August 13, 2010

Footprints in Poop: Climbing my own Mt. Everest

I haven't picked up many books this summer; I've been too busy enjoying the beautiful but all-too-short summer out in the fresh air and sunshine. But last week I started a book that held me captivated from page one. It was Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, an account of the Everest tragedy in 1996 when twelve people died on the mountain during a freak storm. Krakauer was on one of the teams that lost four people. His tale, while sobering and circumspect, was also intensely interesting and informative. I couldn't put it down.

I harbor no ambitions of climbing Everest. In fact, I have zero ambition when it comes to climbing because, quite frankly, I hate to climb. Period. Any activity that has me dangling above the ground is, by my definition, NOT FUN. My palms are sweaty just typing about it.

But this afternoon, engaged in another activity I would qualify as NOT FUN, the Lord brought to mind the idea that we all have our Everests. And as I worked on hands and knees in Caleb's room, praying for patience and grace, this post began to form in my mind . . .

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I've been placed on this mountain four times in the last three weeks. Unlike Everest climbers, I do not choose to be here. Yet neither can I turn around and head for safer, happier slopes. The mess must be cleaned up. Previously, I've had climbing partners: Jason, Michael, even my mom, while she was visiting. But not today. Today I climb solo.

Also unlike real "Everesters", who spend months in training and physical conditioning, I have had no experience to prepare me for this. No parenting class or baby book ever includes a What-to-do-When-You-Walk-Into-Your-Child's-Room-and-it's-COVERED-in-poop section. When the poop descends, I am simply plucked from whatever I was doing, stuck at Base Camp (Caleb's bedroom door), and told to climb.

So equipped with a canister of Chlorox wipes instead of oxygen, that's just what I do.

I get down on my hands and knees and begin scouting a safe route to the south, across the bedroom floor. My goal is to reach the window, so I can open it and let the room breath. I must be very careful where I step, where I place my hands. The floor under me is a dark brown wood. On which I'm looking for dark brown matter. Some spots are obvious, like the faint trail of footprints I'm vigorously erasing, but many others are not. It's painstaking work, but every last, um, smear must be found or the smell will linger.

I clean one small section of floor at a time and slowly work my way into the room. Before long, I'm presented with my first real challenge: my own miniature version of the Khumbu Icefall.

Located between Base Camp and Camp 1 on Mt. Everest, the Icefall is one of the most challenging parts of the climb. It's a glacier that has been thrust over the side of a cliff and subsequently broken into hundreds of smaller pieces called seracs. Climbers must navigate over and through these seracs, which are still quite large and constantly shift, in order to reach Camp 1.

The seracs in Caleb's room are stuffed animals, toy cars, and plastic dinosaurs. They're strewn all over the floor, and each one has to be inspected for contaminent. Each with its own unique shape. Each presenting its own challenge. Piles begin to form: Clean Toys. Dirty Toys. Laundry for the Wash.

This is the slowest part of the climb for me and my least favorite. Children's toys are notoriously difficult to clean. Small cracks, plactic crevasses, metal wheels, tiny moving and non-moving parts. Mud isn't so bad; it washes right off. But poop? Poop sticks. Too tired to care, I have sometimes thrown cheap toys away rather than spend precious time cleaning them. Because here, as on the real Everest, time is against you. These messes only get worse the longer you wait; the offending material dries quickly and becomes difficult to remove from walls, windows, and furniture. Your best bet is to work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Between Camp 1 and Camp 3 on Mt. Everest is the Western Cwm (pronounced coom). It's a long narrow valley that houses the (intact) glacier above the Icefall. It's a relatively easy climb, but a long one.

Deep inside Caleb's room, I begin to scrub on a particularly long smudge of brown. It runs westward two or three feet toward the wall. No major obstacles hinder my movement, but the Chlorox wipes are running low. My fingers are pruney from the solvent. The smell is getting to me. So is the heat. We haven't had a day above 68 degrees in weeks. Today we hit close to 80. And I have yet to reach the window, which has poop problems of its own.

The long brown smudge ends at the southwest corner of Caleb's room, where it goes vertical and continues to climb up both walls. I scrutinize this upward path carefully, noting that Caleb's baby quilt hanging on the south wall has not escaped contamination. It will have to be pulled down and washed.

On Mt. Everest, Camp 3 is located on the Lhotse Face, an enormous vertical ice cliff over a thousand feet high. The camp sits on a ledge half way up the cliff and climbers must use secured ropes, ice axes, and crampons to make the ascent.

I begin working my way up this much smaller ascent, but an inner storm is brewing. Born on the winds of pride, clouds of self pity begin to roll in and I find myself on the verge of tears. Then the questions come.

Why does this keep happening? What am I doing wrong? What is Caleb trying to tell me? Why oh why does he keep doing this? What can I do to ensure this NEVER happens again? How do I punish him for making such a mess? DO I punish him for making such a mess? Why can't he just potty-train like all the other kids we know? Why me? Why me? Why me?

I start to pray, to battle my way through the storm. I know if I can't keep the self pity in check, I'll soon be fighting the full tempest of my temper. And that always leads me places I don't want to go. Once the anger takes over, I lose my footing. I sway and stumble in the emotional turmoil, and those roped to me for safety and support (usually my family) immediately feel the impact. The storm may rage inside, but rain never falls on just one person. The thunder and lightning affect them, too. So I fight and pray, pray and clean.

Every spring, from Camp 4 on the South Col of Mt. Everest, climbers make their bid for the summit. They climb the South Col, cross the Balcony, walk the razor edge of the Southeast Ridge, navigate the Hillary Step, and then trudge to the top of the South Summit. All this they must do in one day, but reaching the top of Everest is only half the challenge. The hardest part is then getting yourself back down to Camp 4 before dark.

Once I finish the southwest corner, I have a similar set of final obstacles to tackle: Caleb's table, the window sill, and finally, the window itself. The end within sight, I push on using 409 and paper towels.

Finally! After an hour and a half, the now-open window sparkles and I step back to admire the view. Only from Caleb's window can we see the harbor; no other window in our house claims that privilege. The sun shimmers on the water and the green hills beyond it glow in the late afternoon rays. But like many who summit Everest, I do not stay at the top for long. I still have the long haul back down the mountain to normality and cleanliness. There's laundry to wash, toys to soak, and miscellaneous spots on the floor to hunt and sniff for.

I make my descent quickly and go into the bathroom to wash my hands. I'm rather proud of myself; I haven't lost my temper and the inward turmoil seems to be subsiding. But as difficult as the last hour and a half has been, I'm not finished. I can't sit back on the couch with a soda and call it a day. I must still be Mommy and Wifey. Dinner must be made, finances done, and food shopping attended to. My day isn't over just because this particular climb is (much as I would like it to be!).

I may have summited Poopy Mountain, even summited it solo today, but a greater peak yet looms. One of patience and selfishness, trust and control . And when I catch myself snapping at Jason not ten minutes afer he arrives home from work, I realize I'm still climbing.


kevswifey said...

Thank you..... love you... nice to know I'm not alone, I"m climbing my own mountains too.

Shannon said...

I hope things improve in the coming week!

ladyfelicity said...

Aww ... !*Hug!*

Nicole said...

Thanks for the prayers, y'all! We've been potty-training this week, but it's slow-going. On the upside, though, I haven't had to clean anymore messes. :)