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The International Writers Magazine
Growing Up

Bathroom Stuff and the Toilet Tour of the Universe
Brett Hardman

I fought with my son this morning, again. At eight-going-on-nine he knows more about everything than anyone on earth ever has or will, and defends his positions with unassailable conviction and his own brand of inarguable logic.

This morning the struggles were about the usual stuff: that going to 'Summer Rec', a summer day program for children, requires brushed teeth, a clean face, fresh knickers and socks, and a tidy room. Today, teeth are the sticking point.
    'They ARE clean!' he shouts at me.
    'Ok, let's see.'
    A perfunctory inspection reveals the Weetabix mortar apparently now holding his teeth together.
    'I think they need a proper brushing.'
    'I DID ALREADY!' he wails.
    'You can't go to Summer Rec until they're properly brushed, so I suggest you have another go.'
    'But I ALREADY DID!'
    I feel the ice of my Northern Scots upbringing begin a southward journey.
    'Go brush your teeth.'
    'I can't… I'll miss my bus!'
    'You won't miss the bus; there's loads of time still. Go brush your teeth.'
    'I'm missing my bus!'
    'If you would go and brush your teeth rather than stand there SHOUTING about it you'd MAKE your bus!'
    'It doesn't matter 'cause I'll miss my bus anyway!'

    And so it goes. He sobs, I shake, plaque colonies, happily undisturbed, carry on eating his teeth, and I haven't even mentioned his face, now snotty and tear-stained as well as ordinarily sticky and unwashed, or his room…

    I'm not sure when this began, his fighting and insistence that undone things were done and fine, my fighting and insistence that undone things actually be done. Major skirmishes seem, suddenly, to centre on 'bathroom stuff', which surprises me. This is the boy we once couldn't keep away from toilets.

    Not to be confused with mere toilet training, there's grasping the toilet concept and then there's grasping the toilet concept. Two years ago, on a family resort holiday in Fuertaventura, our small son decided the men's public toilets, the ones nearest the upper of the resort's pools, failed to meet his gold standard of cleanliness. With a single small and appropriately economic and environmentally friendly sheet of sodden toilet paper, and on his hands, knees, and belly, he cleaned the floors, the toilets, and the sinks, and then joined us poolside for some light refreshment before – his stated intent – giving the women's loos an equal going-over.

    My position on the general gold standard of cleanliness has inspired my husband to nickname me 'Howard' after the inestimable and eminently sensible Mr. Hughes who, in his infinite wisdom if utter madness, ended his days attempting to touch nothing ever. Quickly don mental plague suit, combine small outraged boy with hot soapy bath, scour 'til pink and shiny, and then unceremoniously drop into highly chlorinated swimming pool, deep end, for full submersion. Inspect hourly – from a biologically discrete distance – for early signs of Ebola; anthrax; hepatitis-a, b, or c; septicaemia; leprosy; bacterial over-populations; viral infections; creeping lurgy; and all varieties of cooties.

    We travel often as a family, and this child has been on toilet tour of the globe. Every country, every airport, every hotel, every restaurant, gas station, ferry, subway, train, airplane, museum, art gallery, grocery store, department store, rest area, and park... Maybe it is, as one friend suggested, a burgeoning interest in modern utilitarian architecture. Maybe it's a fascination with the underpinnings of disease theory or the medical diathesis-stress model. Maybe it's an early attempt at a pan-geographic social study of the roots of role identification. Of course, now that he's 'not a baby anymore!' and visits the men's room on his own, we no longer enjoy his daily insights on the material constructs of gender.

    Gender comparison may be, however, the only detail lacking in his dissertations on the relative frequencies and merits of bowl shapes; urinal presence or absence; differential heights, flush mechanisms, and flush efficiency; percentage of the population employing flush mechanism; speculative theories on the dietary proclivities of the non-flushing subpopulation; presence or absence of cubicles, doors, and locks; amount of vandalism and detailed inventory of items vandalised; and number, location, contents, and cost of the contents of dispensing machines – dispensing machine Grand Prize, All Round Including Good Free Stuff, International Category, recently awarded for the second year in a row to The Keg Steakhouse & Bar in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, for its copious quantities of 'lovely nice-smelling' hand soap, skin moisturiser, toothpaste, and mouthwash as well as two drying devices, automatic electronically operated toilets and sinks, and a veritable plethora of coin-operated vending machines the contents of which, aside from their proudly memorised and loudly announced brand names, remain for him largely – thankfully – a mystery.

    Cried out for the moment, my small son manages a perfectly respectable job of tooth cleaning. I gather his rucksack, water bottle, and trainers; drag mussed hair into place with my fingertips; kiss him; and see him out the door. But I accept that though I've won today's skirmish, I will never be able to make his bathroom at home as compelling and fascinating as those exotic toilets in faraway places.

© Brett Hardman March 2007

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