 20s that, thankfully I have figured out, but it gave me some memorable moments. For one, I learned that I have a super power to be able to poop in strange locations, on demand if needed. Maybe the poplar farm experience cured me of shyness in this department. I have made magic while snorkeling in the ocean (don’t worry, I gave a wide berth to my companions!) and on a busy trail side in a national park with only a few minutes to spare before the next hikers rounded the corner. I am efficient and stealth. On one occasion the stealth was particularly handy.
If you have ever tried to live in your rental car while you see Maui you might have a similar tale. I’ll write more about traveling on the cheap someday for those who are interested. My temporary home was a PT Cruiser, which is not recommended for sleeping btw. It was evening and my companion and I had parked in a public parking lot at the end of the waterfront main street in Lahaina. I was seized by undeniable fact that urgent poop was on it’s way. There was a Burger King about a block away that appeared to be the closest public restroom. But that might as well have been on the moon given my level of urgency. I bailed to a dark edge of the parking lot. This parking lot was quite full of cars. I found a spot beneath a tree where there were some very small shrubs and went about my business. People were walking to their cars only about 10 feet from my location with nothing to shield me except the darkness. At least twice I thought, “I can make it to Burger King now,” only to realize that was still impossible. And so I remained, squatting in the dark. A creature, that I can only assume might have been a cat, prowled around my public sanctuary for a moment which felt particularly imposing. The end of the story is, I eventually did make it to that Burger King bathroom. I think I miraculously still had some pooping left to do when I got there too. And once that was over, I walked around Lahaina like a normal tourist.
Lesson 2 — Shit happens. Sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes in large volumes. When it does, it can pull you into the most humble frame of mind. I remember feeling very thankful for the darkness in that moment. It gave me the slightest dignity in the most undignified situation. So never judge the person pooping in the corner of the parking lot. Believe me! They would poop somewhere else if they could.
#3 – In the tropics and subtropics, creatures live in bathrooms. In the hostels, it was common to find a gecko in the bathroom. Sometimes they startle when you flip on the light and drop from the ceiling, startling you right back! Sometimes there are crazy spiders. Often there are cockroaches. One very interesting beach cabana hotel in Mexico had a unique bathroom set up. The rooms were stick structures with beds hung from the ceiling with large chains. The shower was also a stick structure with nothing separating your naked self from the other hotel guests except a beaded curtain. There were two of these structures, one was more plain and the other had a large conch shell in the center of the hut, out of which poured the water you bathed in. A plaque hung over the door that said “Romantic Shower.” It felt like a strangely public place to be getting romantic in the shower with only that beaded curtain…probably good for voyeurs. Luckily the swine flu was in full swing so the place was pretty empty. Except for the toilets. The toilet stalls had doors that did not reach the floor so they were always open to the outside. During the day they were pretty unremarkable but at night when I walked in and shone my headlamp onto the floor it came to life with scurrying roaches and the sound, which is now distinct in my mind, of hermit crab shells slowly dragging across concrete. That’s right, the little crustaceans that were trendy as pets 15 years ago, like to kick it around the toilet. So, as one does, I would turn around and sit with that gentle scraping sound letting me know I was not alone. But they were peaceful creatures and did not crawl on my feet. I think that’s really the worst case scenario in this situation. There is nothing quite like something crawling on your foot in the dark in the bathroom. This didn’t happen to me in Mexico, but it did in Hawaii. Camping on the beach, (Yes! Much more comfortable than sleeping in a rental car) I got up to use the beach bathroom late at night. I hovered over the toilet to pee when that distinct tickle crossed my foot. So, using the same instinctive moves I used while pooping in the poplar forest, I danced around the bathroom with a shriek, while continuing to pee. For some reason pee doesn’t shut off automatically in response to terror. Thankfully at the beach, the showers are right outside the toilets. So I got a good rinse and a better understanding of why the beach bathrooms smell like piss.
Lesson 3 — Are we ever really alone? If people aren’t watching, then maybe creatures are, and if not creatures, then surely God. So laugh and take a bow when shit happens. It’s the human experience that connects us all.
…and seriously, wish me luck with potty training. I like my couch.