Kids can go from having a great time to having a terrible time in a split second. Usually it is their own fault. When it’s not their own fault, it is probably their brother or sister’s fault. Sometimes it’s the fault of the color of the cup you gave them. One of the more frustrating things about when kids do melt down is that it can happen any moment, and you never know when that moment will be. With one exception – when you’re in the bathroom.
Without fail, as soon as the bathroom door closes, a tiny mouth opens and out comes a scream. It doesn’t matter if I take 15 minutes to take a shower or 15 seconds to pee, as soon as my kids know I am not immediately available they view that as an open invitation to freak out about something stupid. If anything, their freak outs seem to be proportional to the length of time spent in the bathroom. If I’m just grabbing some floss to get something out of my teeth, one kid will commit the terrible offense of getting a song lyric wrong and the other kid will yell at them. If I got done working out and need a nice long shower, then for sure somebody will end up laying on the floor crying. I sometimes wonder if they remember what I had for dinner the day before and plan the severity of their outbursts accordingly.
What is it about the bathroom? I can leave them alone for periods of time to do other things and they are fine. I’ve never gone to the mailbox and come back with a fist full of political flyers I’ll throw out immediately and a house full of crying kids. When I’m working from home I can sit on Zoom calls for hours and they’ll be fine doing whatever it is they do when I’m in the basement and they are upstairs. While whatever it is they play leaves their room a total mess, it leaves nobody crying. But I go into the bathroom and their bedroom suddenly becomes the island from Lord of the Flies. God forbid I get the stomach flu, somebody would surely get a rock dropped on their head.
What is it about me being behind the bathroom door? They aren’t newborns. They know I continue to exist when I leave the room. At least I think they do. I was average at best when it came to peek-a-boo, so surely they’ve figured it out by now. They know sound can travel through the bathroom door. When they scream for help wiping their butt I come to help them. I don’t pretend I can’t hear them because they are in the bathroom. Though maybe I should. If they think I can’t hear them scream at each other when I’m in there, only fair for me to choose to not hear them.
It’s more likely that they are fully aware I can hear them, but they know that if only for a few seconds there is nothing I can do. In their minds I might as well be on the moon, and when the cat’s away the mice will jump off the bed and land on their little sister. I don’t know if I am more pleased that they’ve learned to respect my privacy when I’m in the bathroom, or more disappointed that they immediately devolve when they think they’re out of my reach. From a young age I trained them to leave me alone when I’m in the bathroom, and they don’t pound on the door when I’m in there and they certainly don’t try to barge in. My wife on the other hand did no such training and is the frequent victim of tiny barging people.
The bright side is that they they learned what I taught them. If only they could apply this beyond bathroom etiquette and into something like cleaning up their toys or staying in their bed at bedtime. Too bad from them neither of those things presents them with the opportunity for unsupervised chaos, then I bet they’d keep the house spotless. Isn’t that really their motivation here? To do whatever they want. They do just enough of what I want them to do to allow themselves the opportunity to do as they please. Then again, isn’t that everybody’s motivation? I mean, why else do adults go to work? Perhaps my kids aren’t out of control, but wise beyond their years? Good for them, but I’d still like to be able to shave without a kid ending up in tears.
So I guess I did this to myself. I made them think that if I am in the bathroom I am totally unreachable, and they’re pushing to see how far that can go. This is why we can’t have nice things. I’ve traded five minutes of privacy for ten minutes of calming down a screaming child. Talk about a shit deal. See what I did there.