As Simon gets older and older, a problem has emerged into more and more of a problem: going to the bathroom in public.
When he was little, it was easy. Women are pretty accepting of kids coming into the women’s room.
When he got bigger, I kept bringing him in. Sure, he was a bit old to be considered a “kid,” but since he was with me, no one seemed to care.
It made me nervous, though. Sooner or later, I was sure, someone would try to get into it with me and tell me that I couldn’t bring him in.
Now he’s clearly a teenager, and not a young teen either. Bringing him into a women’s bathroom is the last resort. Instead, the best option is a family restroom, or a single person restroom, where I can stand outside and keep an ear – and eye – out.
Recently, I’ve gotten brave.
Since I don’t feel good about bringing him into women’s rooms, I’ve begun sending him into men’s rooms.
Then I stand around the entrance, nervous as hell, sometimes calling into the room after him, getting weird looks from the guys who are coming out.
I finally took it further – instead of standing outside the men’s room, waiting for him, calling to him, I would go into the women’s room and go to the bathroom while he was in the men’s room.
I pee as fast as I can, hoping I finish before he does and get out before he does. I wash my hands without drying them. If there is too long a line, I don’t go at all and instead just cross my legs until we get somewhere else or until we get home.
I always make it out before him, even if it means that I use antibacterial gel on my hands instead of washing them.
But then I got super brave.
Brave like someone rushing through traffic to save a toddler from an oncoming car hitting him while a hawk swooped down to try to pull him up and eat him and a hunter fired a gun at the hawk, but the hunter had super bad aim and the bullet was coming in way too low.
Okay, not that brave.
But pretty brave.
We were at a Target, and I really really really had to pee.
Simon didn’t have to go, and I knew that he’d been willing to go into the men’s bathroom and pee anyway, but then we’d leave the cart with all the paid-for groceries all alone, and I didn’t really want to do that. And Simon is 16. Maybe it was time to try something new.
“Hey, Simon,” I said, “can you do me a favor?”
“I want you to hold onto the handle of this cart, here,” I showed him where to put his hands, “and I’m going to go into the bathroom. I’ll be right out. You wait here, holding the cart. Is that okay?”
Here’s the thing: Simon saying yes doesn’t always mean yes. He says yes to almost as many things as he says no to, and the response often has nothing to do with the question as much as it does about the time of day, how tired he is, or how much attention he’s been paying. Or it might have something to do with what sounds best. I have no idea how he decides whether or not he says yes or no.
But he said yes.
And I had to pee.
He put his hands on the cart, standing where he couldn’t see into the women’s room, but as close as I could get him without having him look in.
The fear. The absolute fear. The oh my god, I am leaving him alone in a store fear.
Will he wander off?
Will he get upset?
Will a well-meaning person try to help him if he gets upset, leading to a police incident in the 90 seconds that it takes me to pee?
(Yes, those are all serious fears – while I don’t think a police officer could make it there that quickly, the fear that an officer could show up and there could be an incident that would lead to an injury or an arrest is completely legitimate.)
I rushed. I rushed so much. I avoided peeing on the seat (which proves that, no, you don’t have to pee on the seat you seat-peeing savages), and I washed my hands, drying them on my shirt because I wasn’t going to use the hot air blower.
I left the bathroom, fully expecting a partial meltdown in progress.
Simon is not a fan of not being able to see people that he wants to see.
At home, I can tell him half a dozen times that I’m bringing recycling out to the bin, and when I come back in, he’s crying and repeating that “Mom is taking out recycling” or if I go out for the mail, then I hear “Mom’s getting the mail.”
Whatever it is, he isn’t very happy about it.
Even going to the mall as a family, when Patrick takes Simon to the bathroom, if I take longer than them, I hear about it as I make it back to the waiting place. “Mom is in the bathroom! Mom is in the bathroom!”
This time, though, he was just standing there, still hanging onto the cart.
He wasn’t trying to look into the bathroom. He hadn’t left the cart. He wasn’t upset that I had gone into the bathroom.
He was…he was…he was fine!
Now, I know that this sounds like all I’m talking about is going to the bathroom, but it’s so much more than that.
He’s 16. He’s going into his sophomore year in high school, but he is eligible for (and will be taking part in) the 18+ program. He will stay in school, getting some extra help, socialization, job training, and lots of other good stuff until he’s 21.
Five years might sound like a long time, but anyone with a child can tell you that it’s not. It’s the blink of an eye.
At 16, Simon needs to be moving ahead with his life.
He needs to be able to do things on his own.
He needs to be able to let me do things on my own.
He needs to not always need someone to watch him.
He needs to be his own person.
He needs to be an adult.
So while standing alone with a shopping cart while I duck into a bathroom for two and a half minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s the start of a lot.