Last weekend, our family took the Lincoln Tunnel from our quiet, suburban haven in New Jersey to the cosmopolitan Mecca of New York City for a friend’s birthday brunch at a swanky eatery. We ate, drank, and laughed with old friends, and the boys impressed everyone with their impeccable table manners and overall sweet temperaments.
Before leaving, everyone completed all the standard exit rituals. We distributed hugs and made lots of positive noises about the meal and threatened to get together soon with each guest. Our family was the last out because our routine also includes a trip to the restroom to avoid getting stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel with a squirming child grabbing parts and trying desperately to hold it in. I escorted the boys to the restrooms while Gabriella collected our coats.
Bathroom runs are essential whenever we prepare to leave. There’s nowhere to pull over in the tunnel. Even if there were, Asher would implode before he would relieve himself roadside or anywhere out of doors. His 6-year-old brother, on the other hand, has joyfully watered the bushes countless times. He’s even filled up an empty water bottle in the car on occasion. Don’t judge until you’ve been there… unless you’re judging because we had a plastic bottle in the car instead of a stainless steel thermos. If that is the root of your damnation, I accept your indictment but maintain that keeping a plastic bottle in the car for such emergencies is an environmental transgression worth making.
Levi is just starting to read and was happy to point out the letters affixed to each door of the two restrooms. “M and W! Man and Woman.”
“That’s right, Levi. You both can come into the W room with me, though. It should really say W and Ws with children.”
“I am a boy not a girl. I’m going in this one,” he announced pointing at the M Room. Asher had been happy to shadow me to the W Room but paused to consider the choice Levi was making. It was clear that Levi was determined to use the Men’s Room. “Asher, go with your brother,” I declared, in one of those knee-jerk decisions we parents make because we have no time to prepare or evaluate. Asher followed his little brother for what would be their first solo flight to a public restroom. I had to restrain myself from going in with them. Would they be okay?
Obviously, knowing when you can safely send boys to the public bathroom on their own is not an issue reserved for lesbian mothers. Heterosexual moms out without Dad, single mothers, lady-relatives and other female caregivers may be out with a man-child who needs to empty his bladder far from home. We can list all sorts of other scenarios about male guardians and female children, but I’ll stick to what I know. And what I know is that sending your son to a public bathroom unattended for the first time is, at the very least, noteworthy.
On the 1-10 Scale of Children’s Independence, 1 being INSIGNIFICANT and 10 being TERRIFYING, this was hovering at about an 8 for me. Did I make the right choice? Should I have insisted they come with me? What would Gabriella have done? Being the overprotective Italian mother that she is, would she accuse me of putting our children in harm’s way? Did I send my innocent boys into a plumbed den of malfeasance? Do patrons of swanky restaurants have more of an appetite for crime? Should I have insisted they use a stall, so they could lock the door? Or insist they stand at the urinal, where they could make a hasty exit if need be?
“Don’t talk to anyone!” I offered as the door closed in front of me like a bank vault, sealing out my protection. I shook my head and berated myself. “We should have prepared them for this moment better. I should have reviewed Stranger Danger basics. What was our family code word?? I could have at least reminded them to wash their hands…and check the bottom of their shoes for toilet paper. What kind of mother am I?”
The boys emerged, emptied and unscathed. I exhaled the air trapped in my lungs. We were ready to go having already went now that my boys had arrived. There was plenty of time to talk about safety on our way home while we were driving through the tunnel in the mini-van with an empty plastic bottle in the passenger door compartment.