February 23, 2007

Restroom Tourism

When Nathaniel was first learning to use a toilet, he quickly came to understand that stores and restaurants, churches and schools, all had restrooms. Exploring them evolved into a hobby for him, and suddenly we couldn't go anywhere without visiting the bathroom.

The parent of a potty-training child who says “I have to go” is in a precarious position. I often suspected he was just curious or bored, but I was never sure. I could ask, “Do you really?” But could I actually refuse?

Sometimes I wished I had. The first time I went into a bathroom with Nathaniel, he promptly withdrew the deodorant cake from a urinal and inquired, “Keep this?”

On later occasions he would finish drying his hands by running them along the walls. That sort of thing makes me squeamish, no matter how many studies insist that my computer keyboard has more germs than a dirty toilet seat. Other men would eye me strangely as I stood at the urinal and called out blindly, “ . . . and don't touch anything! Are you touching anything? Don't touch anything!”

Vengeance came when Nathaniel pretended to have to go to the bathroom in order to get away from a restaurant table.

I watched as he dropped his pants, clambered onto the over-sized toilet, and perched, legs splayed, feet in the air, clinging to the rim with his hands.

He began chatting, commenting on the wall tiles and the hook on the stall door.

After a few minutes, I suspected a false alarm. He craned his neck to critique a picture on the wall behind him.

The toilet flushed automatically.

It didn't flush like our toilet at home, with a gentle swirl and gurgle. It flushed like a rocket ignites, with a great industrial whoosh. I can still see the terror on his face as he balanced precipitously over the roar.

That ended his restroom habit . . . for a few weeks anyway.

Years later now, I thought these issues were behind us. Recently we found ourselves in a public bathroom again. Either a leaky fixture or some bad mopping had left occasional puddles on the floor, so we stepped in cautiously. Nathaniel went into the stall while I washed my hands. He did his business promptly while delivering a brief soliloquy on his afternoon plans. As I dried my hands, he materialized at my shoulder, clearly proud of himself.

“I rolled out,” he announced.

“You . . . ?”

“I didn't go out the door. I sneaked under.”

Seeing the wet marks on his belly and shoulder, I gritted my teeth and took a breath.

“The door is still locked,” I pointed out. “Nobody else will be able to go in.”


And before I could stop him, he lunged toward the stall, crumpled lithely onto one shoulder, twirled on the grimy floor, and sprang to his feet on the other side.