Saturday, June 30, 2012

Safe Boundaries, or, More Toilet Stories

Another way to approach my Full Spectrum household is through a lens of boundaries: Z habitually smashes them, while G is often unaware of them. Until recently, when he told me it hurts his feelings and embarrasses him, I would publicly joke (say, when he hugged someone he’d never met) that G’s superhero name was “No Boundaries Man.”

The issue of bathrooms is just one example of this phenomenon. Now that G is older (and he’s very tall, so he seems even older than he is) I can’t take him into the Women’s Room any more. This is anxiety-provoking. I offer the following four justifications for why this is so:

1. Because G is so friendly, he will strike up a conversation with just about anyone. Anywhere.  After a few too many overheard bathroom conversations, and several attempts to gently explain how inappropriate that was, and dangerous, I told him explicitly and in strong terms not to talk to anyone in the bathroom.  Period.

After taking Z to the bathroom the other day, we were waiting for G outside the Men’s Room for a few minutes.

“G?” I called. No answer.

Increasingly frantic, I called him several more times.

Just as I was about to barge into the Men’s Room, G emerged.

“What’s the matter, Mama?” he asked. “You told me not to talk to anyone in the bathroom.”

2. Same scenario, but this time G gets out of the bathroom first.  From inside the Women’s Room I hear him striking up conversations with, basically, any man who is coming out of the Men’s Room.

“Hello, my name is [full name]” he chirps, over and over.

“Please don’t talk to people outside of the bathroom either,” I say, having rushed Z’s hand-washing to forestall the next greeting.

“But I made a friend,” he protests. “He seems like he might have been a little weird when she was a kid. Maybe she was made fun of too. In the past.”*

Score: one for making difference seem like a prestigious club; zero for safety.

3. En route to Grandmother’s G announces that we need to make an emergency stop. I manage to exit and pull into a gas station in record time. Z is asleep. Since I have parked right in front of the entrance, I allow him to run in by himself. Relieved over having made it to a bathroom in time, it takes me a few minutes to notice that we are in a really sketchy area. I watch a spectrum of shady characters entering and exiting the building with mounting dread. I decide to wake up Z, but she is in a deep sleep so I grab her and carry her inside. We make our way to the hallway and to the bathroom door…which is wide open.

There sits G on the toilet, pants around his ankles, jacket on the filthy floor, chin resting in his hand like a small, live, No Boundaries Man “thinker.”

4. A few days before school ended, the hallway bathroom lights, which are on an automatic timer, went off while G was sitting on the toilet. He began screaming in terror and by the time someone heard him and turned on the light he was in a full-on panic attack. He was still red and on the constant verge of tears when I came to pick him up.

The two problems I was later able to glean from him were as follows: First, he knew he was in a stall, but didn’t have a mental picture of the space he was in or how to get out “in the pitch dark;” second, perhaps more importantly, he “was not done wiping [his] butt.”

This, in fact, was a sign of progress: the wipe/flush/wash hands trifecta has been a challenging one for G, with at least two out of three typically forgotten.

And then we have Z. Unlike G, Z is exceedingly aware of boundaries. She tends to see boundaries, however, as mere niceties that do not apply to her. This, too, raises safety issues. And bathroom issues. For example, we have to monitor Z’s bathroom visits at home after her consumption of a few too many bottles of skin and hair products.

Outside of the bathroom, Z’s iconoclastic confidence is an invaluable tool in achieving sovereignty. Once, she told her teacher she had to go use the microwave, marched into the fourth grade classroom, placed her food in the microwave and turned it on to fry her Tupperware and food to a melty, smoking crisp.  Curiously, no one thought to question her actions once she’d assured them she “knew what she was doing.”

She pushes boundaries with words as well. We were at a plant show in a greenhouse with my extended family when I heard her tell her 4-year old cousin, “It’s so f___kin’ hot!”

“What did you just say?” I gasped.

Z looked me right in the eyes, and said, “I said it’s so freakin’ hot, Mama.”

And Z looooves her Papa (my Pardner)…Maybe a bit too much.

"I’m gonna marry Papa," she once informed me.

"No, honey, I am married to Papa," I said. "You're his stepdaughter and that’s a different relationship that is just as wonderful. You'll always be together like that."

She stared at me like I was a fool. "When you're dead," was her nonchalant response.

Another time, Pardner was in the bathroom when Z began a world-class tantrum in line at the basement food court in Grand Central Station. Upon his return, Pardner thought Z had been injured and swept her up into his arms and away from the others in line, asking with sincere concern, “What happened, sugar dumplin’?” As he walked away, she paused in her screams long enough to request -- from this apparent new ally -- “Could you poop on Mama’s head?”

Z has such a deep, scurvy, belly-chuckle of a laugh that it sometimes seems she understands just how funny her transgressions can be.

In short, both children represent a Full Spectrum of relentlessness when it comes to boundaries. Whether because of willfulness or cluelessness, in both of their lives so far boundaries are neither perceived nor approached/avoided as society expects.

By the way, speaking of toilets, and boundaries, when I myself am on the toilet BOTH children often deem it a great time to talk to me.  I’m not talking about after I’ve been lounging for ten minutes – I mean right away. They enjoy “keeping me company” and sharing important information, such as keeping me abreast of all current cat locations. Recent urgent, through-the-door inquiries – from both children at once -- include, “How do you spell my name backwards?” “How do you say my name backwards?” “How do you say your name backwards?” and “How do you spell your name backwards?”

Lluf Murtceps Amam

* Re: s/he: Yes, G does sometimes struggle with pronouns, but in this case the individual in question was transgendered and the fact that G was so casual about this gave me hope for the world!
   Re: “In the past:” I also am so glad that G believes me when I tell him that grownups are less cruel than children and that many people who struggle with being accepted in childhood and adolescence fit in fine as adults because stuff like being cool no longer matters. Is this true? I hope so.



  1. Public restroom breaks freak me out now that James is really too old to come in the women's room with me. He will talk to anyone, completely in the buff, dancing and giggling! I have seen way too many Criminal Minds episodes for me not to think the worst the whole time he is in there by himself. I love the places that have family bathrooms!!

  2. Absolutely, Sarah!!!
    Three cheers for family restrooms. Which we will be using in perpetuity.


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