Before the kids came, or more specifically, before the kids began to be toilet trained, I hardly ever used public restrooms.
As an aside, why on earth are they called rest rooms? The thought of actually resting there is hardly appealing. Relief rooms I could understand – if you find one when you urgently need one, it is certainly with a sense of overwhelming relief – but why rest rooms?
And, for that matter, the public ones are not even “bathrooms” – not unless you happen to be in, say, an international airport lounge or some such place.
As for “conveniences”… certainly finding a toilet when you need it is a lot more “convenient” than not finding one… but… can the toilet itself be considered “convenient”? I don’t think so!
Like I said, public toilets weren’t on my beat much in the “good” old days. If I absolutely had to use one, I preferred an Indian style one, where physical contact with any surface was restricted to shoes on the ground. (For the uninitiated, Indian style toilets, or squatty pots, consist of a hole in the ground, with a porcelain bowl sunk in it, and a sort of platform for placing the feet. They do usually have some kind of flush rigged up, but it’s anybody’s guess whether or not it will work. In this respect, though, they are no worse than any other toilet in a similar location.)
On those rare occasions when I had to use a western style toilet in a public place, I of course practised my patented technique of hovering six vertical inches above the toilet seat, so effectively actual physical contact remained limited to shoes on the ground.
In Indian style toilets, the ground is usually wet, and you never can tell what proportion of it is water and what is pee. So you assume the best, fear the worst, tell yourself it’s only the shoes, and only the soles at that, and get on with the job.
In western style toilets, the floor might be less wet and disgusting, but the toilet seat has all the potential to more than make up for it. Even the six-vertical-inch-hover tactic often doesn’t seem like enough.
Either way, limiting physical contact doesn’t do much to contain the stink.
Nor do I think that public toilets are better anywhere else around the globe. You might find halfway bearable occurrences in the more high-class establishments like star hotels; or, for instance, at a shopping mall you might get lucky and reach the restroom just after it’s been cleaned; but in general, the best option is to simply avoid toilets outside home whenever you can.
All that changed when I started toilet-training the kids. Suddenly, after all the luxurious safety of diapers, I needed to be able to rush one – or, more likely, two – kids with critical bladder situations to the bathroom – like, RIGHT NOW! In those days there was no time to look at the bathroom and consider its level of cleanliness or hygiene.
Things are better now – in a manner of speaking. I still have to take the kids to the toilet in public places way too often. But now their every toilet request is not a crisis in the making. They can wait a few minutes while we get to the toilet, wait for it to get freed up, wait for me to do some kind of sanitising of the toilet seat…
In all of which I get to see up close and OFTEN exactly how gross public toilets really are.
And then, they started school.
Their school has squatty pots in miniature, more convenient for kids than the adult-size ones. The bathrooms are common for small boys and girls. Cubicle doors can’t be locked and don’t extend right down to the floor. Not all kids have learnt to close the cubicle doors behind them when they go, so the anatomy lesson is thrown in gratis.
A few days after the kids started school, I had taken them to the toilet before leaving, something I still insist upon before every drive or outing.
Tara went in and squatted, and… She slipped. Eeeks! Her right foot landed in the bowl!
It could have been worse… (do you need me to draw a picture?)
Then Mrini went, and neglected to hold up her skirt properly.
One day, Mrini, influenced by seeing how little boys pee, decided to try doing it standing up. Naturally, it ran down her legs. Ugh! And I had to load her into the car and take her home. Ugh ugh ugh!
But worse was in store for me.
The flushes in these cubicles don’t always work. I think the flush tanks just run out of water, with so many small kids going so often. There are taps in each cubicle and small buckets. So often the floor is wet either due to water running from over-flowing buckets, or from the water being used by the helpers to wash the floor.
Why wash the floor?
I saw one of the older girls – maybe 4 or 5 years old – walk into the stall and pee on the ground. Not near the toilet, not even in the correct orientation to the toilet, just right there on the floor near the door.
And the next kid who comes in wouldn’t know! They might not even think about it.
So what can you do? Close your eyes; close your mind; get your kids home and give them a bath; ignore the worst and assume the best, and hope they get through it all somehow, without catching any horrible diseases…