At about 4pm my 4 year old son and I passed by Capital Centre shopping mall to pick up a few items on the way home from school. As we walked toward the supermarket, he said the one thing that Moms dread to hear from their little ones while out in public places – “Mum, my stomach is pressing and I need to go to the toilet and poo”. I immediately attempt to defer the proposed activity and ask him in my most hopeful voice if he thinks he can hold just a little, so that we can dash into the supermarket, pick up the things and run home to use the toilet there. But even as I ask, I look into his eyes and know that he is most sincere when he shakes his head to confirm that indeed he cannot wait.
And so we change course and troop towards the washrooms to deal with our current change in circumstances first, and then proceed on our initial mission. As we get to the washroom area, I tell my son that we’ll need to go to the ladies washroom, so that I can help him use the toilet properly. He promptly declines this proposal and says to me, that he won’t get into the ‘girls’ toilet. I patiently explain why this once we need to get into the ‘girls’ toilet as his need is not a simple quick pee and go matter and he needs my help to use the toilet. Much to my consternation, he once again says no, he will not get into the ‘girls’ toilet. And that boys are not supposed to go to the ‘girls’ toilet, and how in school, Teacher Consolata tells them that boys should only go to the boys toilet and not go to the ‘girls’ toilet as it is not allowed.
With the all powerful name of Teacher Consolata invoked, I know without a doubt that I have lost that battle completely, and that no attempt to enrol him in my camp would be remotely successful. So I ask him what he thinks we should do, and he quickly tells me that boys are supposed to go to the boys toilet and that I could take him there if I would like to help him. I think about this proposal for a second, coupled with his shifting from one foot to the other and make the quick decision that a parent’s got to do what a parent’s got to do, and that if my hallowed duty of motherhood so richly bestowed upon me requires that I go to the gents to help out my little one then so be it, duty calls………
And so I swing open the gents’ toilet door and march in with my little one in tow. The collective gasps from the occupants of the gents’ room and their shocked stares of surprise have my cloak of determined mother-on-a-toilet-assisting-mission fall off and pool on the floor. As I open my mouth to offer an explanation as to what exactly it is I am doing there, I see the kind face of the cleaning assistant looking at me in sympathy. This good gentleman God bless his heart offers to assist. I weigh this offer of assistance against the alien feeling of being a green grasshopper in the middle of brown locusts and decide to work as best possible with what I have. So I explain to my good Samaritan(and ensure my son is listening as I figure should he forget something the little one will pipe up), that he needs to wash his hands thoroughly first, and then wipe down the toilet rim thoroughly with the pack of sanitized wipes I have given him, then line the inside of the bowl with a huge wad of toilet paper to ensure no splashing, cover the toilet rim with toilet paper and then assist my son to squat atop without any parts of his body touching the toilet. After which he is to help him wipe his bottom in a front to back motion until clean then they can flush, wash their hands thoroughly and exit. With a look akin to what may be given to one who has had a temporary loss of their senses, this good gentleman nods and the two of them proceed inside. I stand outside the main door waiting anxiously whilst staring down all the gentlemen giving me strange looks wondering why I am camped outside ‘their door’
As I wait outside as close to the door as possible, many thoughts run through my mind. I start to wonder why it is I am suffering like this, handing over my son to a complete stranger, trusting that he will be good and assist as best possible. I also start to wonder what other mums do with their little boys. I start to think as well, about fathers and what they do when their little daughters need to go to the toilet for I haven’t ever met any gentlemen doing his fatherly duty and bringing in his daughter to the ladies’ room. I couldn’t fathom the idea of a father taking his little girl to the gents’ room either. I made a mental note to ask my friends who are fathers how they overcome this challenge and what solutions they have sought when the need has arisen. The thought occurred to me as well that the persons who design shopping malls, restaurants and other public places frequented by little people may not be fathers and mothers and if actually so, they mustn’t have been sufficiently jolted to include a washroom solution for little ones.
I have seen one of these though in a top tier hospital locally, where specific washrooms have been set aside in the outpatient area with the sign ‘Children’s Toilet’ on the main door. These toilets have little toilet bowls, the correct height for children and toddlers, low sinks to enable children easily wash their hands and facilities created with children in mind. I also thought how this would be really convenient for parents accompanying their different gender children to the toilet as entering the children’s section to assist with toileting wouldn’t elicit any shocks and uncomfortable reactions either way.
So given that many restaurants, shopping malls, play areas and other public service facilities have packages that attract family patronage, why is it that they do not have washrooms customized for the very children they seek to attract? Wouldn’t this inclusion add significant value and be the tipping point that would direct more customers towards a children friendly facility? Customers love ease and comfort, and having the generally dreaded washroom experience converted into an easy and comfortable mission would be a crowd puller with no need to delve into business development strategy books to confirm that.
So…..rather than spend marketing funds on fancy ‘children friendly’ packages to attract the family segment to a facility, businesses should do the one thing that would definitely swing families their way – letting them know that they have walked in their shoes and that they care. I challenge all upcoming public facility developments and those existing ones that can refurbish and renovate, to include a ‘Children’s Toilet’ and then sit back and watch families stream through the door, for I guarantee you – they will!