Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fear of the Flush

Yesterday's New York Times had a piece by Tina Kelley on kids’ fear of automatic flush toilets. With their flashing lights, unpredictable flushes and loud whooshing, Kelley writes, the toilets are “the stuff of nightmares” for some toddlers.

There was a time when I would have dismissed such a story as the worst kind of lifestyle puffery, a topic not worthy of a serious paper. Is there no minor hurdle, I used to wonder, that these self-absorbed parents can’t somehow turn into a traumatic event?

But parenthood changes a person.

I look at such a story now and I see that it involves three topics—child behavior, irrational fear and bathroom fixture design—that absorb an inordinate amount of my attention on a daily basis.

And I remember that my own son went through a period when he, too, was terrified of automatic flush toilets, a fear that severely complicated at least one of our cross-country drives. I recall stopping at every interstate highway rest stop between Chicago and the Cumberland Gap so that my boy could take care of his business, only to have him refuse to go near the automatic flush toilets. For the sheer combination of frustration, social embarrassment and utter helplessness in the face of your child’s need, there is no experience quite like finding yourself in a crowded public bathroom in Kentucky, begging your son to please, please defecate, while the poor kid, pants around his ankles, screams in terror and holds his hands over his ears.

I never knew life was so complicated until I became a parent.

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