Robot toilet overload

Toilet blindfold

Toilet blindfold

Most people who stay at the Four Seasons Lana’i remember the luxurious rooms, the incredible dining options (Nobu! Dean & DeLuca in the minibar! Those amazing malasadas!), the intimate pool, and the picture-perfect sand beach on Hulopo’e Bay.

My kids will remember all of those things. But also, the in-room toilets.

These aren’t just any toilets, mind you. They are what our Big Girl calls, “Robot Toilets.” Toilets with built-in seat warmers. Toilets that open and close and flush automatically. Toilets that sport bidets for those trips to the bathroom you just can’t seem to tidy on your own.

The toilets represent the top-of-the-line product from a company called Toto, a company that makes all different sorts of toilets. The ultra-exclusive fixtures undoubtedly are intended to add to the feeling of luxury—especially since the technology creates this situation that actually obviates the need ever to touch the toilet or toilet seat when you go. (As an aside, they are priced at more than $3,000 apiece.)

But for my Big Girl—a brilliant and creative 7-year-old who suffers from anxiety about foreign toilets in general—they basically were the Devil in porcelain clothes.

At first, before she had to use the toilet in our room, she was fascinated by them, pushing the buttons to watch the lids go up and down. Curiosity quickly turned to fear when she sat down and the toilet unexpectedly started a circulate cycle to make sure none of her “presents” stained the bowl. We quickly figured out to use a (complimentary and posh) kid-sized slipper to “blindfold” the toilet’s electronic eye (which triggers the circulate cycle when you sit down).

For a few days, this plan worked wonders. Her curiosity returned.

Then, drama struck. We refer to it as The Bidet Incident. Completely out of nowhere, while the Big Girl was doing her business on the bowl, the toilet’s bidet feature went rogue and sprayed her bottom with gusto. To say this caught her by surprise would be an understatement. There were many tears. And blood-curdling screams. Then she announced she was “never peeing on Lana’i again.”

Powerwoman and I dried off our daughter’s bottom and did our best to stifle laughter. We spent the rest of the afternoon creating stories about robot toilets gone haywire. Mine evoked the Terminator movies, only with robots that sprayed unsuspecting butts instead of killing people. (The stories worked. She peed again.)

Thankfully, by our last morning on Lana’i, the Big Girl was able to smile about the toilet. She and her 4-year-old sister made up a farewell song. They included the toilets in their recap of their favorite things about the Four Seasons Lana’i. The two of them even figured out how to hold the blindfold slipper without any help from my wife or me.

As we headed for the door, depressed at the thought of leaving this paradise, L ran back to “do something important” and kiss the toilet goodbye.

“I just did it on the top,” she said. “I didn’t want the bidet to shoot me in the mouth.”

Tinkle practice

Calm before the accident.

Calm before the accident.

Like most girls, L and R are *huge* fans of the Disney movie, Frozen, and they love the line in the song, “Fixer Upper,” about going “tinkle in the woods.” In practice, however, the kids actually are quite terrible at actually going tinkle in the woods. And they’re not getting better any time soon.

Powerwoman and I were reminded of this on two consecutive outings this week.

R’s bladder failure happened first, after an ill-advised cup of milk and an unexpectedly long beachcombing trip along Orcas Island’s Crescent Beach. One minute we were plodding along the shoreline looking for beach glass, the next minute, she announced she had to pee, pulled down her pants, squatted to go, and peed all over herself.

L’s tinkle-castrophe occurred the following day while we were watching whales (we did a lot of that). This scene played out in similar fashion: Sudden need to urinate, pants at the ankles, and a valiant squat attempt, followed by soaked flip-flops and undies.

In R’s case, the issue was inexperience; because she’s only freestyled once before, she doesn’t really know how to do it. L’s case, the culprit simply was stubbornness. The child thinks she is the Serena Williams of pee-holding; instead of forcing her to recognize her own limits, we have decided to let her learn them on her own.

Together both experiences reminded Powerwoman and me of an underappreciated family travel truth: Even a little pee versatility can go a long way.

How will this epiphany change our travel practices? In the immediate future, I’m guessing, not that much. Down the road, however, especially before our next big road trip, you better believe my wife and I will work with the kids to help them get better at tinkling in the woods.

I’m sure the path to enlightenment will be rocky. I’m sure we’ll wet a lot of shorts along the way.

Ultimately, of course, the goal is to empower our daughters to go with ease, whenever and wherever they feel they need to go. To paraphrase the famous World Cup slogan: I believe that they will pee.

Ashton Kutcher feels our pain

Our new spokesperson. Credit: Jason LaVeris, FilmMagic.

Our new spokesperson. Credit: Jason LaVeris, FilmMagic.

In America, for better or for worse, nothing really is news until a celebrity deems it so. With this in mind, thank goodness we traveling dads have actor Ashton Kutcher on our side.

Kutcher was gallivanting in Los Angeles with his daughter this weekend. The kid needed a diaper change. But when Kutcher looked for a public restroom with a changing table, he came up empty. So he Facebooked about it. And his 18.7 million followers listened in a big way.

Within 24 hours, the episode was grabbing headlines on E! and other news sites. Two days after the post, his initial rant (if you want to call it that) had garnered 220,000 likes. Three days out—in other words, this morning—the subject had crept into the national discussion, popping up on morning news broadcasts and talk shows from sea to shining sea.

As the father of two girls who is out and about with them all the time, I can’t help but be amused.

I mean, Kutcher is right: More men’s rooms need more changing tables, absolutely yes. But thousands of traveling dads (including yours truly; this post was published back in 2012) have been saying the same thing for years, and nobody has so much as moved a muscle about it, ever.

Now that we’ve got this mouthpiece, here are a number of other fatherhood/travel issues I propose Kutcher espouse:

  • How condescending it is when strangers see us dads out and about with our kids on a weekday and think it must be “mom’s day off.”
  • The assumption that because we’re dads, our jobs are to schlep the family luggage through airports.
  • The proliferation of “Mommy Groups” that don’t include dads.

While he’s at it, I’d love for Kutcher to become the face of the anti-family travel hater movement. Even if he and Mila and Wyatt flew coach JUST ONE TIME and suffered the fools who assume the worst when they see parents and a young baby, raising awareness about their “hardships” could help the rest of us tremendously.

Kutcher, dude, we’re counting on you. Don’t let this opportunity disappear.

Potty breaks while traveling solo with kids

Too old for the men's room? Then what?

Too old for the men’s room? Then what?

I travel a ton alone with my girls. And considering that they are developing female humans and I am a grown male, sometimes potty breaks while we’re out and about can be a bit, well, dicey.  Naturally, then, when a reader wrote in recently with a question about how to handle this very scenario, I figured it was time to address the point here.

The bottom line: There’s no good answer here.

At the heart of this issue is the question about the cutoff age for children of the opposite sex being in a restroom. There’s no hard and fast rule here, but generally speaking, I’d say the age is somewhere around 4 or 5.

This is the age when kids start to internalize differences in body types; the age when daughters might notice certain parts near the urinal, or when sons might feel the need to comment about sanitary napkin pails. It’s also around the age when strangers (in this case, other grown-ups) might become uncomfortable with your kids seeing them doing their business.

I know at my gym, the rule is that no opposite-sex kids over the age of 4 are allowed in locker rooms. I know other gyms and YMCAs have that same cutoff. Personally I use that as my barometer.

Of course it’s not always so easy; especially when complying with this (totally arbitrary) rule could put your child in danger. Let’s say I need to use the men’s room in a crowded airport—do I leave L standing by herself outside?

Sometimes, sort of, yes.

My first choice in this situation always is to look for family restrooms. These usually are private rooms that comprise one toilet and one sink—and have a door you can close and lock so you and the kids can do your thangs without fear of interruption. Many airports offer this amenity (one at PDX recently saved R and me during an extended flight delay), and a growing number of shopping destinations do, too.

If I can’t find one of these wonder rooms, I usually have the girls “give a pee-pee concert.” This is our code for my Backup Bathroom Plan B.

In this scenario, I go into the bathroom to do my business and have the girls stand right outside the door, belting out “Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Let it Go,” or some other tune so I can hear that they’re safe. As soon as I’m finished, I race outside to meet them. Then I clean my hands with a wipe or their antibacterial gel.

I’m sure this strategy looks—and sounds—completely absurd to passersby. Still, it satisfies all objectives: I get to pee, we respect the privacy of other men, and the kids stay safe outside.

The Concert Plan certainly can backfire. My kids know that if they need me for any reason during a pee-pee concert, they are to scream a secret word (I’m not sharing it here to keep it secret). One time, one of the kids lost a hairclip and thought that constituted an emergency. I rushed out to find everything under control. My pants, however—let’s just say they didn’t fare so well.

(Obviously, there also are potentially more serious outcomes of this scenario, as well.)

Again, the rub here is that there’s no right answer. I’m sure other parents have other ways of dealing with this challenge. I suspect there also are some parents who scoff at social mores and bring along kids of the opposite sex when they must.

What’s your strategy? When do you think kids of the opposite sex are too old to accompany mom or dad into the bathroom? Please leave your thoughts in the comment field below.

All potty, all the time

Potty. At Gott's in St. Helena.

Potty. At Gott’s in St. Helena.

We’re deep into potty-training here this month, as we’ve been trying to get R to ditch the diapers and embrace the toilet like the rest of us. She got the whole peeing thing down quickly. Poop, on the other hand, has proven to be a significant challenge. As in, we’ve lost an average of five pairs of undies a week.

This explains why Powerwoman and I have been toting a portable potty with us wherever we go. Into town. To the doctor. And, yes, even on road trips.

Case in point: today’s pre-Mother’s Day excursion to St. Helena, one of the fanciest towns in the entire Napa Valley. While tourists enjoyed hamburgers and milkshakes at Gott’s Roadside, I was looking for a place to stash R’s portable throne. While other visitors wandered up and down Main Street in Prada and Vera Wang, there was yours truly, pink potty under my arm.

A handful of passersby (mostly younger folks) were oblivious to my accessory. The rest, however, looked at it quizzically, then glanced at the girls, and smiled.

The smiles revealed a certain familiarity; it was as if many folks were saying, “Dude, I was there, too.”

On one hand, these knowing smirks reassured me that our recent lives of Potty 24/7 are not that unusual. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but wonder: Generally speaking, why don’t I see more parents schlepping around potties in today’s day and age?

I’m being serious here, people. Every kid learns how to use the potty; why isn’t potty training more of a common sight with regard to family travel? Is it just that families don’t travel when their kids learn? Do most parents prefer just to put their kids in pull-ups when they’re on the road? Are we the only ones ridiculous enough to lug around a full-on potty (instead of a potty seat R can just use in a rest room)?

Obviously, I’d love your input on this issue. In the meantime, I intend to stick to my guns. The girls and I have a picnic date on the Sonoma County Coast this Tuesday. I’ll be the guy with the pink potty.

What a Pisser

Where does the urine go anyway?

Where does the urine go anyway?

We saw so many memorable sights this weekend in London: Families frolicking on an ice-skating rink near the Tower of London, little boys and girls marveling at holiday lights in Old Spitalfields Market, even “elves” working overtime at Hamley’s toy store.

Oh, we also saw a bunch of grown men urinating in public.

Sorry if that last sentence struck you as a bit of a shock. The reality is that it shocked the hell out of me and my wife, too. Especially since the urination was happening at a fiberglass urination station with four urinals, set up in the middle of the sidewalk across the street from a popular bar near Leicester Square.

Thankfully, we were sans kiddos when we witnessed this debacle. Still, the scene raises some questions:

1. What would we have said to our girls if we had seen the urinators with them?
2. Why was there a place for grown men to wee in public anyway?

I could go on and on with my outrage about these things. I also could write pages about my ire over the gender bias they represent. (Why don’t women get a place to wee on the street? I mean, when they drink beer they have to wee as well. Are their bladders not worthy of such convenience?) Heck, you could even argue that these public pissers are so improper that they actually are anti-British.

I’ve chronicled my complaints in a letter to the Westminster Council. I’d share it here, but, trust me when I tell you: The missive ain’t pretty.

Instead, because this is a family travel blog, in these pages I’ll stick to the bigger issue: When you’re traveling with the entire family, it can be *really* uncomfortable to explain certain sights and sounds to your kids. Even if you are the most quick-thinking human on Earth, there usually is no easy way to do it. Nor should you have to.

Powerwoman and I are big supporters of tackling issues head-on; if we had seen the urinals with our girls, we likely would have justified the scene as some sort of overflow bathroom.

Still, I must admit: This is NOT the kind of thing I wish to have to explain to my little girls. Ever.

To my knowledge, these public urinals haven’t made their way to the U.S. yet, and that’s a good thing. If and when they do, we’ll be ready to fight them and keep urinals where they belong: In the men’s room.

How do you explain uncomfortable and inappropriate sights and scenes to kids while traveling?

Take That, Magic Eyes

Thank you, 3M.

Thank you, 3M.

Parents who travel with young children know all too well that a constant dose of new places requires creative and innovative approaches to helping sons and daughters get past irrational—and totally normal—kid fears.

Some kids might need help with overcoming the notion of eating vegetables. Others might require moral support to wrap their heads around sleeping with a blanket they don’t know.

In our family, the issue is automatically flushing toilets; my older daughter is terrified of them.

If you’ve followed my work over the years, you know I first wrote about this issue almost exactly one year ago. Since then, L’s issues with the “Magic Eyes” that control auto-flushing toilets have gotten worse. She equates them to torture (literally). She’ll hold in a pee for hours if she knows a bathroom has a toilet with a Magic Eye. And if she sees one, the damn thing becomes the subject of conversation for the next four hours.

(For the record, those automatic flushers really *are* annoying; especially when they decide you’ve finished your business and you haven’t.)

After a month in Hawaii last year, Powerwoman and I thought we devised a workaround to this phobia: We started taking cloth napkins with us everywhere to “blindfold” any Magic Eyes we encountered.

Mercifully, a friend recently suggested a more portable alternative: Post-it notes.

So far, in the name of “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” this new strategy appears to be working; this week, on two separate occasions at two different restaurants out and about, L was eager to apply Post-its and do her thang. As we get closer to our four-month stint in London (we leave Aug. 20), we’ll give her more experiences with Post-its with a goal to crack her of this phobia completely.

Do we think this new approach is a long-term fix? Not by a long shot (sorry, 3M). But at this point, after years of battling the Magic Eyes, we’ll take any minor victories we can get.

What sort of irrational fears do your kids exhibit while traveling?

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