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Toilet Phobia

Natalie has developed an abject fear of toilets, based, I suppose, on her previously mentioned fear of drains. I can see why they are scary. They're big and full of swirling water. Many of the public toilets flush automatically meaning that they often erupt unexpectedly in the middle of using them with a roar and a gurgle which sprays the user with... let's not go there. I admit, I find this phenomenon disturbing as an adult. As a small child, Natta finds it absolutely terrifying, to the point where she refuses to use any toilet except the one in her house equipped with her nice spongy potty seat and pink step stool.

The problem with this line of thinking is that she also likes to go "lotsa places" and sometimes needs to go potty while we're out and about.

For example, we were at the Pullman public library recently. We don't usually go to Pullman any more but on this trip we had been out antiquing together and we decided to stop by the Library for some reason, I forget why. So we were browsing among the books and toys when Natalie announced that she really, really needed to go potty RIGHT NOW and could we please go home to do it?

For those not familiar with our location, the Pullman Library is about 36.2 minutes away from the trailer where we were living at the time. That's a long time for a little bladder to hold it. I told her that no, we couldn't go home to go potty, we were too far away. We'd have to make do. Her little face crumpled at the realization of what she would have to do and she started to cry. I quickly took stock of my options. There was a children's bathroom with a small toilet but she insisted that would be no better. Besides, it was occupied for who knows how long and we needed immediate relief.

We headed for the adult bathroom. As I had feared they had an auto-flush toilet with a split seat, the very worst kind. We tried sitting on the side, Child clinging to Mother for dear life and crying as only a terrified three-year-old can cry. Then the awful thing flushed. With a rush and a roar it flushed right under my daughter's little bottom and with that she had had enough. She flew up off the seat, literally climbing my front like a tree. Her screams could be heard, I am sure, throughout the entire library. I wondered if people would think I was physically abusing my daughter or something worse as the piercing shrieks continued. (If you have never heard my daughter scream, you don't understand the sonic quality of her voice. This kid is destined for the Opera.)

There was a knock at the door. I peeled the Child off my front and left her standing in the middle of the expanse of white tile floor with her jeans and pink panties around her ankles, her little round face streaming with tears, her knobby knees crossed and quaking. I cracked the door and peered out. The kind-faced, gray-haired Children's Librarian, Kathleen, stood there, her eyes full of questions.

"Are you okay in here?" She asked peering around me at my weeping child.

"She is afraid of the toilet," I explained in a mixture of humiliation, embarrassment and empathy for the tiny miserable figure standing behind me.

The doubt did not leave Kathleen's eyes. "Have you tried the Children's bathroom?"

"It was occupied," I answered shortly.

She left us alone and I decided to fall back on Plan B. I re-dressed Natta and lugged her out to the car where we had an emergency potty seat and step stool. We took these tools back in to the now-empty Children's Bathroom and assembled a child-toilet. Unfortunately it was still a split-seat public toilet and she began shrieking again, the intense high-decibel cries echoing off the white walls.

I gave up on Plan B. On to Plan C, which involved hastily putting one of Seth's diapers on still-crying child, gathering up potty seat, step stool and child and fleeing to the car. As fast as I could I drove home and set Natta on her potty at home.

Failed attempt number 1.

The other night we were at Bucer's Coffee Shop and she needed to go. Really bad. Now this time we were closer to home in miles but we'd walked so same problem.

It began with the terrified crying again but to make a long story short, we finally triumphed over the evil Public Toilet by having Frightened Child sit on Reluctant Parent's lap. On the Potty. You figure it out.

Anyway, she was so pleased with her success that she has been suddenly insisting that she needs to pee in every public location we encounter. Except she will only use the Parent Lap maneuver. I figure in some twisted way, this is progress because at least we're not giving the impression we're murdering our child via slow torture in the bathroom. Unless someone happened to walk in on us, then they'd be a bit confused.

And there are drawbacks to this method other than the obvious logistical discomforts. Yesterday I was the lucky parent to help her go potty at an antique store in Moscow. We were there just before closing, trying to hurry a bit. She needed to go so we entered the 2' square room, stripped to our ankles, sat and.... missed. Not only did she get her clothes and the floor but mine got it as well.

Where did I sign up for this? How in the world did I get myself into this situation? Did I not read the fine print close enough?

Sympathetic friends have given all sorts of advice, ranging from having her pee outdoors in a bush to carrying a potty chair into restaurants with us. I simply have to step back and laugh at the absurdity of it all. Someday when she is in high school I'll whip out this story and torture her with it. (Does that sound like sweet revenge? I wasn't thinking that when I wrote it but reading back over it, hey, all parents have a bit of a sadistic streak at times, right?) For now, I'm thinking of leaving Seth in diapers. Permanently.


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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 9th, 2008 04:35 pm (UTC)
OMG!! I am totally laughing! That is hysterical! Well, at least for me it is. I pray she gets over this fear quickly! -Jilann
Jun. 10th, 2008 05:51 am (UTC)
LOL! I can totally relate to the child's fear of public toilets! My kids won't flush the toilet at Grandma's house because it is SO loud and sounds like it will suck you down. Fortunately for me, they don't refuse to use them- unless they are stinky portapotties with bottomless pits. Kyrie refused to use those once. We had to drive to a store as fast as we could. Fortunately, it was a successful trip.

I never thought about the parental lap option. You are brave. And yes, I think it will be a great story to tell her future beaus. At least you don't have pictures!
Jul. 30th, 2008 02:11 am (UTC)
toilet phobia
My 7-year-old daughter has been terrified of toilets since she was 3. She was the victim of a premature automatic flush incident once on a road trip as she was just mastering the potty-training thing. She also has a fear of the toilet overflowing. She holds her pee all day long at school and limits fluid intake to avoid having to go. When she does have to use an unfamiliar toilet, she totally freaks out. She squats, struggles to squeeze it out, then dashes away from the toilet (usually without wiping -yuck), and bolts from the stall. She will not flush public toilets. We are working on getting her to consistently flush her familiar toilets - like the ones in our house and grandparents' houses. Some methods for getting her into public toilet stalls that work include: draping a diaper over the automatic sensor while she's pottying, so the toilet won't flush with her on it AND what we are currently doing - standing (clothed) behind her, but over the toilet while she's using it. I also hand her a wad of toilet paper while she's peeing and tell her to wipe before she stands up. So far this method works well, but her fears are so irrational, I think it will be a long time before she doesn't panic about toilets. We just try to take it day by day. It is so frustrating and embarrassing. We have also had numerous screaming events in public restrooms. I'm sure people think I'm torturing my kid too. It's just such a difficult phobia to handle for all of us. My husband told her he would give her $100 to clog the toilet and then flush it in an attempt to "cure" her phobia. For now, she's not willing to try that. I know what you are going through and wish you luck with this exasperating problem.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )