[Note to readers: if you have trouble with potty humor, you probably won’t want to read this.]
So there we are at the “Blue Heron Nature Preserve” on a crisp fall afternoon, my kids and I taking in the best of the rustic outdoors that downtown Buckhead Atlanta has to offer. No blue herons in sight today. Just a little oasis of short trails bordered by a busy stretch of road on one side and the gabled exteriors of Atlanta’s biggest McMansions on the other.
A thing about nature trails: they seem to breed some sort of instant human connection and solidarity with the folks you meet along the way. And so there we are having just met Linda who spends her weekends taking photos of birds, and we’re learning all about the red-headed woodpecker as we watch one flitting and darting haphazardly between old tree stumps. Little head neurotically back and forth tapping against tree bark as we trade Linda’s binoculars to catch glimpses and “ooh” and “aah” and wonder at Nature’s encapsulation of a bad day at the office.
And then (I’ll call them) Bob and Margaret who we will just meet show up with their nervous yappy dog and suddenly we could be at a cocktail party hosted by the Audobon Society. All we’re missing are the glasses clinking. But Bob wants to know about my book and Margaret about Linda’s photography and we’re trading pleasantries and discovering mutual friends. Turns out Jane, from church, is a neighbor of Bob’s. Sweet, pearl-coiffed Jane who is a teacher at Sam’s school and speaks all about mission opportunities on Sunday mornings and spends overnights serving at the local homeless shelter: Jane who I want to be like someday. That Jane.
“It’s a small world!” And then more conversation about Bob’s daughter in college majoring in philosophy—I extend words of encouragement, because “if I could do college again that would’ve been my major”—and now my six-year-old son is tugging impatiently at my arm and I’m needing to pee like a race horse, so we extend a few more gushing pleasantries, enjoying the gift of new-found friends we’ll probably never see again, because they’re walking in the opposite direction, after all. And as we’re setting off the other way, I’m secretly relishing the way that middle-aged-software company-CEO Bob who lives somewhere nearby in a luxury condominium with second-wife Margaret and that nervous yappy dog had perked up with a show of admiration when he asked about my book and I had told him.
But now I really need to pee and the Publix that was supposed to be at the end of the trail seems too far away so we’re turning around and retracing our steps until Bob, Margaret and Linda are at least a good deal behind us still talking and the familiar skeleton of the flood monitoring station again emerges from around the turn. A good place to squat and surreptitiously pee, the thought suddenly occurs. So I’m crouching there, hidden precariously behind the big, gaping wood slats of the station that looks like a half-finished tree house. Two pale white, medium-sized white orbs, the sound of a faucet turned on high and “Mommie, you’re raising flood levels!”—this observation proudly provided by a six-year-old testing out his budding sense of humor—when from around a cluster of bushes there are suddenly Bob and Margaret walking towards us at a fast clip. And suddenly it’s “Oh no, Cam, please tell them to stop!,” as I’m trying to pull up my pants mid-pee and images of sweet, have-it-together Jane flash before my eyes and my son runs out like a small policeman into oncoming traffic, his left hand extended in a dramatic show of “Halt!” The only problem is that after two pregnancies the plumbing isn’t quite as reliable down there, so as I’m frantically zipping up the jeans, the flood is still coming, a large, dark wet spot spreading quickly across the front and back of my jeans, until it’s safe to say that my lower body is now thoroughly drenched.
And then it’s Margaret running up excitedly and out of breath and dying to talk: “Did you say your name was Grace?”
My six-year-old, as if on cue, perches himself in front of me, recognizing his mother is actually now in a state of disgrace. The act would be chivalrous if he weren’t giggling uncontrollably, because it’s totally hilarious that Mommy has just wet her pants and that Ms. Margaret might see.
“No, my name is Kristina,” I say, extending a handshake with my best show of friendly nonchalance in the circumstances, as the pee dribbles down my leg.
“Mommy peed!,” the four-year-old exclaims to Margaret now. Margaret in the black designer sweat suit and over-sized sunglasses who wanted to say something but is now looking down awkwardly at my daughter and then momentarily at my pants’ legs and stammers out with an awkward laugh, “Well that’s a good thing to do in the woods” before attempting to regain her train of thought. But now Margaret can’t remember what she was going to say and I’m thinking again of sweet Jane from church.
“Do you belong to a church in town?,” I ask, boring a conversational hole through my son’s intermittent giggles and ignoring his mischievous glances back and forth between Margaret and me.
“Oh we feed ourselves all over town,” she says.
A few more awkward attempts at conversation.
“Margaret, we need to get back,” Bob calls as I begin to breathe more easily now.
So-nice-to-meet-you’s before Bob and Margaret are off to their car and we back to ours—and now my son is exclaiming that today was the “second funniest day of his life” and we’re all chortling with laughter, the sun casting our surroundings with a warm, yellowed glow, like the kind you see in Instagram pictures.
I can’t remember the last time I was reminded simultaneously of the glory and humiliation of being human. It’s something beautifully laughable really.