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Mindful of Who Comes After Us

As a father, I often take my kids out by myself. It’s often me and the three little ones. They are not so little anymore, but they are and will always be my babies. And it’s usually the case that my little girl has to go potty, so I have to take her to the bathroom. We see a lot of interesting things in the bathrooms. They are strange places, these bathrooms.

I’ve obviously never spent time in women’s bathrooms, but often when the door opens, I hear conversation and laughter. Men’s bathrooms are different. They are quiet places. The rules are clear: no conversation, absolutely no eye contact.

But I digress. Last week I had taken my little girl out, and of course she had to go potty. It’s something of a ritual. I like to think of it as our own bonding moment. We stood by the bathrooms, and looked at the signs: Men’s bathroom. Women’s bathroom. She and I looked at each other. She started to go into the women’s bathroom, and then realized that I wouldn’t be able to follow her. So she paused, and reluctantly agreed to come into the men’s bathroom.

She can’t use a urinal, obviously, so we stood in line for one of the two bathroom stalls. There was a bit of a line for them. Right in front of us there was a father with a little boy. The boy was cute, beautiful little curls. Probably no more than three or four years old.

Men do not look at each other in bathrooms. Fathers are allowed. A quick nod. Unspoken respect. We are dads. We go with our kids. It’s actually touching to see the toxic masculinity of this culture broken up with the tenderness that comes with tending to our babies.

Somewhat to my surprise, it was not the little boy who had to go potty. It was the dad. He had not wanted to leave his son outside. So he had brought the little boy in with him.

I won’t get too graphic, but I will say that the father did not sit down on the toilet seat. He did his business standing up.

And again, without getting too graphic, he did not wipe the seat down. Men’s public bathrooms are nasty places. Men tend not to aim too carefully, so often there are drops of urine on the seat, around the toilet, etc. I still remember a sign in a public toilet in a Southern gas station from years ago:

We aim to please
So you aim too, please.

The father finished was he was doing, zipped up his pants, and turned around to come out. He didn’t wipe the seat down after himself, only using that patented leg kick to flush the toilet.

As he was coming out of the private area of the toilet, his son was doing the penguin dance kids do before they have to go potty. He was shuffling left and right, whispering: “I’ve gotta go poooootty, poooooootty.”

The dad looked at his son, and lovingly asked him: “Now?”
The boy vigorously shook his head up and down: “Now! Now! Now!”
The dad helped him take his pants down, sheepishly looked at the people in line behind him, and whispered a quick “Sooooorry.”

None of that was particularly outstanding. It is what came next. The dad turned and looked at the same toilet seat that he had just urinated at, but not sat on. And then a look of panic came on his face when he realized that he was about to put his son’s naked behind on the same toilet seat that he was ready to walk out of.


He put his son down, and frantically grabbed tissue paper, and wiped the seat down. He then picked up his boy, put him back on the toilet seat, and waited for the boy to finish his work. He then picked up his son, washed their hands with soap and water, and walked out.

I stood somewhat frozen, staring at the toilet seat. What had piqued my attention was that he was willing to walk out with the urinated-upon toilet seat, and then frantically wiped the seat for his own son.

We walk out without a care to wipe the seat down as long as it is not our baby who’s going to use the bathroom.

I wonder, what if we always think of the next person as our own child? I wonder, what if we think of the next person as somebody’s baby?

We don’t want to put our baby on somebody else’s urinated-upon seat. Thou shall not put anyone else’s baby on your urinated-upon seat.

And what if we saw the whole earth in this light? Could we, would we, come to see that it’s the whole earth that needs to be cleaned up, looked after, wiped down, and left in pristine condition for the next person?

I wonder if we could come to see someday that we are not leaving the planet behind for our children. We are only borrowing it from them.

Let’s wipe down our hearts,
wipe down the seats,
wipe down the tears,
wipe down the earth.

Let us not leave our hearts sullied.
Let us not leave our homes sullied.
Let us not leave this planet, our only home, sullied.

We’re only borrowing it from our as-yet-unborn grandchildren.

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