Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Learned It From Watching You! ... WHOOSH

If I needed a reminder that my kids are always watching, always learning – and conversely that us parents are always teaching – I got it the other day. And it happened in the strangest of places: the men’s room at our local, neighborhood Marshalls.
It was a Saturday. And unlike most Saturdays, we had nothing planned. No kid parties to attend, no practices to schedule around, nothing. Since it was too cold to do anything outside, we took the family shopping. Not the buying-stuff kind of shopping, but the browsing kind. The kind that finds you at a place like Marshalls with all your kids. Hey, it was something to do.
This story is already too long.
Anyway, we were in the Marshalls home goods section, searching for that perfect replacement spatula or those elusive mid-sized ramekins, when the boy, age 3.5, said he had to go to the bathroom – again. We’d already gone once, back when we were in the shoe department. And we’re not talking about just tinkle. I began to worry that maybe that stomach bug was back, and we’d need to leave the store altogether.
Still, I know better than to tempt fate with a child who claims he needs to use the potty. So I immediately took him to the latrine.
Like most people who are moderately clean and of good taste, I don’t like public bathrooms. I use them just fine, and I've been in sketchy bathrooms across the globe – and at gas stations in rural Pennsylvania – that would make even the sturdiest person gag and run. By comparison, the Marshall bathroom by our house is like the Taj Mahal. Only by comparison, though. It’s still a public bathroom, and in the words of my son, “It smells like sneakers.”
Old sneakers, to be precise.
We went through our bathroom routine, him doing his business and me reminding him not to touch anything. When finished, he pulled his pants up and asked if he could flush the toilet. At home, we always make the kids do the flushing, as part of their responsibility.  But when in a public restrooms with a kid, I usually handle the flush duties. Just one less way for them to get germs.
In fact, when we’d gone to the same bathroom a few minutes before, I’d flushed. Now, of course, he really wanted to do it.
What’s the harm, right? It was a relatively clean bathroom. So I said yes.
He was excited, and he got into position. But rather than reach with his hand for the chrome lever, as I expected, he steadied himself, grabbed the handicapped bar, leaned back, and, balancing on one foot, lifted his other foot up to the lever. This thing must have been shoulder high, and I swore he was going to topple over. But he managed to get his foot up there, and “WHOOSH!”

A reenactment of the scene just minutes later,
when he had to go to the bathroom ... again.
For the record, I never taught him to flush with his foot. But as I watched him do it, I realized that I almost always flush with my foot in public restrooms. As that famous quote from a commercial we all remember from the 80s, he learned it from watching me.
A strange place for a life lesson on parenting, but it stuck me like a poke in the eye. They are always watching, always learning – and we are always teaching.

And, in that moment, in a bathroom at the local, neighborhood Marshalls, I began to worry: What else is he picking up from just watching?

All my bad, little habits began running through my mind. Spitting, snot rockets, eye-rolls, staring at my phone too much, picking toenails, the list goes on -- just ask my wife. And that's just the small stuff. 

If he picked up flushing with my foot, was he going to pick up on everything?    
Man. God help us all.

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