Mum talk - caught short
Like the corners of my mind
Misty water-coloured memories
Of the way we were…
Ah yes, misty water-coloured memories. The other day I asked my seven-year-old son Josh if he remembered anything at all about the home we rented when he was two.
Like the blue soldier tapestry that hung over his bed. The revolving rainbow lamp that cast pretty shadows on the wall at night. Teddy. “The crack in the toilet seat,” he replied.
It stands to reason that toilets make a grand impression on the human psyche. After all we spend a vast amount of our lives sitting on them, standing near them, hovering over them, peering into them and yes, in times of distress, kneeling at the altar.
To the toilet trainee, the loo is the key to mother love. If you aim straight and remember to pull your pants down first, mum’s going to love you for it. Again and again.
Josh’s thing about toilets really reared its head when, at the age of four, he insisted on going to our local park every day. The park had extensive playground equipment, rope ladders, tube slides, kaleidoscope peep-holes, bouncy walkways.
Josh bolts straight to the new space-age toilet. (Anxious mother gives chase, stumbles, is nearly decapitated as the steely door slides shut in her face. Outside buttons flash like the dashboard of Apollo 11. A long queue of excited toddlers and parents forms.)
- Darling, press the button and let me in please.
(A long pause.)
- Josh – nnnNOW!
(Cruisy motion-inducing music plays from inside the toilet. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love…” A cascade of flushing and torrential giggles follow.)
- What’s going on in there?
(The astronaut presses another button and toilet paper spins from a roller like a whirling dervish. Button, paper. Button, paper.)
- Josh, stop that. It’s a terrible waste!
- Doing pooh. Poohing do.
Ten minutes later, as the outside sign predicts, the loiter alarm sounds. Neil Armstrong whooshes back to earth as his toilet self-cleans and flushes out extraneous matter from alien planets – like small boys in space suits of sodden toilet tissue.
Public toilets are a world in themselves. Admission to the public toilet of your gender is a rite of passage. In your early years you’re considered a kind of eunuch and fall into the “unisex” category. You can happily be admitted into the Ladies or Gents with parent in tow.
No woman perched on the pan is going to bat an eyelid if a dear little boy sticks his head under the wall of her cubicle and asks what she’s doing. A lot of women in public toilets have been mothers too.
It’s when boys become boys and girls become girls that the trouble begins. Now that Josh has turned seven, asking him to enter the Ladies is as preposterous as getting him to greet his aunties with a kiss. And clearly I can’t accompany him into the Gents.
We’ve come up with a plan. Either he doesn’t drink for a week before we visit the shopping centre or he visits the Gents with a five-second time limit. Meantime, I hover at the entrance, capsicum spray in hand, suspecting every passing male of mass murder.
Of course, it’s much easier when Josh’s dad comes along for the ride. It’s a father–son blokey, cough-up-your-sleeve kind of thing, standing side by side at the urinal, ready to take on the world.
Reaching the heights of the new porcelain variety is tricky though. Kids need to be built like a hydrant and have the internal pressure of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade to bullseye into the bowl.
The do’s and don’ts of when to do and what to do about it are becoming hazy in our rain-drained society. Toilet training for little ones was always: aim, fold (four squares only), wipe, flush, wash.
Today, it’s “What? You flushed?! Did you really have to?” Hostesses’ faces blanch now when you say you’re just going to visit the john. There’s a sprint to see who will get there first. “James and I are conserving water. Just let me check to see if it’s safe to go in!”
When I was little, the world and its toilets were so much simpler. There was much less angst about baring your bum. In my auntie’s outside toilet in the country, you didn’t even need to flush. Just shake a little powder on your deposit and the nightman would do the rest. And there was no toilet paper either. Just last year’s yellow pages, ripped out and ripe for the reading.
… Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time re-written every line?
by Jo Stubbings
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, May 2007.