My main objective on road trips is to get to wherever we are going without having to use a public bathroom with Hadley and Harper. I’ve been a parent for nine years now, and so far this objective has not been reached. I’m a mildly well-mannered person, but when I hear one of my offspring tell me from the backseat, “Mama, I have to use the bathroom,” I lose it.
“How bad?” I ask after slamming my head against the headrest in frustration. “Like, can you make it to Grand Rapids?” I turn to the girls, pleading with them.
“We just entered Pennsylvania,” Harper moans.
“Yeah,” Hadley adds, “Grand Rapids is ten hours away!”
I turn and face the road, put my head in my hands, and moan, “Nononononononono.” Sometimes I’ll rock back and forth. The point is, I hate public bathrooms and I turn into a crazy person if I have to visit one.
Jesse’s afraid I’m going to give the girls a complex. I roll my eyes when he brings this up. “I don’t have a complex,” I tell him. “I have a healthy disgust and fear of public bathrooms.” Also, Jesse doesn’t have to go into the stalls with the girls. I’m pretty sure if he did, he would understand why I come out of the bathrooms looking like I’ve just gotten off the battlefield from Game of Thrones.
I tell the girls, “Don’t touch anything,” and it just goes downhill from there. “What about this, can we touch this? What if I have to throw something away in the personal garbage cans in the stall, Mommy? They’re so cute, can I throw my trash in it? Please? I have a gum wrapper in my pocket. I really want to throw my trash away!”
I have rarely seen Hadley or Harper throw anything away in our house, but Harper has a gum wrapper in her pocket from last spring that she must put in the feminine waste bucket in the stall. “No!” I hiss, “DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING.”
If we’re in Ohio, the girls run to the “family stalls” because in these stalls, there are three places to sit: the big potty, the little kid potty, and a chair bolted to the wall with a seatbelt for babies who don’t need a potty. I’m thankful for things like this, but here’s what happens when the Feyen girls enter:
ME: DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING.
HADLEY AND HARPER: I want the little kid potty! Dibs on the little kid potty!
ME: DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING.
HARPER: Hadley, please let me use the little kid potty! You can use the grown up one because you’re bigger. I want the little kid potty because the seat has scallops. It’s like a fancy potty. Please, Hadley!
HADLEY: Fine. But let’s race.
ME: DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING.
HARPER (after sitting with delight, I might add, on the little potty): Hadley, you don’t win the race because I didn’t really have to go. I’m just here to try.
HADLEY (jumping off the seat and pulling up her pants): That’s cheating, Harper! I won! I WON!
Using a public bathroom could be an Olympic sport. It requires preparation, patience, endurance, and lots of strength. And I’ve just given you about 90 seconds of our experience. I haven’t even discussed what happens if I have to use the bathroom, or what happens when they need to wash their hands.
It’s all just a nightmare and I can’t talk about it anymore.
Except to tell you this: We were on our way to Raleigh, North Carolina when I lean over to Jesse and say, “Ummm, Jesse? I kind of have to use the bathroom.” Jesse knows that this mild statement is an exaggeration because unless I am about to explode, I will never ask to stop at a public restroom. (I believe I’ve proved that point above.)
“No problem,” he said. “We can all stop.”
“Nononononono,” I said and went into rocking back and forth crazy person mode.
Enter Petersburg, Virginia, one of the most delightful places to use the bathroom I’ve ever been. We parked in front of this huge chalkboard sign with the prompt, “Before I Die…” and folk passing buy write what it is they want to do before their time is up.
“Well, that’s just the greatest!” I said to Jesse hopping back and forth. “I’ll need to get a picture of that before we leave.”
The visitor’s center, where we used the bathroom, was an old building that I think withstood the Siege of Petersburg from 1864-1865. It didn’t seem that anything had changed, but the place had that nice Colonial Williamsburg character; the floors were hardwood and creaky, there were rocking chairs to sit in and the building was chilly in a romantic drafty kind of way.
The bathrooms were set apart from the building – not outhouses – in a courtyard with flowers and more places to sit. I’m not exaggerating when I write the entire experience was charming.
“I could live in either a big city or a small town like this,” I told Jesse as we walked back to the car. I surveyed the store fronts along the street we were walking on: a cute wine and cheese restaurant, an adorable coffee shop, a second hand store, a beauty salon. “I bet this street is it, you know?” I said to Jesse. “I mean, I bet this is the place you go to when you need a hair cut, and this is the place you go to for coffee.”
You run your errands in a town that was under siege more than 150 years ago and you head towards that huge chalkboard wall where I imagine soldiers once treaded asking what it is you want to do with your one wild and precious life.
Jesse made a u-turn so I could get a better picture of the sign. I snapped a photo and we drove away.
“I think I want to take a dance class,” I told him as we head towards Raleigh. “Ooo! And I want to run enough races next year so that it adds up to 40K.” I sip some of my coffee. “You know, because I’m turning 40.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jesse said while he merged onto the on ramp and Petersburg became smaller in the side mirror I was looking in.
“Do you think 40K is a good goal? Do you think that’ll be too hard, or too easy? I don’t know anything about signing up for races. Do you think I could dance? I feel like I want to try that again. It’s been so long, though. I’ll probably look like a fool, but it sounds fun. You know what else sounds fun? Having writing parties. Like, I’ll invite some friends over who like to write, and they bring their work to our house and we read it out loud. Then, before everyone leaves we share one writing goal we want to work on before we all leave each other. Doesn’t that sound fun? What do you think?”
“I think you can do whatever you want to do,” Jesse said.
I smiled and grabbed his hand. “I can’t use public bathrooms.”
Who knew I’d find so much inspiration at one, though?