raising little ones in the great outdoors

Using the Facilities: Facts of Life at the Crag

“Teamwork, confidence and patience,” my nine-year-old daughter said without hesitation when I asked her for tips on learning how to pee outside. I laughed.

She was exactly right though. It has been a long trail towards the mastery of using nature’s facilities. Now, in retrospect, the mishaps are mostly funny. The more nature has become our second home even I’ve improved at using the outdoor facilities. Nothing in the way I was raised prepared me for the statement, “Try not to pee on the rope”, while standing next to a new male climbing partner on a small belay ledge. I never imagined carrying my toddler crying and wet in the dark with her feet pajamas around her ankles, back to the tent for a change.

Perhaps the potty training at the crag experience is more intense for me because I started climbing and playing in the hills only six years ago, as a newly divorced single mom of a three and six-year-old.  When I divorced at 28, I did not relish the thought of hanging out in what felt — at the time — like a “broken home.”  If we were invited, we were going, and I was happy to make the effort. Luckily, I have a few more things dialed than I used to, including a family that sustains us all. I absolutely love so many things about climbing and the world it happens in.josy2

The more I talk about this topic with other athletes and parents, the more I hear people’s stories.  The triathelete who told me how her frantic attempts to undo a jammed backpack buckle failed, resulting in her first pee accident as a grown woman.  The lady who feared passing out in a hot port-a-john during bike tours. The professional climber who shared with me that at an important photo shoot, his four-year-old really had to go poop and she only wanted her Daddy and no one else. When he returned to the ground and realized that she had an accident, he felt so guilty that he never took her out with him again as a toddler. It’s an issue for those of us who spend our lives in extremes outside. It’s certainly an issue for us as parents.

Well, I’m proud to say, my daughter and I exchange high fives on our “system” for peeing outside regularly now. Here’s a few lessons we’ve learned in the past six years that have led to our confident mastery of this skill:

  • Physics: If there is a slope, face uphill, but don’t fall backwards.  You can help hold your girl under her armpits leaning back on you a little with butt in the space between you, if she’s young, but make sure your feet are clear of the landing area.  Spread and crouch very low to the ground with pants far enough above ankles to where you can grasp them in the middle in a wad.  Now have the pee goer take the wad and hold it tightly in front of her, out of the way of fire.  Make sure you aren’t on a sideways slope, where the pee will simply pool around one shoe.
  • Evil Feet Pajamas: You might be tempted to swaddle your toddler in feet pajamas when camping in cold weather, especially because they often refuse to stay inside their sleeping bags.  If your kiddo is still an urgent pee goer that gives you very little notice, DON’T use feet pajamas. It requires stripping a child bare. At two in the morning, being naked is a cold proposition for your wee one, and trying to move the feet and top of those pajamas into a perfect position by headlamp is ridiculous.  Wet pajamas are even colder than being naked.
  • The Buddy System: If you’re about to start up a rock and doubt your child’s ability to hold it or even her assurance that she doesn’t have to go, assign and train a friend to potty duty and introduce them to your child before you leave the scene. Tell your kiddo where the wipes are and where she can dispose of them after (in a separate baggie in the pack).
  • Wipes: Don’t skip wiping.  Urinary tract infections and bladder infections are common and so uncomfortable. I think little ones need an even better wipe while camping or cragging because hygiene is already a challenge.  I think biodegradable toilet paper is only appropriate for older gals above approximately six and older. Otherwise, I stick with wet wipes.
  • Shyness: Baring her butt in front of strangers and the uncertainty surrounding pottying in nature can sometimes compound a little girl’s shyness.  Going right alongside her isn’t the worst idea. Talk and laugh it up. I think some of our best conversations on the environment and biodegradability occurred while digging poop holes. Tell them, “It’s not a baby thing. All eyes aren’t on them. All the adults there are going too.” Remember, little ones aren’t being difficult or challenging just because they have to go potty. Don’t shoot them that tired look. An air of openness and acceptance can really help encourage her not to hold it until she bursts.
  • More Dangerous than a Bathroom: I tell my kids that people can and have gotten seriously hurt trying to find private places to pee in nature.  Privacy is not worth dying for.  Make sure they are aware of safe places they can go before you go for the climb of your life.

josy3I’ve watched children progress in their ability to potty with nature. They are seriously proud of it and should be. I love having the privilege of raising two little ones through all their firsts and learning to potty safe and independently outside is high on the list.  My daughter would like to tell outside toddlers in training, “Don’t give up, relax, and don’t get mad even if you have to go.”  Meanwhile, compliments, high-fives and kudos to the little ones who return to the crew dry and clean, and always offer deep understanding to those who return even more soiled.

— Kira Riedel

Kira, Ike (12) and Joslyn (nine) Riedel find an outlet for their athletic passions on the rock, snow and ice of Colorado.  Kira is a rare woman in the finance world. She worked her way from secretary at 19-years-old in a venture capital fund to CFO, while caring for her family and attending night school.  Kira is now bringing over 15 years of venture capital, investment banking and CFO experience, in her own way, to assist outdoor industry companies through her boutique finance practice, CFO Services www.cfoservicesnow.com.

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4 Responses to “Using the Facilities: Facts of Life at the Crag”

  1. Its challenging enough potty-training a child at home, never mind out in nature. But the crag?! Wow. Just make sure to carry wet wipes with you for clean up time. But please, take some that will be gentle to you and nature. Of course, I’m biased and use Action Wipes (www.actionwipes.com)

  2. I have three kids (10, 8 and 6), and they all have learned to “use the facilities” in the woods. My eldest daughter (the 10 year old) had the most problems however, not for any mental reasons, but due to her anatomy. For whatever reason, the way her body is designed, it is practically impossible for her to pee in the woods without getting her pants wet. The solution? We discovered the Whiz Freedom (http://www.whizproducts.co.uk/en/whiz_freedom.aspx), bought one for her, and she couldn’t be happier! Highly recommended for women (young and old) who would like a little help from a “Urine Director” 😉

  3. Steve says:

    Great tips! I’ve got to say this is one of the hardest un-talked about issues of the outdoor family life. I could add several stories here, but no one really wants to hear the details of the winter-camping-snowbibs-number-2 epic. I think if you could get the real answer from most urban/suburban people, bathroom issues would probably be at the top of the list of reasons not to go outdoors for more than half a day. A couple years ago my wife volunteered at a church girls camp. I told her the most valuable outdoor skill they could teach these teenage girls would be peeing in the woods. She laughed, but it’s much more likely that will come up than building a fire or even setting up a tent.

  4. Shannon says:

    One of the first outdoor lessons all of our children get is how to use the “jungle potty”! Its not something you want to teach on the fly (haha). I’m thankful I did a few backcountry hikes with my dad to learn the basics without any memorable mistakes (other than a whopper of a mosquito bite on my heiny one year!). My children are 4 1/2, 2 1/2, and 2 months, and small bladders don’t lend themselves to finding facilities in a hurry. It has come in handy more often during remote drives (i.e. moving cross-country) than camping, in fact!

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