I was a Pediatric GI nurse for years before I had my own babies. It was my job to deal with the foulest body fluids that exited people. I could describe diarrhea over lunch like it was the last movie I saw. I also lived in the city: urban life has grit, subway smells, homeless people walking around with “mystery stains” on their clothes, and a special kind of filth that you just don’t get in the suburbs. If you can have early pregnancy nausea in the city, working on a GI unit, you are made of some strong stuff.
But Motherhood has a way of changing you. And it wasn’t until I had my second child, that I hit the perfect storm of disgusting.
It was my first solo-shopping trip after the birth of my second child. My two-week old son was tucked into a Baby Bjorn, and my three-year old daughter held my hand as we walked around Trader Joes. I didn’t need food as much as I needed “an activity,” so we were taking our sweet time, when she said the dreaded five words: “Mommy, I have to pee.” I knew this didn’t mean “eventually.” It meant, “I had to pee 15 minutes ago, and I will start leaking in T minus 3…2…” I had missed the window on potty training her nine months ago, because I was a little busy laying on the couch and dry heaving. We had just gotten her into big girl panties, and I was not gonna miss the boat a second time. But that’s why we love Traders, right? They have charming little bathrooms with vases of fresh flowers…just perfect for potty training families. I had this.
The first restroom was occupied. As I approached the second door, it swung open, and a person started to come out. I say started to come out, because she stopped. I guess she thought it would be the polite thing to prop the door open for us, but she stood in the doorway, so that we would have to squeeze past her to get by. Before I could say, “No that’s OK, you go ahead,” my kid broke from hand, and went rushing in. That’s when I realized that this person had on a dirty winter hat…in May. And, she hadn’t finished zipping her pants, and they were hanging wide open. Oh no, I looked down - anything to look away…Wrong move: her shoes were caked in something that can only be described as regurgitated malt liquor and 7-11 cheeseburger bites. Ah! Look up…She had a large brown stain creeping up her pant leg that looked suspiciously like…nope. Not going there. Fuck! My kid was inside! I would have to go in to get her out. As I gingerly walked past this wretched woman and mumbled, “Thanks,” the stench of every subway station I have ever been in hit me with full force.
Exhale. It got worse.
I didn’t think it was possible to be nostalgic for the “Eu de Urine” scent that left when she exited and closed the door, but what lurked in that little room was astounding. The unbelievable combination of sauerkraut, hotdogs and B.O. had reached an olfactory DEFCON 1. I gagged two or three times in a row before I could tell my daughter we would leave to wait for the next bathroom. Now, I thought I had great reflexes, but being post partum must have really beaten me down. Or three olds are amazingly fast, because before I could say “AAAHHHH!” my kid had dutifully dropped trou, and climbed up on that nasty porcelain throne “all by herself,” and used her chubby little hands to grip the toilet seat. I threw up in my mouth, planned how I could hold her up to the sink with the baby in his front pack, and how hot I could get the water before CPS would consider it “child abuse.”
I was still scheming, when my daughter finished and hopped down to have me wipe her and pull up her pants. While I bent over to do that, just like the good “big sister” that she had been practicing to be, she put those toxic little mitts on either side of my precious newborn’s head, and kissed him.
And that is when I self-diagnosed OCD, and officially became the public restroom Nazi.
Ashley is an award-winning health activist and blogger, and was named WEGO Health Network’s Rookie of the Year for 2015. She is a hyper-flexible mother of two bouncing (literally) kids. A lack of collagen has left them the world’s worst Superheroes (but don’t tell them that). She self-medicates with booze and humor, and passes it off as wisdom. She writes about the wacky things that their syndrome has taught her family at The Incredible Adventures of Malleable Mom. She has been published on Scary Mommy, Mamapedia, and BLUNTmoms. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.