“Potty, Mama. Potty.”
Amid the generous aisles of the superstore, Paige tried to encourage her daughter’s statement of independence. At just twenty months she was a toddler eager to gain more control over her body and its many functions. Paige scooped her in her arms, hoping this wasn’t another ingenious play to release her from the confines of the red plastic shopping cart with its matching child constricting seat.
“Let’s go find the potty, ok?” Paige’s arms ached from the weight of her growing daughter, but she held on searching for the red smartly painted letters on the wall spelling out “RESTROOMS.” She readjusted her daughter on her hip and rounded the corner.
“Potty. I go Potty. Pee-pee. Poo-poo.”
“That’s right. We’re going to use the potty like a big girl. Thanks for telling Mama.” Reassure her. Praise her. Make her feel special. Paige had become a voracious reader of child rearing books hoping they would stave off the legacy of mistakes that she surely would make. She came from a long line of experimentation, child rearing on the fly, and a grin-and-bear it philosophy of child development. But today, she reminded herself, behind the bathroom door was another opportunity for mother-daughter bonding. Later, she would have to reinforce that what goes on behind that door becomes uncouth, private, and unspoken.
Paige leaned hard into the door marked “Women” and it occurred to her that such a bathroom designation didn’t include the toddler she held in her arms. Her daughter was no woman, she was barely a girl; in fact an emerging toddler. She decided the Mars/Venus symbols were better, never confusing maturity with gender. Paige let her daughter slip through her arms and gently placed her small feet on the tile floor. As soon as her toddler feet hit the ground she ran to the first stall and put her determined hands against the door. The door swung open to expose a thin elderly woman bending over the toilet, reaching for the handle to flush. She reached for the side of the stall to steady herself as she turned and fired a violated look at both of her intruders.
“Potty!” Paige’s daughter beamed with pride, innocently unaware of the woman’s disdain for both her and her inattentive mother. With wrinkled hand, the woman slammed the door closed before Paige could make an apology. The coldness of her stare made Paige catch her breath. The woman’s bitterness took her by surprise. Paige guided her wayward daughter down the aisle of doors to the unoccupied handicap stall. Well, the extra space will give us room to maneuver, Paige reasoned.
“Go away, Mama.”
Paige looked at the toilet towering at least six inches higher than a regular commode and determined that this was no place to let a toddler declare her independence. Turning her attention to her daughter, Paige found her in true toddler defiance as the deft chubby fingers had already pulled her shorts to her ankles and was struggling with the diaper tabs. With motherly assurance, Paige reached to help.
“I do it.” With a swift pull, her daughter removed her diaper with a one-handed flourish.
“Wow, it’s dry.” Paige was amazed. Usually the declaration of “potty” was an afterthought not a forewarning. She lifted her daughter onto the white commode and watched as she quickly balanced herself with the palms of her two small hands. Her feet kicked in delight as she realized the grandeur of her new throne.
“Big potty! Wipes?” Paige rationed the roll as her daughter’s hands tugged and watched her go through the pantomime they had practiced many times before. “All done.” Paige felt her daughter’s arms reach around her neck and watched as she reached her small toes to the ground. “Flush?” Paige followed her daughter and glanced into the porcelain bowl to see that this was yet another pantomime. Mother’s hand enveloped daughter’s and together they pulled on the metal lever. Paige lifted her little mime to the wall-mounted changing table and wondered if a line was forming as more voices filled the cavernous restroom.
“Let’s put your diaper on. Good girl for using such a big potty!”
Paige had just adjusted the adhesive tape on her daughter’s diaper when her daughter sat up and announced,“Potty. I go potty.” With that she squirmed free of Paige’s grasp and ran to the large white toilet, took her diaper off and raised her hands into the air while looking at her mother imploringly.
“Again? Are you sure? OK, mommy will put you on the big potty.” Paige lifted her up and happily her daughter began to sing. The echo of the stall caused her to raise and lower her voice as she experimented with the reverberation. As Paige nervously wondered whether other restroom users would appreciate the entertainment value of such a performance, she became aware of other voices.
“Read the directions. If you do it wrong, it’ll give you invalid results. Says so right here.” The voice was matter-of-fact, but young. The sound of paper being unfolded and plastic being ripped was unmistakable.
A second equally young voice chimed in, “It says place three drops into the sample well. Ha! Sample well, that’s what it really says.”
Paige returned her attention to her daughter who continued with another refrain of her wordless song as she reached for the toilet paper. The voices in the next stall continued in a hushed tone.
“Now, we wait.”
Paige peered into the bowl as they again did the mother-daughter flush. There was a faint yellow tint of urine in the bowl, her daughter’s new merit badge. From the adjacent stall, what was previously an innocent voice, now had the sound of panic.
“Oh my God, it’s changing color.”
Paige sat with daughter in lap. Gone were the restroom bustle, the nonsense singing, and the sound of water swirling. All Paige could hear was the sound of a young girl’s sobs echoing off the tiles in a superstore bathroom.