By Mariah Mottley
Eight years is how long it takes to get a doctorate; I have one in restrooms. Every moment I wasn’t at home with my kids, we were either in a public restroom, trying to get to a public restroom or trying to get out of a public restroom. My knowledge of the restrooms of Ithaca is deep and broad, and like many higher degrees, useless now that they are all old enough to go by themselves.
I went to Wegmans alone the other day, late at night. I used the small grocery cart, without any child seating, because I could. When I was finished shopping, I used the restroom, walking into one of the stalls by myself. While I was inside, I did not speak, sing or dance. No one wiggled under the stall divider, or pumped all the soap out of the dispenser at the sink after their great escape. I was just a lady approaching 40, using a public restroom the way it was supposed to be used. A minor miracle, and not one I would have believed four years ago.
While I was earning my doctorate in bathrooms, I sometimes went to Moe’s. Kids ate free on Tuesdays, there was a salsa buffet, and decent quesadillas. On that particular day, they were all screaming about needing their own cups of red and green salsa, and crumbling tortilla chips everywhere. Then, a mad rush to the potty.
Family policy was that the youngest went first. As the door closed behind me, I noticed that the button on the knob didn’t click when I pushed it, so I couldn’t tell if it was locked. My son was excited to use the potty, but upon closer inspection felt it didn’t pass muster. I have always had my doubts about the black ones myself. My youngest daughter was up next. Business at Moe’s was brisk, and I figured someone would try the door during her turn, so I could see if it was locked or not. I do not like to be walked in on, if you know what I mean.
While she went, my oldest daughter and the little boy began slamming their bodies together and bouncing off the black tiled walls, screaming at each impact. In between body slams, my son stuck his hands in the hand dryer, whooping each time it went on. Next he tried to flush the toilet, but his sister hollered and swung her leg at him from the seat. Then he tried to escape all together, but I blocked the door. I suggested a game of Simon Says.
We touched our noses, chins, belly buttons, knees and toes. My middle daughter was still going. We did the head, eyes, ears, nose and hair, this time in Spanish. I couldn’t remember the words for knees and toes. She was still going. I suggested the Hokey Pokey. She was finished.
Now it was my eldest daughter’s turn to go. While she went, we sang. The two younger children chose their bottoms as the body part they wanted to put in and take out before they shook them all about. Then we counted to 10 in Mandarin.
The eldest was still going. She suggested we sing Ring Around the Rosie. The two bottom wigglers became a dervish and I twitched as their heads just missed the corner of the sink, the corner of the hand dryer.
“All fall down,” I sang, and down they went, squealing.
“Do again! Do again!” My son bellowed, the tiles reverberating.
Now it was my turn to sing from the toilet. No one had tried to the door yet. I didn’t know for sure if it was locked. I sang, patting at the toilet paper roll. The kids spun, three now, faster and faster, screaming, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes –
The door opened, totally unrestricted by the lock. Daylight illuminated me as I went, pants around my ankles, toilet paper in hand. We were at the part where everyone falls down, and the children lay writhing with joy at my feet, in a bizarre tableau. The woman who exposed me was backlit and childless, I assumed, based on the look of pure horror on her face. She had never considered what one did, exactly, with three small children in a bathroom.
“Welcome to Moe’s!” an employee hollered in greeting at a newly arrived customer.
Those days are gone. They have passed the way the summer did, endless afternoons changing by small increments into an entirely different season. The kids are big now. They close the door behind them when they go. Privacy is a thing again.
All you parents of young children, you’re doing great. Everyone else, maybe listen for singing before you try that bathroom door.
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Originally from Manhattan, Mariah was educated in Massachusetts, Montana and Texas, often by failure. She lives with her husband and three children in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Mariah can be reached at email@example.com.