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Why Do Kids Take So Freaking Long in Public Restrooms?

Photograph by Getty Images/amana images RM

When I undertook the job of being a parent I got that I was going to spend some time in the bathroom. I even pride myself on being "potty positive." That means, I don't shame my kids for their bodily functions, no matter how much they make me gag.

But can someone please tell me what my children love about public restrooms? I honestly don't get it.

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We just returned home from a chili cook-off benefiting a women's shelter. Allowing for the fact that having my 5-year-old and 6-year-old sample half a dozen kinds of chill, I still didn't think I would spend the better part of an hour in a poorly lit single occupancy bathroom stall that smelled of urinal cakes and my bad parenting decisions.

Fine. After I pumped my children full of various mixtures of cumin, beans and tomatoes, of course they would spend some time in a public restroom. I had that coming. But the thing is, it's always like that.

In the middle of a movie, my daughter will whisper that she has to go. We'll trudge through the aisle while keeping our eyes fixed on the screen. I'll apologize to the people we step on and over, knowing that we probably won't be back for 15 minutes.


Woe is the day when (my daughter's) favorite stall has a lock that won't work.

Because my daughter loves to take a few minutes to pick her stall. No ordinary public toilet seat will work for her. She will sample them, looking for the best fit like Goldilocks looking for a bed. Then, she'll test the toilet paper—who wants a stall where you can't unwind the TP? Not her!

Once she finds a stall, she will have to fiddle with the lock for another few minutes. Woe is the day when her favorite stall has a lock that won't work. Of course I'll offer to stand there and hold the door when that happens, and she'll eventually relent, because now, her second favorite stall with the working lock has been taken by an elder with a large handbag.

Once she gets down to business, she will survey her surroundings—read the graffiti, sing a few bars of a Justin Bieber song to check the acoustics. Then she will want to twist the toilet paper around her hand just so.

Let me be clear: She won't be straining; this isn't about constipation. She will also not worried that she's missing the climax of "Kung Fu Panda 3." Nope, she'll be making herself at home, while her mother will be losing circulation in her arm from holding the door at the top of the hinge.

And if you thought picking a toilet was a big deal, sit down and get comfortable while she picks a sink to wash her precious hands.

Regardless of what she's wearing, it will take her several minutes to get herself together when she finishes her business. She could be wearing leggings that require nothing more than a good firm tug, but still, she'll be in there futzing and puffing like she's had to make it to base camp without an oxygen tank. Good lord, all she has to do was pull up her undies and smooth down her dress!

And if you thought picking a toilet was a big deal, sit down and get comfortable while she picks a sink to wash her precious hands. The sink must be right next to the best working soap dispenser, but only if the soap is pink. If it's that white foamy stuff, then she will want the best sink that is at least four faucets away.

It will take a long time to lather up in a public restroom. The more foul the smell and the more grossed out her mother is by their surroundings, the greater attention she'll pay to her digital hygiene. Now, of course, the kid who hates washing her hands at home before dinner suddenly must sing "The Alphabet Song," "The Star-Spangled Banner," and "Let it Go" while she stares at herself lovingly in the mirror.

At this point, I will be looking for a stall as well. To throw up in. I will have had enough of this unattended public bathroom, but she still has to dry her hands.

She won't like the Dyson air blowers, because that violent gush of air is too traumatic. But she learned about Earth Day at school and hates to "hurt the trees" by using paper towels. This is her Sophie's Choice. Does she hurt the earth or sacrifice herself by succumbing to the hand tornado? This conscience-wrangling takes at least three minutes. When at last she decides, her hands are dry anyway, and I will have thrown up a little in my mouth.

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We'll make it back to our seats just before the credits roll. I'll be so thrilled to be surrounded by the smell of hot buttered popcorn that I almost faint from joy.

Of course just then my son will lean over. I'll pray he's going to ask me about the finer points of the plot, but no, I won't be so lucky.

"Mama, I have to go."

Me too, son. Me too.

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