All you can think when you envision a potty-trained child is: No more pee-soaked and poopy diapers! Hooray!
But there’s something you’re not thinking about, even after you start potty training—one big thing blocking your road to diaper-free bliss. And I’m not talking about the inevitable accidents or backsliding. I’m talking about public bathrooms. As in, your-beloved-and-trying-really-hard-to-do-pee-pee-on-the-potty child with the very small bladder is going to have to use public bathrooms. A lot.
And the little voice inside your head will be screaming, “OH, MY GOD, THIS IS SO DISGUSTING! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!!!”
Let me explain.
You see, as adults, we take so many things for granted, like the fact that you shouldn’t stick your hand—or, you know, your entire head—into a toilet. Especially when that toilet has been used by countless, germy, disgusting strangers.
And before you ask, those baby porta-potties have never worked for us. My newly minted 2-year-old is almost-off-the-charts big, and the damn things are doll-sized. Also, they may be fine for road trips, but are you really going to schlep that thing all over creation in your purse? Yeah, no. Then there are the collapsible training seats touted for travel that always seem to collapse when you don’t want them to. So…public bathrooms, here we come.
But children are curious, and they learn by touching everything. Of course, you do not want them to touch everything in a public bathroom. I mean, whose ass has been on that seat? What kind of bacteria is lurking in there? I’ve seen those segments on The Today Show, and unfortunately, I can’t erase that knowledge from my brain.
Before I started this whole potty-training process, I had visions of lining a public toilet with paper or one of those special covers, and gently placing my toddler on the seat, where he would tinkle on demand. Riiiiight. He’s a toddler, so he squirms. And that wonderfully interesting paper that’s suddenly covering the seat? Mommy was so thoughtful to put something fun there for me to play with, something for me to crinkle, something for me to throw!
With my least panicked, “Sweetie, don’t touch that!” I body-block my toddler until I can disinfect the toilet with a wipe. I always forget to do the handle, and of course the first thing he wants to do every single time is flush. I haven’t touched one of those things with my hands since—well, I don’t think I ever have. But I have to let it go, because he’s already touched it and now it’s time to crouch down and get him potty-ready.
Keep in mind that public toilets are not kid-sized. There is no pulling down the pants and pull-ups to your little one’s shoes and having him hop up. Because a toddler is too small to sit on it like an adult, he has to straddle the damn thing to stay on it.
So, at least in my experience potty-training a young toddler, everything from the waist down has to come off, shoes included, in the public bathroom. The socks stay on, of course, since I don’t want his feet to touch that floor, but this, too, will become problematic a few hours later when I put him down for a nap. Because my mom brain often forgets seemingly big things. Like ridiculously dirty, germ-soaked socks on nice, clean sheets. Ew.
But let’s deal with the here and now. OK, so the toddler is now on the wiped-down, paper-free toilet, straddling it with his legs…and he has to hold on. With his hands. Yes, I’ve wiped down the toilet, but no amount of wiping it down will ever be enough. His. Hands. Are. On. The. Public. Toilet.
So now we wait.
There might be singing. There might be pleas not to squirm and turn around to touch the flusher again. There might be slight panic when it seems like he’ll slip and fall in the toilet water.
But wait, we do. As I’m crouching on the floor in the tiny stall. Back cramped, thighs screaming from the effort of being in that position for way too long. (I’m not just out of shape; I have knee issues. Though I’m also out of shape.) I’m trying not to touch anything, and I’m trying not to freak out about everything I mentioned above, and I’m trying to mentally will this to happen so that we don’t have to do this again in another 20 minutes. Lots of inner monologue, lots of arguing with myself and lots of cheering myself on. I can do this. I can do this.
And…there’s pee-pee! And we’re shouting hooray! And clapping! And sounding like complete lunatics to anyone else in this public area. But that’s OK because, as I just shouted, there is pee-pee!
Time to put the pull-up back on and navigate the dirty socks through the leg holes without having them touch the inside the pull-up. Then the pants. Then the shoes, which he doesn’t want to wait to put on because he knows that he gets to play with water—er, wash his hands—next.
We wash hands—hallelujah!—and dry hands. And sing about it all. And then argue about how many reams of paper towels we can use.
I emerge from the bathroom spent, exhausted, sweaty.
But there was pee-pee. And, in the end, that’s all that matters.
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