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.

Taking the family on a solo trip

Like thunder.

Like thunder.

This weekend marks my annual pilgrimage with a bunch of guy friends to Las Vegas for the opening rounds of the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament. That means I’ll be spending the next four days traveling solo, for fun.

In our family, where the four of us usually travel together, this is big news. And to commemorate the occasion, L made me a present to bring with me on my trip.

She calls it “The Love Book.”

The book is a compilation of drawings she made over the course of the week—drawings that, according to my daughter, demonstrate how much she loves her daddy. Some of the pictures are age-appropriate: Pictures of trees and birds and princesses and butterflies. My personal favorite, the one pictured above, depicts L’s heart full of love for me—when she described it, she said the love was “like thunder.”

As she presented the book to me, L told me to take it with me on my trip, to look at it every day, and to think of her every time I do.

It was the first thing I packed. And I plan to carry it with me wherever I go.

Technically, L and R and Powerwoman will be back at home this weekend while I (gamble and drink and smoke and) hang with the boys in Vegas. Because of The Love Book, however, they’ll be with me the whole time. Which makes me the luckiest guy in town.

An Open Letter to the (Almost) 2-Year-Old

Parenthood doesn't get any better than this.

Parenthood doesn’t get any better than this.

Dear Little R:

Someday, years from now, you and I will sit back and talk about this fall in London, and we’ll smile. We’ll grin at all the pictures of you pointing to weather vanes. We’ll laugh at the GoPro video from the London Eye (the one where you are chanting, “London Eye” to the tune of Springsteen’s “Empty Sky”). We’ll chuckle while we reminisce about your obsession with Big Ben.

These are the Big Moments that have characterized our trip so far, the ones we tell your grandparents about in letters and on Skype. And, indeed, they are important.

But they’re not my favorites. Not by a long shot.

No, my baby, I prefer our mornings, the three hours you and I get to spend together every day, just the two of us. We drop your Big Sister off at school. We swing by Molly’s (or another café) for a coffee and chocolate croissants. Then we just hang.

Some days we head up the hill to the playground in St. John’s Wood. Other days we take the bus to Hyde Park. Then, of course, there are the days when we do REALLY crazy stuff, like take the Tube to see the Gherkin, or hop a canal boat tour into Camden to check out those amazing locks (you know how much I can geek out over modern engineering).

I love these “dates” because they’re fun. I love them because they’re relaxing. Most of all, I love them because I get you all to myself.

Nothing against your sister, of course; I had similar solo time with her when she was your age and you weren’t alive. But because you came second, and because she’s here too, alone time with you is rare. That means I’m that much more protective of it when I actually get some.

And so, on the eve of your second birthday, my baby, I say: Thank you. Thank you for making every morning so special. Thank you for willingly joining me on these jaunts around the city. Thank you for being cool about the whole daddy-has-to-stop-and-get-a-coffee thing. Most important, thanks for being such a fun and easy-going partner in crime.

Years from now, many birthdays down the road, you may not remember much of our morning dates here in London, and that’s totally fine by me. I’ll fill you in. Because I will cherish them forever. And I’ll never forget.

Love always,
Daddy

To School or Not To School

How dare we separate these two BFFs?

How dare we separate these two BFFs?

The big question in our flat this week pertains to enrolling L in school during our time here in London. Do we or don’t we? Powerwoman and I continue to go back and forth.

Some parts of the equation are simple. Yes, we took our 4-year-old out of her second year of preschool to be here for the fall. And, yes, we plan to send her back to the same preschool when we return (the folks who run her preschool have been kind enough to save her spot).

We also believe that L (like most kids) thrives in the school environment, and needs the age-appropriate social stimulation that environment provides.

Beyond these truths, however, we are truly flummoxed.

First is the issue of logistics. Last year, at home, L attended school twice a week for three hours a day. This year, when we return, she’ll attend school three times a week for three hours a day. Here, however, they do school differently. Most kids are in full-time school of some sort by age 2. It actually has been very difficult (and incredibly frustrating) to find a preschool equivalent that isn’t fewer than three full days (read: 8 hours a day) every week.

Then is the issue of philosophy. We relish the fact that we have the opportunity to live abroad with the girls while they’re so young. Because we are travelers by nature, we want to show them the city, take them around England, and explore Europe as frequently as possible.

I, in particular, am struggling with the decision, as I’ve taken it upon myself to create a “classroom” out of the everyday, supplementing journeys to different parts of the city with “lessons” before and after.

(Example: we’re attending a cricket match this weekend and I’ve started with stories about the rules.)

Still, the situation raises pretty serious questions. To what extent would L suffer from being out of school for four months? To what extent would enrolling her change the everyday, on-the-ground experience for her (and the rest of us)? How difficult—if at all—would it be for her to adjust to a new school in a new city in a new home? Finally: How might her enrollment impact our ability to travel while here?

Ultimately, I think Powerwoman and I probably will seek a compromise. My hunch is that this compromise likely will involve enrolling L in a full-week, half-day program, and insisting that the school allows us to keep her out one day a week (preferably a Monday or a Friday) to keep up our “curriculum” of exploring through travel.

Is this ideal? Not really. But at least the approach would incorporate both the traditional (school) and something new (travel).

At the end of the day, the school issue isn’t about what’s best for us at all; it’s about what’s best for L. That reality doesn’t change with a mailing address. And it’s a notion we try to embrace regarding both daughters wherever and whenever we can.

How have you handled schooling your kids during extended family trips?

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