A few years ago, a regrettable horrific life-altering experience in a public bathroom with my two adorable young boys inspired me to draft the Public Bathroom Manifesto.
Two years later (and older), public bathrooms are no less challenging, but my viewpoint has shifted. These days, I often find myself standing outside of the men’s room, waiting for and worrying about my boys and feeling the prickly pinch of gray hairs sprouting from my head. I don’t get carded much anymore, and I blame it squarely on all of the time I spend idling outside the door of the [fill in the adjective of your choice] men’s room.
I know you Mamas of little ones are wondering what the hell I’m doing letting my kids go to the bathroom on their own. I get it. I once watched my sister send her then seven-year-old daughter to the bathroom in a restaurant by herself. Around the corner. Out of sight. Possibly never to be seen or heard from again. It was about the same time I was seriously considering harness and leash combos for my busy four- and two-year-old boys, so her “free-range” parenting was unfathomable to me.
But just you wait. It’ll happen to you, too. I have a seven-year-old son who wants and deserves a little bit of freedom (and isn’t comfortable in the women’s room anymore), and I have an almost five-year-old son who wants the same thing because second children grow up way too fast and little brothers want everything their big brothers have, including independence.
Despite the danger that lurks everywhere, I’m learning to let go. I’ve loosened my grip and have begun to allow my kids to venture into the big bad world in small doses, which means occasionally they ride their bikes around the block, and every now and then (although more often than I’d like), they use public bathrooms without me.
In select environments, like small restaurants, our local grocery store, and the library, I let my seven-year-old son use the men’s room on his own, and I let my four-going-on-fourteen-year-old son use the men’s room with his brother.
They know the drill:
(1) Don’t talk to strangers.
(2) Private parts are private.
(3) If someone touches you, scream “HELP!”
(4) Be quick.
(5) Wash your hands.
Even with the rules, it’s by no means easy. Of course, perverts and pedophiles are a concern. One could be hiding inside a stall waiting to terrorize one of my kids. Also, relinquishing control over my curious boys who like to touch everything when the door that says “men’s” closes behind me is excruciating. Their bathroom habits at home are mediocre at best, so letting them loose in a public bathroom is a recipe for disaster every single time.
A recent appointment at our pediatrician’s office took a mere 17 minutes from start to finish. That kind of good fortune only comes around once or twice in a lifetime, so it made perfect sense that the public bathroom fiasco that followed while we waited for a prescription at the grocery store was necessary to restore balance to the universe. (FYI: Until I recover from the trauma, we’ll be using the family restroom at the grocery store, which, by the way, was locked when the fiasco occurred.)
Thus, I’ve drafted a new Public Bathroom Manifesto. This one is for all of the well-intentioned but annoying people who say useless and irritating shit to Mamas standing helpless outside of the men’s room while their children reap havoc on the other side of the door.
PUBLIC BATHROOM MANIFESTO II:
What NOT To Say To A Mama Standing Outside Of The Men’s Room
Don’t ask a woman with a wrinkled brow, a bulging vein on her neck, and an apprehensive look on her face who is standing just outside the men’s room door: “Hey, are those your kids in there?”
Once you identify the aforementioned woman as the Mama of the children in the bathroom, don’t say: “You know there’s another man in there, right?”
Yes, Sherlock. I’m well aware of the parade of men who’ve walked in and out of the bathroom since my children entered FIFTEEN F**KING MINUTES AGO! In fact, before you rudely interrupted me, I was using my iPhone to cross-reference all of them, including you, with online mug shots of Florida’s most wanted sex offenders.
Don’t ask a Mama waiting outside the men’s room with tears streaming down her face: “Can you hear them counting?”
Yes, I have ears. I can hear them counting backwards from 40 because “that’s how long it will take for the poop to come out.” And, by the way, I’m also well aware that everyone within a half-mile radius can hear them counting, too.
Don’t follow the counting question with: “They’re so cute.”
If a Mama’s two young boys are in the men’s room by themselves (indefinitely) – with their private parts uncovered and counting backwards to time the arrival of their poops – it’s not a good time to tell her how adorable you think her children are. Walk away, sir, walk away.
When a Mama’s two boys finally emerge from the bathroom after nearly twenty minutes and she has fire coming out of ears and she’s mumbling punishments to them through a clenched jaw, don’t under any circumstances pipe in to say: “Savor every moment! Before you know it they’ll be all grown up!”
Dear God, Woman. I know it goes by fast. I really, truly do. But do you know what didn’t go by fast? The last twenty minutes I spent standing outside of the men’s room while my children did their business among a dozen or so strange men on the other side of the door while my already-paid-for ice cream melted into vanilla soup. I’m also pretty sure the little one lied about washing his hands, and by the way they’re both walking, I don’t think either of them wiped…anything. The only moment I’ll savor as a result of this precious experience clusterf–k is the first sip gulp of wine I plan to have after I sanitize them from head to toe in the tub at home.