If I was asked today if I could choose one word that encapsulates parenthood, I would have to choose the word “transition.” It seems like how I handle the never ending changes in my life and my children’s lives is a great predictor of how I’ll fare in this day-to-day journey called ‘parenthood.’
Transitions began even before the moment our first child was born and officially entered our lives. As any parent knows, the minute you know you are pregnant, your outlook begins to change. In fact, even earlier than that for me. As soon as we transitioned our marriage to the ‘let’s start trying’ stage, a paradigm shift occurred.
And as many books as I’ve read, websites that I’ve scoured, and parenting groups that I’ve joined, there are moments that make me believe that it’s impossible to always be ready for what’s ahead. One moment that I’ll never forget was when I was blindsided by a transition moment in Target one afternoon.
As never fails to happen, the minute my kids and I were buried in the back of the store, the farthest corner away from the restroom, my son had to go to the bathroom. I was relishing a few moments of retail therapy in the bedding section, imagining how a new duvet really would inspire me to keep my dresser cleared off. Perhaps such a nicely appointed bed would even get my husband to put his clothing in the hamper.
Trying not to be annoyed about being torn away from bed linen therapy, I grabbed my son’s hand, tossed my daughter in the cart, and got the three of us to the front of the store in record time. Out of breath, I abandoned my cart, picked up my daughter and dashed into the women’s room. Ignoring my hard and fast germ phobic rule, “the stall at the farthest end of the row is the cleanest,” I blasted into the first stall, announcing our arrival with a resounding crash. Standing in the germiest of all stalls, I suddenly realized my son hadn’t followed me. I came out of the women’s room just in time to see the men’s room door close like the jaws of a trap. I called his name, and lunged toward the door labeled “Men.”
I stopped myself. What was I doing? I had almost walked into the men’s room, four-year-old daughter in tow. Is that illegal? If not illegal, certainly over the top. My son was simply taking a right of passage, one that I didn’t see coming.
I knew then, as I do now, that for a boy to choose to use the Men’s Room instead of following his mother into the Women’s Room was developmentally appropriate, but it was still a tough moment.
I lingered outside the door, probably a little too close. I was trying to look casual, like I belonged twelve inches from the men’s room door, holding an overstuffed mommy purse and a squirrely four-year-old. I feigned intent interest in examining the restroom maintenance check list. I conjured up a curiously strong concern as to why “Y.N.” had not initialed the square for ‘checked soap dispensers’ at 8. I was appalled to see that from 9:30 am until 10:45, the men’s room had been completely neglected with absolutely no initials in any of the little boxes. Is this an issue for customer service? Perhaps I should write down the 1-800 number listed below the “If these restrooms do not meet our high standards, please do not hesitate to contact us.”
But, my gosh, my son was still not out. He was breathing in that air, no doubt touching things, in the less than perfectly maintained restroom. His soap dispenser may not be full since employee “Y.N.” had been slacking on the job. I was beginning to sweat. And I had absolutely exhausted all material of interest anywhere near the men’s room door.
I was beginning to look a bit conspicuous.
How hard could I push my agenda on this one? How much closer to the boldly lettered MEN sign on the door could I hover without looking like a Wack-O? I imagined all the possible scenarios that could be going on during the 65 seconds since he had left me. There are such perverts in this world. Every horrible scenario flashed though my head. I wished I had told him just one more time not to talk to anyone or touch anything, or even look at anyone.
But these moments rarely lend themselves to that last heart to heart.
Knowing full well that I was humiliating myself, I yelled through the door once, just once, “Everything OK in there?” No one answered my call–probably a good thing.
A man walked through the door drying his hands on his jeans and almost tripped over me. With a stumbling man as my cover to distract anyone who could have been watching, I stretched my neck to get a look inside. Nothing. Then I almost went for it. Images of a desperate mom bolting through the men’s room door still haunt me.
Suddenly, Dylan nonchalantly came out. To me, it was as if he had just taken his first wobbly step, or was stage bound, marching to Pomp and Circumstance, or walking down the aisle to Mendelssohn, new bride on his arm.
OK, so maybe it wasn’t exactly that big, but it was definitely a moment.
I knew that as he stepped over that threshold labeled “Men’s,” he was a little closer to becoming one himself. I was relieved that I had given him the space to make that transition. After all, if I couldn’t let go, how silly would I look in the years to come, escorting him on one of those other important walks? Not to mention the obvious that one of us would run into trouble with the law if we didn’t get the public restroom thing worked out.
There’s a theory in potty training and reading-readiness that one must ‘strike while the iron’s hot’ so to speak. I guess it really applies to all transitions for children. When a child feels ready, it’s important to support and encourage. If I had given my son the message that he wasn’t old enough to go into the men’s room, he would have received a ‘no confidence’ vote.
I’m not naive enough to think that I haven’t made bad judgment calls many times since then. And I know there will be many times in the future when I do cross what’s become to me the proverbial ‘threshold to the men’s room.’ After all, kids still need boundaries and guidelines, and it’s a tricky line to walk.
But the older my children get, the more difficult these boundaries become. Movies, sleep overs, music, parties, driving, dates. They ask to do more, they’re more capable, they understand more, and they present better arguments.
Just this afternoon I had to explain to my eight-year-old daughter why she couldn’t sell Girl Scout Cookies up the street on her own. When the obvious “because its unsafe and you’re not old enough” didn’t carry enough weight, I finally resorted to the old standby, “’Cause I’m your mom and that’s my rule” line. When the predictable retort, “But Claudia’s mom let’s her,” was delivered, I resorted to another old standby, “Well, Claudia’s mom must love her daughter more than I love you.” The discussion was over. To resort to sarcasm was an even lower blow, and we both knew it. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.
And though I don’t think there’s much of a chance of my daughter selling door to door to strangers any time soon, sometimes I do just have to take a step back and revisit the men’s room door.