What Happens When You Let a 4-Year-Old Go to the Bathroom Alone

This article, entitled What Happens When You Let Four-Year-Olds Go to the Bathroom Alone comes from Erin Ferris at Chasing Roots

Last week Hallie and I took Will to his karate lesson, just as we always do on Monday and Wednesday evenings. As one might expect, the two 45-minute lessons are one of the highlights of Will's week, and one of the low lights of Hallie's.

Despite requiring the kids to take a quick pit stop before we leave home, Hallie always pees again during Will's lessons. I long ago figured out that her urgent need to visit the bathroom has less to do with actually relieving herself and more to do with curing her boredom, and I can't say I blame her; even I can only watch so many "number two front kicks" and "knife hand strikes" before my mind begins to wander.

On this particular day, Hallie asked - begged, really - to visit the bathroom by herself.

Side note: when Will first started asking to pee alone, I believed he wanted to do so because he craved independence. Now that Hallie has started asking to pee alone, I automatically assume she wants to do so to cause mischief. Yes, I realize how that sounds, but throughout their almost-seven and almost-four-and-a-half years, Will and Hallie have both provided me with countless examples that support the validity of my beliefs and assumptions.

I finally agreed to let her go alone, with the understanding that if she didn't return in three minutes I would follow her in. She agreed, plowed past the woman and child sitting next to her, and ran for the bathroom door.

Hallie paused when she reached the entrances to the men's and women's bathrooms, clearly unable to remember which of the two doors she should go through. As a look of confusion spread across her face, she glanced back at me - the bathrooms are right off the lobby and parent waiting area, so she could easily see me and I her - in what I thought looked like a silent plea for help, so I started to stand. In response to seeing me rise from my seat, Hallie threw her hand up to halt me in my tracks and yelled "NO!"

I returned to my seat, slightly embarrassed that I'd just followed my four year old's command without a second thought, and watched her thoroughly assess the pictures and words on the signs outside each door and ultimately pick the correct one. Whew.

Three minutes came and went, so I grabbed my purse and headed into the bathroom. Though not upset or crying, Hallie was still in the stall so I asked if she needed anything. She claimed to be fine, but then amended her statement..."well, as a matter of fact, I'm stuck in here". (Yes, she says "as a matter of fact" a lot. And she usually uses the phrase correctly, believe it or not.)

"What do you mean, you're stuck in there?"

"Well, I locked the door when I came in, and now I can't get it unlocked because I can't reach the lock."

"How did you lock the door in the first place?"

"I jumped."

I asked her to stand in front of the lock, reach her hand as high into the air as she could, and then stand on her tiptoes so that I could see how far her fingers fell short of the lock. At least five inches separated the tips of her fingers and the lock, which meant that in order to lock the door, she had to jump five inches in the air (if you've ever seen a preschooler jump you know that actually getting five inches off the ground is no small feat) and while in the air, slide the lock over and into place. What are the odds?!

As I took deep breaths on the opposite side of the stall door, Hallie jumped up and down, trying to unlock the door. Then suddenly she stopped jumping and shouted, "I know what to do! I'll just climb under the door!"

Had the bathroom housed multiple stalls, I would have agreed to this plan. But the bathroom has only one stall, and I wasn't willing to let her escape her predicament - which had now become my predicament - and leave the problem for someone else. So instead, I decided to climb under the door.

I needed a few minutes to formulate a plan, primarily because the distance between the bottom of the door and the floor is a very small 12 inches and I am an average-sized grown-up and I was wearing an above-the-knee-length dress. I decided that my best bet was to crouch down, flattening myself onto my shins, and scoot sideways until I arrived on Hallie's side of the stall. (Lying down on my stomach/back was out, thanks to the short dress.) I took a deep breath, tossed my purse under the door, and hit the deck.

You guys, have you looked a ruler recently? 12 inches does not constitute a very large opening. As someone more mathematically-astute than me could have predicted, when I was halfway between in the stall and out of the stall and thanks to the rough, unsanded bottom of the stall door, I got stuck.

OF COURSE I DID.

And at that exact moment, the door to the bathroom opened.

OF COURSE IT DID.

Because of my position on the floor, I could really only see the person's shins, ankles, and shoe-covered feet. Which, thank goodness, walked two steps forward, stopped dead in their tracks, quickly pivoted, and walked right back out. Those shoes are forever burned into my memory, and I'm grateful I didn't see the face of the person wearing them.

At this point I had to "make myself smaller", so kind of like how truckers let the air out of their tires when they accidentally get their trucks stuck under low bridges, I exhaled as much air as I possibly could out of my lungs and spread my feet out to the side so that my legs formed a "W". (You know what I mean, right? The way all kids sit and the way all adults can't imagine sitting for fear they'd tear their ACLs or worse, never get up again?)

And then I scooted, and scooted, and scooted, until my entire body was finally in the stall with Hallie. She shouted a triumphant, "you did it!", which I sure could be heard outside of the bathroom.

I unlocked the stall door, washed my hands, dusted myself off - both literally and figuratively - and led Hallie out of the bathroom and back to our seats. I didn't dare make eye contact with anyone in the building, and I sure as heck didn't look at anyone's shoes.

Howdy!  My name is Erin, and I am a wife, mother and writer living in College Station, TX.  After eight years working in fundraising and volunteer management for the American Red Cross, my family moved across the country – from Michigan to Texas, which was quite the culture shock – and I decided a change in focus should accompany my change in geography.  I now spend my “free time” (while preschool is in session and during naptime) sharing my experiences and cultivating conversations about parenting, cooking and baking, home and family organization, and philanthropy and volunteerism on my personal blog, my kid-focused blog and for the American Red Cross. And I’m loving every minute of it.



About the Author...
Erin Ferris
My name is Erin, and I’m a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas.
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