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We Have To Talk About Our Toddlers’ Fear Of Automatic Flushing Toilets

Honestly, they could be less aggressive.

Taking children into a public restroom is always a lot. I have three daughters, which means more often than not, when one of us has to pee, we all have to go to the bathroom together. And there’s a lot of “omg don’t touch anything” and me fuming at the other women who use public toilets and refuse to sit, but also refuse to wipe up their own pee they’ve splattered all over the seat that they thought was too gross for their own butts.

But above all, there is me, warning my 5-year-old and my toddler that “the potty is going to be very loud.”

Look, if you have a toddler or a preschooler or basically any kid 5 and under, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For a long time, my 5-year-old would hold her hands over her ears the minute we walked into a public bathroom. “Is this a loud potty or a real potty?” she would ask me. In her mind, real potties are the toilets you find in people’s homes that don’t sound like the Titanic crashing into an iceberg when you flush them. I get why they’re loud — I am sure they are engineered to avoid being clogged every 10 seconds from someone at Target trying to flush down eight wads of toilet paper — but that doesn’t make it any less traumatic to take small children into the bathroom.

When I’m using the toilet and all of my girls are there in the stall, I sound like a sports announcer commentating for those listening to a game on the radio. “OK, I’m going to stand up now. It might flush before I get to turn around, so don’t panic if it does, alright?” They nod, solemnly. Sometimes they’re already whimpering. They cover their ears, their eyes are wide. “It hasn’t flushed yet, hooray!” I say as I pull up my pants. “But remember, if I take a step away, it might, and it’ll just be loud. That’s all. Nothing happens.” One of them is usually making an eh-eh-eh sound as they back into the wall, also freaking me out because OMG DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING. Another is trying to unlock the door while I’m still doing that hip sway thing to get my leggings back up to where they belong — directly under my boobs.

Then two things happen, and it’s always one of these two things. Either the toilet decides to flush while I’m in the middle of reassuring my kids that it might flush, interrupting me with the sounds of Moaning Myrtle herself getting stuck in the Hogwarts pipes or it doesn’t flush at all and I have to be the parent scarring my children by pressing the button myself, standing directly in the splash zone as the geyser unleashes so it can suck down my three pieces of terrible one-ply toilet paper in seconds.

Neither is good. But we are prepared. That doesn’t mean we’re going to react calmly — someone will still scream or demand that I pick them up and hold them, clawing at my legs while I’m still wiping — but we know it’s coming. We are waiting for impact with anxiety and trepidation. We are stressed the hell out when we are bent over, wiping a preschooler’s butt, and the toilet decides now is the time to flush with my face mere inches from the center of it all.

I know, I know. I’ve seen the hacks that suggest carrying around a sheet of round stickers so you can cover the sensor when you go in. I’ve heard about people blocking the sensor with their hand so that it doesn’t flush until they’re 100% ready to. I know someone who has put headphones on her kid’s head before they even enter the bathroom.

You are all very good parents. But I refuse to carry around a pack of neon yard sale stickers so that my kid doesn’t have to hear a very aggressive toilet flush. It’s almost an adventure at this point. Will she or won’t she almost pee her pants resisting the bathroom because it’s not a “real potty”? How can I rid myself of this kind of adrenaline rush?

And hey, if you see us washing our hands and running out the door with soap still dripping down our elbows, mind your business. The toilet is one thing, but I can not put my kids through the trauma of the automatic hand dryer.