One of the many things no one tells you about having kids is just how hard it makes it to have a wee. If you are someone for whom toilets have always been perfectly accessible – if, for instance, you’re neither trans nor intersex, and don’t have mobility restrictions – it can come as an enormous shock to find that suddenly toilets are the holy grail. The chances are this is temporary. Your children will grow and leave you to wee in peace. Nevertheless, in the interim it can be enraging. You’ve always assumed that the world was built around the needs of “people.” Suddenly it’s obvious that this is an illusion only the privileged can entertain.
Today my sons got yelled at in Morrison’s and (for once) it wasn’t their fault. All they were doing was waiting outside the toilet cubicle while Mummy paid a call. Suddenly I heard a woman’s voice telling them they had no right to be there and should go to the men’s. My sons are four and six. I have no intention of sending them off to the men’s toilets unaccompanied, or leaving them to wait outside. I was amazed – unfortunately, too amazed to think of a cutting response to the woman, who’d left by the time I unlocked the toilet door.
This came as a bit of a shock. I thought we were over the worst of public toilet grimness. It’s years since the days when the only appropriate places to have a wee were Ikea in Bristol or Mothercare in the Cheltenham Regent Arcade (try as I might to restrict our diet to pickled herrings and SMA, I always found I needed to shop in other places). Back then it was hard and I always felt there was some secret “having a wee when you’ve got a baby” etiquette that no one had bothered to tell me. Prams and pushchairs don’t fit in toilet cubicles. You don’t want to shut the toilet door on your baby, but if you take your baby out, do you just plonk him or her on the floor, no doubt in someone else’s urine? Do you try to undo yourself and have a wee while holding your baby? What about wearing a sling (a total non-starter for someone as inept as me)? And if you have a toddler, is it okay for him or her to watch you or will it create some hidden Freudian trauma? With all this going on, there’s no way you’re ever going to try for anything more complex than a number one (as for periods, the ridiculous lengths one has to go to in order to ensure nothing remotely bloody comes into view don’t bear thinking about).
Obviously it’s better when you’re in the comfort of your own home – but not that much better (I really need to get a lock on the bathroom door). Your children WILL try to kill each other whenever you decide you need more than a piss (yes, I’m being coy). You find yourself turning into your dad (or to be precise, my dad), muttering “can’t a man even go to the toilet in peace?” Then again, there will be the rare moment when you nip in for a quick one and find that no one’s noticed, and then you’ll sit in the bathroom for a good twenty minutes, not exactly hiding from your loved ones but … okay, actually, you are hiding from them, but you’ve earned it given all the times you’ve been interrupted.
Outside it’s the worst, though. The world is not built with any acknowledgement of the fact that not everyone is free to be an independent wee-er. And of course, for parents – mostly mothers – you just have to suck it up, for the time being at least, until the world becomes more like Ikea (in the toilet, if not in any other, sense). But it’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of how much almost every structure and facility around us is built with assumptions of privilege and non-dependency. Parenthood alone is just, temporarily, a tiny glimpse of what it might be like on the peripheries. But weeing has to be for everyone.