By David Waag
Web Exclusive - February 25, 2008
It is our third visit to the bathroom in as many hours. And like the two previous visits, we are leaving mission unaccomplished. The mission is for Stella, my two and half year old daughter, to go poop. Not a big deal except that we are in the Houston airport without Mom and with a six-hour-layover between flights.
I'm not suggesting that if Mom were around it would be any easier or that I am not capable of handling the situation. Oh contraire, we have been safely out of diapers for several months, I am a seasoned traveler, and Stella is a real trooper when it comes to planes, trains, and traveling. So, when my wife suggested that she travel to Costa Rica a week earlier than Stella and me in order to take a Spanish language class, I thought, sure it would be a fun adventure for Stella and me to travel without Mom from our home in Oregon down to Costa Rica for a break from winter.
Our predawn departure from home went just as planned as we boarded the first of two flights en route to Costa Rica. The flight itself was uneventful as both my daughter and I slept nearly the entire ride to Houston. The next leg of the journey was, in my mind, the most uncertain piece of the adventure, a six hour layover in the Houston airport before our second flight. No problem, I thought. I'll pack a few key books and travel toys and we are sure to have a great time exploring the airport. I was looking forward to the experience.
As we exit the bathroom yet again without success, I realize that I neglected to factor the public toilet scenario into my planning. I am new at parenting, but potty training went very well and at 2 years and 7 months, Stella was diaper free and had been for months. Public toilets still posed a challenge as they do not offer the familiarity of one's home turf but we were making progress on this front too. At least I thought we were.
In hindsight, my first mistake was going to the classic large airport bathroom. It did not take long to realize that this did not go over well. Essentially, as soon as Stella heard the loud voosh associated with the flushing of a commercial toilet she decided she did not want to have anything to do with such a loud contraption. To make matters worse, the toilets were auto flush, which in the eyes of a two and half year old made the situation that much more unpredictable.
Upon leaving the bathroom, poop mission unsuccessful, I decided to use our time in the airport to source a more family friendly toilet. Sure enough, with a little effort I found a bathroom dedicated to family use, single room, lockable door, changing table, one toilet, much less intimidating than the stadium sized men's room of our first attempt.
I wait until Stella suggests she is ready to use the toilet and head straight for the family bathroom confident that this will solve the intimidation factor of our previous attempt. No such luck. The Family bathroom still featured a scary auto flush toilet and despite her obvious need to go poop, she manages to hold out again.
The latest visit results in some slightly soiled undies. Feeling ever so prepared, I have a backup pair and just in case (given the privacy of the family restroom) I wash out the first pair and dry them under the hand dryer so I still have a backup pair. Although somewhat concerned about her holding it in yet again, we leave the bathroom and resume exploring and reading books.
This scenario replays itself hourly while we bide our time waiting for our flight. As nature calls, Stella with a look of desperation, expresses the need to go poop, we head to the bathroom, and each time she sees the fancy automatic flush toilet, she loses here enthusiasm. Not a big deal the first time or even the second time, but pushing five hours of close calls and holding tight, the situation is getting more desperate. I have washed and dried undies several times now but we have yet to really go poop.
Eventually it is time for our flight to board and still we have yet to complete our poop mission. I listen for our row to be called when, with a look of true desperation, Stella says she has to go, now. Fortunately, the family bathroom is nearby. We make a beeline for the toilet. Again, once in the bathroom, she refuses to go. Here we stand in the bathroom, desperate child, desperate parent, and a plane that is boarding without us. It may sound unorthodox but with visions of missing our plane, I have a flash of genius. When we were potty training we would often squat and pee in the yard. I suggest if she could poop on the floor she would not need to use the toilet. She agrees. Quickly, I put several paper towels on the floor, she assumes her squat over the towels, and the mission is accomplished. I wrap up the paper towels toss them in the toilet, wash up, and with two very relieved smiles, we are the last to board the plane for Costa Rica.
David Waag, father of two small children and editor of Off-Piste Magazine lives in Oregon and maintains his passion for traveling, even with children.