We just returned from a week long visit with our families back in the Midwest. This time around we shaved our drive time down from 16 to 14 hours (one way), with a mandatory overnight stay in a hotel. Olivia never sits in her car seat unless we make this trip because we don't have a car, so it's hard for her to want to stay still for so long. We've tossed around the idea of flying instead of driving, but I'm still wary of getting on a plane with a toddler who can't quite walk or talk, but tries hard to do both. I worry that if we did fly we'd end up being "that family" on the plane. You know, the one with the toddler that cries most of the time, wants to wander around the plane and be up in everyone's business and eventually starts a rousing rendition of the Wings song 'Jet' in which the child and the rest of the passengers sing and dance in Broadway fashion. Actually, that could be totally badass. Maybe I should rethink this car travel only policy.
One of the things that goes hand in hand with cross country car travel is the eventual (or in our case, multiple) stop(s) at a travel plaza. It is here that you can stretch your legs, stand in line for an overpriced latte, pick up unusual knick knacks like this and be subjected to the horrors of the plaza bathrooms and the other travelers that use them. Pre-parenthood, I would quickly go about my business, avoid eye contact and get in and out of there as soon as possible. Sure, plenty of rest stops are totally fine and you feel safe knowing that there are lots of other people in there who won't bother you. Then there are the ones where no one is in the bathroom and you step up to the urinal hoping that there wasn't someone hiding in one of the stalls hovering above the toilet, waiting for you to drop trou so they could come at you with a blunt object, knock you out and then carry you back to their truck to do god knows what in the secret compartment they built in the back of their cab. Or maybe I just have a wild imagination and need to stop watching scary movies and guzzling energy drinks on these long drives.
Now that I'm a parent, I have a responsibility to make sure my child's diaper is changed and that she is as dry as a popcorn fart (as my grandfather used to say). While it would be potentially less traumatic to change her in our rental car I also don't want any stray bullets hitting the upholstery, so I split the rest stop changing responsibilities with my wife. In one particular instance I let her walk to get her legs moving and put some more practice time in. There we were: me hunched over with a finger held out for Olivia to grab onto while she took her slow toddler steps towards the men's bathroom. We inched inside the entryway and as soon as we got to the main communal area she froze. I did my best to try and tell her our goal was on the wall at the other side of the room and to get her going, but all she wanted to do was take in the sights and sounds of this newly discovered country.
So we stood there for a second as she watched men moving back and forth between the urinals and the sinks. Once we got moving she continued to keep an eye on the gents at the porcelain on the wall. Sure, she had no idea what was going on, but she was intently keeping an eye on them. It was as if she watched to make sure none of them colored outside of the lines lest she bring the wrath of an 18 month old down upon them ("Freeze! Pee pee police!"). As we drew closer to the changing table we passed the stalls, and you could see her little brain trying to figure out why all those pants were crumpled up on the floor. Maybe they were lonely, maybe they were hot and wanted to stay low to the ground to keep cool or maybe they were having a fancy pants party.
We finally made it to the changing table and I got started while baby girl continued to take everything in. I worked fast and tried to talk to her to keep her calm and prevent her from bucking around like she does when we're at home. This is a force of habit that I quickly realized wasn't needed, since she was too transfixed by everything going on around us to even think about being uncomfortable or to complain. As I was bundling her back up I heard a man say loudly, "Now there is a good daddy." I looked up and realized that he was looking directly at me and had made that comment about what I was doing. I said thank you and thought about whether what I was doing was such a rare thing. Are there that many dads who don't change diapers on the road like this? Are that many women solely responsible for this aspect of child care when outside of the home? Is a man changing a diaper in public so uncommon? Or was the man simply complementing me for pulling my daughter's pants down and allowing her to join the party going on in the stalls? If that was the case, should I have brought dessert or beverages for everyone?
We finished up and started walking back through the bathroom when a gaggle of boys ranging from about 6-13 years old walked in and started talking to each other about the license plate game they were playing and who got what. One boy closed a stall door behind him and yelled out that he saw a Louisiana plate. Another started washing his hands while he exclaimed that he had found a Colorado. Finally as we got close to the exit a boy who was most likely the youngest in this group passed in front of us and caught Olivia's attention. He stopped in front of a urinal, unzipped and proceeded to pull both pants and underwear down around his ankles while lifting his shirt up and shouting that, he too, had seen the Colorado plate. Broad daylight outside the travel plaza, and a full moon inside the men's bathroom.
At least I won't have to worry about that kind of public exposure with my daughter, but then again I have no idea what goes on in the ladies room. For all I know there could be skin everywhere in there while they frolic and play in the cushy settings of their bathroom. Don't deny it ladies. Men know about the couches that come standard to those rooms, the foot rubs, the dogs that keep you company as you occupy the stalls, the keys to the free cars that Oprah gives you after you dry your hands using the sweet breath of angels. We're lucky if we get two ply in our stalls, dammit!