It’s the rare individual indeed who recollects her own potty-training. Like the trip through the birth canal (a trauma we mercifully have no conscious memories of), the agonies of learning to relieve ourselves in the toilet rather than the diaper go largely un-noted when we re-tell the days of our lives. Sadly, this isn’t true of our mothers, who must find it enormously therapeutic to regale friends at large dinner parties about the frustrations and messes and indignities they themselves suffered while their little ones transitioned from Pampers to big girl panties. It might have something to do with having endured the traumas of actually owning the birth canal that those babies passed through, now I think of it. I, myself, may or may not have found it necessary to shock and awe my own cadre of friend-moms with my tales of woe in which twin boys scoffed at the promise of big boy underwear (okay, they were Micky Mouse Underoos, so I sort of understand their scoffing) and refused to potty in the toilet during a seven-week siege of chicken pox while I was six-months pregnant and trying to remove wallpaper installed with the intention of surviving nuclear holocaust. But that’s another story.
Well, the training part of any program implies a certain failure rate, doesn’t it? No one is running a marathon without building up to that particular brand of insanity mile by grueling mile. So it goes with restroom trips. First, we’re watched like hawks for the tell-tale signs of an imminent need to ‘go potty.’ Prancing about and vociferous denials remain first-rate clues. We are ushered in to the bathroom, plopped unceremoniously onto the toilet and commanded to go while our mothers perch anxiously on the tub, listening for that glorious sound of water tinkling on water. Accidents happen, laundry piles grow exponentially, tears are shed, but the next thing we know, we’re asking if we can go to the restroom in every public place imaginable — McDonald’s, the local grocery, the ballparks, the zoos, the movie theatres, the interstate rest areas, the department stores. We don’t simply ask to go, either. We ask to go by ourselves. We want to be found worthy of the big girl panties we proudly wear, after all! And what do our moms inevitably say to our requests to prove ourselves trained, responsible loo users? They say ‘no.’ NO!! After all that training, all that cajoling, all those m&ms offered as rewards, all that praise for every success and all those piles of messy undergarments undergoing yet another wash — we ask to go potty like big girls and our incomprehensible mothers refuse us the courtesy of maneuvering the public restroom on our own. The indignity of it all…
Is it any wonder, then, that our school days continue the trend of visiting the restroom with at least one friend in tow? Even after we’ve long mastered the art of relief on our own (right up to and including the flush), we still prance about during recesses and lunch times, anxious to rush together through that mysterious door labeled ‘WOMEN’ so that we might discuss all we’re learning that day. Oh sure, sometimes we even talk about the upcoming spelling test or math quiz, but usually, we’re marveling at Lisa’s new book bag, Debby’s hopelessly unstylish tights, or Brian’s devilishly handsome gap-toothed grin. These antics continue throughout our high school years. Closer to being women, we still prance about, pushing through the crowded hallways to reach those tiled, echoing havens restricted to ‘just us girls,’ where we marvel at Lisa’s great new boots, Debby’s hopelessly unstylish bangs, and Brian’s devilishly attractive backside in those just-tight-enough Levi’s. Going to ‘the ladies’ isn’t just about taking care of business, y’all. It’s where we girls do life.
It’s where we touch up our makeup, re-style our hair, adjust our bits in need of realignment. From schooldays’ gossip to wedding days’ maids holding up the bride’s gown so that she can, you know, potty — a solo trip to the restroom simply won’t do. When we walk into a stall and find the empty roll just a few seconds too late, we don’t worry. We simply sigh — loudly — and ask for a few squares. Immediately enough TP to take care of the giant oak in your front yard magically appears, right at mid-calf. If we’ve just met Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome at the bar, we don’t worry about the garlic mashed potatoes we had for dinner, we ask for a breath mint and confirmation that we ‘look alright.’ If we just got dumped via text message (don’t get me started), off we go to the sanctuary of reprieve — the ladies room, where we can cry our eyes out, borrow our friend’s mascara to repair the damage, and relieve the strains of both relationships and overfull bladders. We go in together, and we come out stronger than before, because friends don’t let friends ever, EVER go to the restroom by themselves. Our mamas traipsed into the restroom with us to encourage, cajole and keep us safe. They were initiating us into the rite of ‘passage,’ if you will. We honor them, and the tradition, every time we make our way to ‘the ladies,’ together.