Bathroom Matters

Since I take my girls to many places on my own, I am regularly confronted with the matter of the bathroom.

For obvious reasons, I take them to the men’s restroom, and I’m sure many women cringe at the very word “urinal,” let alone at the sight of one. While I’m not exactly sticking up for the quality and general cleanliness of most men’s rooms, I can say that, having worked cleaning bathrooms in a department store in my youth, that I found the women’s rest rooms much more disgusting. So taking them into the men’s room does not necessarily bother me; it always depends on how clean it is.

And don’t think that because a bathroom is unisex makes it any cleaner – or filthier. The nearest Dunkin’ Donuts by our house has a pig-sty for a toilet, but my Weight Watchers’ restroom is always very clean. It depends on traffic – and whether or not the staff cares.

I’ve tried very hard not to make too big a deal out of the cleanliness issue. What I mean by that is this: my father would refuse to use a toilet if he felt it was too disgusting, and he also passed that phobia on to me. And I don’t think it’s that good a phobia to have. Common sense is one thing – I’ve walked out on many a dirty toilet and for good reason — but paranoia is something else. And if you have to go, you have to find a way of getting it clean. Sometimes you do it yourself, and sometimes you demand somebody else clean it.

Having two small children around, I’m usually prepared to clean a toilet seat, with wipes and even sanitizing soap. If I have my doubts but they have to go, I will find a way to get the toilet seat itself clean enough and hope nothing backs up. Sometimes, I make em wait. But I want to be direct and matter-of-fact. As you’ve heard said before, how we handle it is how they will learn to handle it.

I manage to take care of my own well enough, but the “bathroom factor” does put some limitations on certain kinds of play dates. We took one of our oldest daughter’s friends, a girl, to see a show at a local high school, but my since my wife was with her, she was able to take our young friend to the women’s room and that was okay. There is no way her mother, a very nice woman and someone who surely trusts me, is going to let her first-born girl go into a bathroom with a man other than her father – and that’s absolutely right on her part. If the young lady – we’re talking five years old, now – needs any kind of help, I can’t give it. Yes, I would have to if it were absolutely necessary, but it’s simpler to wait until both girls are old enough that they can safely use a women’s restroom on their own (which is, when, exactly? Prom night?).

I do find that aspect unfortunate, though, since I’m sure some of our friends would like to go to places with us, and it would be easier sometimes for the moms, too, who have at least one or two or even three younger ones at home. I wish there were more family restrooms which at least give a little more privacy and comfort. It doesn’t solve all the problems, but it would help a lot if we knew that the place we were going was going to be more family-friendly, as regards bathroom matters. It took a long time for diaper-changing stations to be more evenly distributed into both men’s and women’s rooms, and the inequity still exists there, I know. Many big malls and chain stores like IKEA have family bathrooms, and good for them – it may have cost them extra money, but I bet more families go to those places because they know there is a clean, private family restroom with small and low toilet seats for children.

One last word on “touch-less” toilets and sinks (and even towel dispensers!): fabulous way of stopping the spread of germs, BUUUUT: there is nothing more terrifying to a young person learning to use the potty than to be sitting on a big toilet bowl and suddenly hear a WHOOOSH sound from underneath her! My oldest still remembers the first time, at JFK Airport. It’s taken us a while to get her back to such places, but at least we know now how to make sure it flushes after she’s off the seat!

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About T.B. White

lives in the New York City area with his wife and two daughters, 6 and 3. He is a college professor who has written essays about Media and the O.J. Simpson case, Woody Allen, and other areas of popular culture. He brings a unique perspective about parenting to as the "fathers" blogger. Calling himself "Working Dad" is his way of turning a common phrase on its head. Most dads work, of course, but like many working moms, he finds himself constantly balancing his career and his family, oftentimes doing both on his couch.