Back before I had children, way back before I had a husband at all, one of my friends and I had a good, smug, derisive laugh at her sister, who wouldn’t let her take her elementary aged nephew anywhere because she was afraid of public restrooms. That is, she was afraid of sending her son into a public restroom by himself, and she didn’t want anyone else taking him into the ladies room, so he couldn’t go anywhere without her. I mean, come on. What was going to happen in a restroom? Was she afraid the kid was going to get lost in there?
I have an elementary aged child, and I can answer that question now. The answer is, “Sometimes!”
Not anymore. When he was a Kindergartener, yes. But by the time he four, I felt confident he would be a) savvy enough to figure his way around a mensroom, and b) strong enough to open the door to get out of one. That last one is a big deal. You send your little guy into one bathroom somewhere, and find out ten minutes later (when you go in looking for him) that he just wasn’t strong enough to get the door open, and you think twice about the logistics of personal needs.
When he was seven, I started letting him go to the restroom alone in restaurants. I sat where I could see the restroom door, keep an eye on who was coming and going, and watch to see if anyone was struggling to get out. The first few times, I worried. What if Pedobear was waiting inside for him? What if someone was waiting inside to Pedobear him? What if someone grabbed him and ran off with him? What if Pedobear? Did I mention my fear of Pedobear?
It was no big deal if we were with B. B could go into the mensroom with him. But if it was just the two of us, I couldn’t, so I just had to start sawing on that apron string and let it begin to fray away.
The bigger problem became what to do with him if I needed to use the restroom while we were out in public. I couldn’t just leave the kid standing out in the hall at the outlet mall, or leave him hanging around the water fountains at the theater, could I? So, I always dragged him into the ladies room with me.
To his great credit, though he would always protest quietly, he never made a scene. He would just sigh and try to lean his forehead against the stall door while I howled, “Don’t put your face on that! Noooo!”
At some point, you have to quit doing things that make you comfortable to avoid doing things that humiliate them. He’s gotten to an age that it would be an extreme embarrassment to be seen heading into a ladiesroom with his mother. He is also old enough to alert the world if Pedobear is waiting in the restroom (and has been drilled on exactly what to do.) So, I have sawed on that apron string a little more.
The past few times we’ve been anywhere, I have practiced sending him into the appropriate restroom, while I go into my own. Then, I move like lightning to get out quickly. And, I have practiced letting him stay at the restaurant table, or (and my heart was in my throat the whole time) in the movie theater seat, while I go to the restroom myself. (I also let him run off to the playground behind the school with two other boys, today. Not a parent in sight for at least twenty minutes, until I’d finished inside the building.)
You know what has happened? Nothing. I say, “You go use your restroom, and if you come out first, wait right in this spot.” He says, “Okay.” And that’s that.
When I was his age, I did a lot more alone than he’s ever done. I have to give him credit for being at least as wily as I was at 9, which was pretty slick. I realize that I will never be comfortable taking off parental training wheels. My first concern is always going to be for the potential broken limbs, not the delight of popping wheelies on your bike. I know the agony and joy of both firsthand–I just have to remember not to deny my son the experience of the one, for fear of the other.
I feel like we are doing a pretty good job teaching him how to make it through life without falling into the gutters, but if we never take the bumpers off, he’ll never know he can really do it. And by the time I have to send him off to college, I want him to have already learned to trust his own instincts, and be secure in the knowledge that we trust him because I believe that can be the difference between life and death in certain situations. I know it was for me.
So, yeah, Sister of My Friend, I’m sorry I laughed at you. Public Restrooms are a big deal, and since Adam Walsh, public in general has been terrifying for parents.
And Mothers-of-Boys-at-Whom-I-Used-to-Scowl-When-You-Brought-Your-Elementary-Aged-Children-Into-Dressing-Rooms, I apologize to you, too. Because wtf were you supposed to do with them? of COURSE you bring them in with you.
That’s the other thing! Gendered areas make parenting hard! You know why I love Old Navy? Fitting Rooms is Fitting Rooms. You go in the same door everyone else does, you shut yourself up in your little closet area, and you try on your clothes. I take my kid in with me, and no one crunches up like she’s afraid changing clothes within 20 feet of a penis is going to cause her bodily harm.
It’s usually moms taking the kids shopping anyway, and while you may be able to trust that your child is all right in a men’s dressing room by himself, you cannot trust that he is actually trying on the clothes, and not just trying out super cool spy poses in the dressing room mirror. And what about dads? If it’s hard for a mom to take a boy into a gendered area, how horrifying an ordeal is it for a father whose tiny girl needs to use the restroom? Does he go into the ladies with her? Or does he introduce her to the joys of the urinal?
I love Family Restrooms. I love Old Navy. I think we should just open up toilets and changing areas to unisex, and be done with it. Perverts are going to perv whether the restrooms are gendered, or not. But little kids have to pee, and really little ones need help. If not for the sake of the parents, lets make life easier on the kiddos.