My nerves were shot. It could be because my toddler’s new favorite place to play was on top of the dining room table, or because my twins perfected the art of overshooting the toilet. Whatever the reason, I knew that to not lose my mind; I needed to get the whole crew outside, pronto. The sun was shining in December, which put a smile on my face even though I cleaned pee off of the bathroom wall four times that week. Where I live in Seattle, the sunshine doesn’t always last long, so time was of the essence. I crammed my toddler into a full body rain suit, (because I have trust issues), and lovingly reminded my preschoolers to put on their rainboots for the 80 millionth time, perhaps with a little too much urgency (read: impatience).
Our Costco folding wagon, the designer handbag of mothers with multiple children, was loaded down with approximately eighty pounds of happy kids. I grabbed the handle and lumbered down the busy street to the nature trails at the end of the block. Momentum and a slight downward grade made the load a little easier. Every step a little closer to peace and further from the chaos of my house.
At the trailhead, the children jumped out of the wagon and eagerly scampered down the gravel trail amid trees, ferns, and singing birds. The whole scene was entirely saccharine and idyllic, and I breathed relief that I had found one peaceful moment. My boys announced that they wanted to hike a few hundred yards further to climb Gravel Mountain, a term they coined at two for a sad rock pile that measured maybe two feet high. Cheap entertainment. They marched down the trail like soldiers, their little sister and I left to bring up the rear. Little Sis was just excited to walk on her own two feet–without my help–just like her big brothers.
Volunteers had recently worked to improve the trail network, as evidenced by sections of fresh gravel and drainage rock in the places that were prone to flood in heavy rains. On our way to Gravel Mountain, another large pile of fist-sized drainage rock blocked the trail. Wide-eyed, as if they just spied the Paw Patrol display at Toys R Us for the first time, the boys raced ahead to scramble over the new obstacle.
Wouldn’t this be a great place to end the story with a happy-ever-after picture of all things rosy and bright? Here with my daughter, on her own two feet, proud in her accomplishments, my two boys triumphant at the top their mountain, and me beaming in adoration that my kids are so grown up and more capable now than they were a few short years ago. But that is not what happened. Something waited at the top of that rock pile that would wreck all of us, and shatter into a million hysterical pieces, the chance for that delightful moment to exist.
The best thing to crap on your plans for happiness, fulfillment, and peace is just that, a massive pile of crap.
As they climbed over the mound of rocks I heard a scream; one of the boys had tripped. I rushed to make sure he wasn’t more seriously injured and discovered that, not only was his knee covered in dog poop, it was all over his skin because of a hole in his jeans. For good measure, the poop was also curiously in the armpit of his jacket, which smeared all over my hand as I hauled him up to his feet.
I am usually so prepared when I leave the house with my kids. I carry everything I could ever need in my diaper bag down to a miniature tape measure because you never know when you might need to know the precise length of something less than three feet. But, when you haul eighty pounds of anything farther than three feet, the need to carry extra baggage is ridiculous. I had nothing, not even a snot-soaked tissue in my pocket to help clean up the mess. I improvised and employed a few decomposing leaves from the mat of vegetation beside the trail. They promptly disintegrated as I mushed the poop about on my son’s leg.
I have often wondered if crying is as contagious as yawning because all three of my children erupted into tears in quick succession, and only one of them had a real reason. My first son freaked out because…poop. My other son cried because the hike was cut short and Little Sister sobbed because I picked her up and didn’t allow her to walk by herself, her independence crushed and likely scarred for life. In a futile attempt to control the situation, I yelled in my Sargent Mom voice for them all to calm down.
A little-known fact about poop: If it touches your extremities, it has a paralyzing effect. Poop had stolen my son’s ability to walk, so I loaded my frantic boy into the wagon. We needed a police escort, but there was only me to haul our troop out of nature and back to running water and wet wipes. My son envisioned a solo ride but I needed to move faster than a toddler, and I couldn’t carry her and pull the wagon at the same time. He didn’t want her to sit with him, and it became clear she didn’t want to ride anyway, given the way her rigid body refused to bend. As I pushed her down into the wagon, my son pushed her back up in protest. Somehow I loaded all three of them up and headed for home. When the trail was too steep for me to pull all that weight, I asked pleaded for my poop-free son to get out and help push the wagon uphill. He cheerfully hopped out, probably to get away from his brother who reeked, and to escape the thrashing, colossal fit thrown by his sister.
Our house never looked so welcoming than when we nearly skidded to a stop at the door. I wasted no time and right there on the front porch in the middle of December, stripped off everyone’s clothes and considered whether or not I should burn them just in case. I put my daughter down for a nap, the boys in the shower, and sat on the couch to breathe another sigh of relief, glad to be back in the chaos I wanted to escape earlier in the day.
In life, you will be surprised by crap, and it will screw up your plans, and when it does, you just have to bear the stench until you can wash it off…or burn it.
(photo by Hill Smiley Photography)
Jennifer Van Winkle lives in Seattle with her husband and three children (twin boys and a baby girl). She is a teacher, musician, and currently a stay-at-home mom. She loves fueling the imaginations of her children with creativity, songs, all things science, good food and lots of play indoors and out. She blogs at Pepper Sprout Home and you can also find her on Instagram.
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