Well this would solve my problem, I guess. Good thing they specified it’s the men’s toilet though – just as I was dreaming about standing and peeing…
The Zoo Incident started out innocently enough with my kids and I deciding to enjoy a beautiful Colorado day by checking out the new baby zebra at the Denver zoo last week. Like the good mom I (sometimes) am, I started off our adventure by trekking them all to the zoo restroom to ward off the evil sprites of My Brother Smells Like Poo, I Drank The Whole Water Bottle And Now I’m Sorry and – everyone’s fave – My Legs Are Wet And I Have No Idea How That Happened. With no family restroom available I sent the three boys (11-, 9-, and 7- years old) into the men’s as I hopped outside the door like a perv with a hand sanitizer fetish. (And let’s be honest, I kinda do. The only way I can ensure my kids have washed their hands is to make them hold them up so I can smell them. Such a fun little ritual for them to remember me by when I’m gone and they’re grown!)
After about 10 minutes – the average little boy needs approximately 37 seconds to pee – I started to worry. And then a little guy (probably 5?) came running out of the bathroom still yanking his pants up and crying. I didn’t have to wonder long why he was crying because as the door swung open I suddenly heard screaming loud enough to make the nearby baboons stop picking at their butts and take notice. “Mommy!” he gasped. “Something scary happened in there!” For a split second the other mom and I exchanged panicked looks, already imagining every kind of predator situation. But then the kid added, “Those two big boys are KILLING each other!!”
The mom stared at me as I said, “Those are my kids! I can tell from the shrieking.” Just then my oldest son came out. “What is wrong with your brothers?” I demanded.
“I dunno,” he shrugged.
“Well go back in there and find out!”
“I don’t want to! They’re rolling around on the floor and punching each other. It’s gross!”
“Well someone has to stop them and I can’t go in there!”
The spectators all looked at me waiting for me to do something as the yelling got louder. “What should I do?!” I asked no one and everyone. Nobody answered. “Okay,” I took a deep breath and threw the door open, intending just to stick my head in and see if anyone else was in there. Oh, there was! Didn’t even have to yell. I startled the man at the urinal so much that his pee stream made a question mark before his mouth could. “Oh gosh! I’m sorry! So sorry!” I gasped as I ducked back out.
Going on 15 minutes now, this was getting beyond ridiculous. I tried to remain calm (while all the while imagining cracking their heads together like coconuts the second they came out) as the fight intensified and more kids fled the bathroom. (As did the man. Who did not mean anyone’s eyes, especially mine.) At last I turned again to my oldest son, “Just go in there and drag one of them out! They can’t fight if there’s only one of them!”
“Which one?” He looked scared and I couldn’t blame him. Despite being the oldest, he’s also the smallest.
“Whichever one you can grab! Just go!!”
“What if they’re throwing poo?!”
“They’re not monkeys!” I retorted as I silently conceded he had a point. I wish I could say that feces has never been flung in our family but that would be a lie.
“Fine,” he sighed. At last he emerged literally dragging the 7-year-old with the 9-year-old running behind, both of them red in the face and sobbing hysterically. Each of them yelled over the other to try and get their version of the events out first.
I let them talk themselves out and when they were both finally quiet (all I could glean was they were fighting over a toilet, both literally and figuratively) I held both their little faces in their hands and asked quietly, “Did you pee?”
Silence. No, no they hadn’t.
So this time I escorted them one at a time into the ladies’ room, deciding that being forced to pee in a pink bathroom with your mom (and little sister!) watching was a pretty fitting punishment.
We went on to have a good time together at the zoo but the incident brought up – again – one of my main parenting dilemmas with having potty trained kids. When is a kid old enough to go in a public bathroom or locker room by him- or herself? It gets even trickier when you realize that it’s not just you and your kid that have opinions on the subject but the general potty-ing public needs to have a say as well!
The constant battle with our children between safety and independence is a hot topic among my mom friends and I. It starts as soon as our wee ones discover their feet are good for more than just sucking on and culminates with our birds leaving the nest but there is a whole lot of gray (and gray-hair making) areas in between. And a major milestone is the public restroom/locker room. Being the overprotective type, I figured my boys would come with me until their voices changed. I realized what a bad plan that was when my then-4-year-old piped up loudly in a locker room, “Mommy? Why does that lady have no hair down there but that other lady does?”
As if using the gym locker room isn’t a harrowing enough experience for some women, now they had to listen to me trying to explain bikini waxing to a pre-schooler. Oy. The official policy at my old gym was that kids aged 7 and younger could go into the opposite gender locker room with their parent. Eight and up either needed to fight for one of the few family rooms or use the men’s locker room by themselves. The first problem is that 7-year-olds are plenty old enough to notice things and are plenty verbal. Not to mention that at 11 and 9, my two oldest boys definitely do not want to change in a family locker room with their sister and I. Plus, it really depends on the gym, the locker room itself and even the time of day. And so I keep waffling back and forth about what I will let them do.
There’s a strong case for erring on the side of caution. Horror stories of sexual abuse of unaccompanied children in bathrooms and locker rooms abound but everything from pants peeing to wardrobe malfunctions to getting locked in a stall to FIGHTING OVER A STINKING TOILET AT THE ZOO can go wrong. The possibilities are even worse for locker rooms, thanks to all the showering, changing and other nakedness going on in there. However there’s also the need to let our children exercise their budding independence and teach them how to be confident and not overly fearful. And also how to function politely in a society that frowns upon peeing in gutters.
It’s no surprise then that both experts and parents have wildly varying opinions. ”I hear about it from moms all the time,” said Nancy McBride, national safety director for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, in an interview with abc.com. “They want their kids to have some independence, and on the other hand, they want them to be safe. It’s really a dilemma for a lot of parents.”
Cynthia Calkins Mercado, an associate professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice,says parents need to keep perspective. “Most sex crimes against children — about 80 to 90 percent — are committed by relatives or acquaintances in homes, not strangers in public.”
McBride disagrees, saying that no child, at any age, should ever be alone in a public restroom or locker room, ”Any public venue that allows access and opportunity to sex offenders has a potential risk. A bathroom is more private. It ups the ante.”
Seeing as I’m sure this will happen to me again, what should I have done at the zoo? As a grown-up do you feel weird having little kids of the opposite gender watching you in the locker room? As a parent, what age do you let your kids go – do you make them go to the family room even if he’s 13 or do you let him go in the public bathroom but use it as an excuse to play a loud game of Marco Polo?
P.S. Sorry for all the kid-centric posts lately! I’m still gym-less (although I really appreciate all of your great suggestions for me!) which also means I don’t get my daily quota of adult conversation or gym adventures. Although I did do another park workout today and discovered that putting your back foot up on a swing (a TRX would work too) makes lunges infinitely more awesome. (And by awesome I mean your butt will feel like you stuck a nail in each cheek. You’re welcome.)