I think it’s time we talked about one of the most disgusting issues we have to face as parents: the horror of public toilets teaming with filth and bacteria.
Sure, maybe I’m a little bit precious, maybe I’m am unrealistic germaphobe. Whatever. All I know is that when I’m at the shops and one of my kids suddenly announces that they need to go to the loo, I experience panic and dread. I have been deeply traumatised by the things I have seen in public toilets that can never be unseen.
Before I had kids, it was somewhat easy to manage my phobias: wherever possible, I’d hang on until I could get home. I was like the character “Shitbrick” from American Pie. Failing that, I would seek out somewhere where there was at least a good chance of the toilets being clean like a Maccas.
But my kids rarely ever seem to need to go to the loo when we are out and about if there’s going to be a relatively safe option nearby. It’s like they have inbuilt sensors that trigger their bowels and bladders and they need to go when every toilet in a one to two kilometre radius are places where you might actually catch the plague.
My five-year-old has a lovely habit of waiting to announce she needs to go to the toilet when she is on the verge of actually wetting her pants. I get her to go to the loo before we leave the house to go anywhere, but this strategy seems to only work about half of the time.
So it’s always a delight when we are doing a supermarket shop and get about halfway through it and she announces that she has to go to the loo NOW! I have to abandon the trolley, and take her to the nearest toilets that are half a block away… and I really, really don’t want to go to those toilets at all.
In my town, the public toilets provided by the council would haunt your dreams if you ever saw them. You can smell them usually before you can see them. I have no idea what goes on in there, but it is not unusual for the floors to have pee all over them and I have seen poop smeared on the walls, in the sink, and even on the mirror in there.
Sometimes I think that letting the kid piss her pants would be a better option than letting her use those toilets. Of course I always pick the second option, but the first is often so tempting. If we are in a position where she has to use them, there is literally no other option. The supermarket won’t let you use their staff toilets, and the next closest place with loos is about a 10 minute walk away.
These toilets are the metal kind that I imagine toilets in prison look like. I yell out impractical stuff like “don’t let your bum touch the metal!” but I know her flesh is coming into contact with Lord only knows what. And the thing that makes me want to dry heave more than anything is when she tries to put her hands – her freakin’ hands – on the metal to steady her little body and not fall into the loo. I yell out to her not to do it but it is always too late.There is no amount of hand sanitizer in the world to make that right.
The other public toilets in my town are those weird futuristic self-cleaning ones that also stink like a road train full of cattle. They’re called “Exeloos” with no sense of irony whatsoever. If you go inside one, every surface is wet, but you get to play a fun guessing game of “is it pee or is it water?” Of course, everything inside the alleged self-cleaning toilet remains filthy, even though it hoses itself down. What a quality investment these things are.
All the filthy piss-soaked, shit-streaked public toilets in the world are actually preferable to the ones that cause me such stress I almost need to breathe into a paper bag if my kids use: toilets inside hospitals and doctors’ offices.
While these usually appear quite clean and sanitary, it’s what you can’t see that freaks me out. I am convinced they are teaming with gastro germs, crabs, hepatitis, Ebola… pretty much anything that someone would be in hospital or seeing a doctor for. My kids have spent a bit of time in hospitals over the past two years visiting sick family members. They’ve gotten used to me forcing hand sanitiser on them every few minutes, or every time we walk past one that has been provided, but still they insist on needing to relieve their bladders.
Supposedly “toilet phobia” is a thing that many people suffer from – maybe about six percent of the population – and is considered to be an anxiety disorder. Dr Google tells me I might have this and that help is available. But if the stats are correct, I’m more surprised that the majority people aren’t anxious about venturing into filthy places smeared with the bodily fluids of other people.
And anyway, I don’t think I’m ready to take the step of going to my doctor and telling him that one of the biggest sources of anxiety in my life is my kids catching some sort of disease from the toilets in his clinic.