Bathroom Vacation

Michelle Riddell essentials

For the first ten years of a child’s life, parents will spend more time with her in the bathroom than they will spend with her on vacation. 

When I read this statistic, I had just spent spring break potty-training my strong-willed and clinically constipated daughter. She had been on the cusp of “done” for months, seemingly in the clear then back to daily accidents. Convinced her almost-ness was behavioral, I strategized offensively and concluded that an all-out, pants-off surge was the straightest path to our goal. When the prospect of a working vacation arose for my husband, I saw my chance. I stocked the house with food, books, and movies, cleaned the bathrooms, and hunkered down for the week.

When my husband returned, my daughter was completely done with disposable undergarments. She was proud, he was relieved, and I was oddly refreshed. He shook his head in wonder that we hadn’t killed each other or bailed on the mission mid-week. I, too, had imagined the worst and had devised a plan to preemptively offset it. My plan was a simple four-part agreement that turned our week in the house into paradise at home.

  1. I gave myself a reprieve from housework and, more importantly, a reprieve from feeling guilty about not doing housework. This took some mental discipline, but I reminded myself the goal was potty-training not spring cleaning. My daughter needed to know she came first—not “hang on a minute” first. Once I allowed myself the luxury of leisure, being at home felt entirely different. Moments weren’t measured in tasks, the back of my mind emptied itself of “should be doings,” and the house itself stopped feeling like a deadline.
  2. I indulged in the one thing I love doing more than anything else: reading books. I don’t crave excitement when I think of paradise; I crave comfort and fulfillment from the ordinary pleasures I don’t usually have time for. Adventures are fine, but they aren’t in the scope of my world—I longed to do something I missed. I read to my daughter in the bathroom, I read in bed, I read while eating almond M&Ms, and it was great.
  3. We watched movies. I treated my daughter to an overture of my childhood through the magic of our library’s extensive DVD collection: HeidiThe Apple Dumpling GangEscape to Witch Mountain(she fell asleep), Mary PoppinsDumbo (I cried like a baby), Benji, and Ice Castles. Though she got restless and didn’t understand much of the content, she recognized the sacredness in my reminiscing. Children garner their feelings from adults’ reactions, and because I loved these movies, my daughter did too.
  4. I fed us wonderful food, and I let my daughter be part of the process—and up on the counter—in a messy, tactile way. I gave her tools and ingredients and permission. Time did not impede what we crafted as nourishment; things simmered on the stove for hours, like an olfactory track in the background of our day. This was a change from our usual rush, where mealtime is a perfunctory stop on the way to bedtime.

A parent will spend more time in the bathroom than on vacation; I was not one bit surprised to read this. What it means, though, is open to interpretation: bathrooms and vacations aren’t always mutually exclusive. The most relaxing week I’ve had was planned in and around one.