As a Mom of boys, I’ve had to think about my approach to navigating public restrooms. (Dads of girls have the same issues.) When they were very little, it was easy, they just came with me. I imagine when they are much older it will be easy, they will go to the men’s room without a second thought. Now, it’s tougher. John is 7 1/2 and at the age where he wants to go to the men’s room as he doesn’t like the idea of being with girls. I’m also aware from reading various message boards that some people are really disturbed by older boys in restrooms. I’ve seen posts where some people describe how their girls are very modest and very bothered by a boy in the same restroom as them. I can understand this although I think this is sort of like public breastfeeding, the issue is more with the person who has the problem than the other person. Still, I want to be respectful of others and teach my kids to be respectful. The problem lies in that there are no hard and fast rules about how old is too old. Is seven too old? How about six? Five? Four?
Generally, what I do is that I send the boys in together. I’ve talked to them about how noone should try to talk to them or touch them and if someone does to yell loudly. I figure with a buddy they are less likely to be a target for any unsavory characters. Even if only one has to “go” I make the other one go in as a buddy. From a practical standpoint,David still often needs help with things like reaching the paper towels so John is more to help him than anything else. Both of them dislike going places alone anyway so they see the buddy system as more to keep them from being lonely, rather than a stranger danger technique. If I’m somewhere with just John, most of the time I let him go in the men’s room alone. I still make David come with me and right now he prefers that also.
I kind of hate that this is an issue I worry about. As a Mom of boys that will one day be men and as a wife to a fabulous man and a daughter of a wonderful man, I hate the idea in society that all men are scary. I’m also a big believer in the statistics that say the vast majority of childhood molestation occurs by someone the victim knows and not by a stranger. I do believe the risk is very low and yet it’s one of those things the irrational part of me still worries about.
And then last night we had a very creepy restroom experience. In the ladies’ room.
We were in an odd somewhat deserted urban shopping area. (Lots of people outdoors, but relatively few in this indoor shopping area. When we first went in I noticed that one of the stalls was half-open and someone was in there. Weird, but maybe the lock was broken. Then as I was changing Ruth who was protesting the person made a comment like “It’s ok little girl, even big girls have to get changed sometime.” I thought it was odd but didn’t say anything back as it took me a moment to register that she was talking to me. I then heard her mutter something about “guess she doesn’t care what I think” or something like that.
David was talking also and suddenly this woman said “I HOPE there isn’t a BOY in the lady’s room!” In a very loud and upset voice. I calmly said “Well, he is little and not old enough to go the men’s room himself.” And she said “Still that’s just plain weird.” And then a minute later “Doesn’t he have a Daddy?” To which I said “Yes, he does. But his Daddy is at home in Virginia where we live.”
And then we left. Writing it out it might not seem that creepy, but the feeling was weird. It was the half-open stall door, the over-interest in what we were doing by a stranger. Also her speech was slightly slurred as if she was intoxicated.
I have no real conclusion to this post. Just a weird experience to share. The good thing is that neither David or Ruth seemed bothered. I remained calm and talked in a calm and normal voice. And I didn’t say anything to them that would make them think I found this odd.
Maybe this is my conclusion. Although after something like this, it’s easy to feel like strangers are well, strange, I’d rather remember all the strangers that opened doors for me this weekend as I traveled alone with two little kids. All the men who offered to help me carry the stroller up stairs. All the grandmas who commented on how adorable my kids are. The woman at the museum who picked Ruth up when she fell down and helped her look for her Mommy. Yes, stranger danger is something we have to teach our kids, I guess. But I also want them to see the world as a place where there are a lot of friendly people, even if they are technically strangers.