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The Disgusting Thing I Let My Son Do In Public

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?

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"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 sight.

"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.

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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.

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Image via Twenty20/StoneySteiner

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