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It's something I don't often talk about,
yet somehow speaks to the very essence of my being: my creamy white thighs
have never touched a public toilet seat.
From the time I was young, I
understood that public bathrooms were disgusting places where all manner of
personal hygenie habits were flagrantly disregarded. Who were these people, I
wondered, who spooled toilet paper onto the ground, scrawled graffetti on the
walls and, apparently, aimed for anywhere but the bowl when they urinated? Maybe
going in public was like a vacation from the pressures of using modern plumbing for
certain people. Were they rebels or extreme water conservationists?
"Fuck it, I'm not flushing," I imagined them saying,
exiting the bathroom in a blaze of glory, leaving behind a lone turd as a
message to "the man" or at least the next person to use that stall.
Still, this hasn't stopped me from going in public. I've used all kinds of toilets, including
port-a-potties, (though I draw the line at going in a Dunkin' Donuts).
I never use the toilet guards that some bathrooms offer.
My method is to hover — doing my business, but never
making contact. This thigh-strengthening strategy has served me well, from the
finest hotel lobbies to the waiting room at Penn Station. I've had my public
bathroom routine down pat.
Until I had kids.
When my son started to potty train, he did so with
excitement and enthusiasm. Going potty was a sign of independence, and he
quickly transitioned from diapers to pull-ups to tiny little man briefs
emblazoned with the insignia of his favorite superheros. The hardest part of it
was not cleaning up from the occasional accidents, or even having to dispose of
the contents of the free-standing potty that he initially trained on. A cute,
smiling goldfish, I dutifully emptied its contents into what we later dubbed
the "big boy toilet." I celebrated each victory with him, awarding him with
gold stars and even texting my entire family a picture of his first No. 2.
The problem was when we ventured out in public.
Instead of seeing the restroom as a place to be visited only under the most
dire circumstances, my son saw public toilets as a new frontier for adventure.
Trips to restaurants were always punctuated by multiple requests to "go potty,"
no doubt so that he could walk around, greet other diners and see what was going on in the ladies room.
Once inside, it was like a carnival of fun amusements. While my little guy thought it was hilarious to "feel
the power" of one of those turbo pressure blowers on the top of his head, I
felt quesy at the prospect of trying to keep him from touching everything in
"What's this?" he'd ask, flipping the metal hatch
meant for disposing of feminine products back and forth with his finger. "Don't
touch!" I cried, as he played with the toilet seat, pressed the lever to flush
over and over and managed to touch things faster than I could wipe them.
I knew that my guy couldn't be as hands off as I was
used to being. Balancing on the seat, his little legs dangling above the floor with
no leverage — he had to hold onto me or something. I'm not one of those mothers
who follows her kid around with a boogie wipe and a bottle of hand sanitzer.
But not being able to stop my son from touching things he shouldn't was giving
me a serious case of the heebie jeebies.
For a while, we tried using a portable toilet seat. But
that just made him more unstable. I had to face the fact that, as much as I
wanted to hover above the mess, in reality I had to suck it up and lower my
sanitary standards. Being a parent sometimes means you're forced to confront
things that make you squeamish. I remembered the oft-cited statistic that
computer keyboards and office phones have more germs than the average toilet
seat. But since my guy won't be peeing on any desktops (one can hope), it's
cold comfort when we enter a WC that looks like a crime scene.
My son and I will keep going places, and we'll keep
using public bathrooms. I may not completely get over my public bathroom
phobia, but at least there's the fact that one day, in the not so distant
future, he'll learn how to pee standing up.