Posted by jdg | Friday, October 17, 2008

This website presents such a tiny sliver of our days. I'm one of those bloggers who can hardly believe that people actually care about any of the mundane details of our lives, so I choose to share only a small percentage of those mundane details, as represented by the following pie chart:

Unfortunately, I get e-mails all the time from people who've idealized our lives based on the completely unfair representation I make on this site (most often from mothers who wish their kids were capable of visiting a museum without destroying millions of dollars worth of art). It should be noted that we are a normal family with normal problems, even if I don't choose to air them publicly. My wife and I fight. Our preschooler throws tantrums. We eat crappy food. Our house is usually a disaster. And sometimes I even get bored being a gentleman of elegant leisure.

There is one story, for example, where I've thrown Juniper over my shoulder---after her refusal to walk---during a recent trip to the art museum and she is screaming in terror at the very top of her lungs while I carry her through the galleries towards the exit and I am thinking, for the sake of all those mothers who've e-mailed me, that I have to write about this, even if I can't think of a pithy simile involving some member of the animal kingdom for this incessant yowling.

What I did to deserve this? I took her to the bathroom.

We'd arrived at the museum and taken our usual route to the cafe for lunch. This day she'd been more whiny than usual; during the meal she hardly touched her food. I could tell she was keeping something from me. All queries about her misbehavior were met with worse behavior. But the intermittent crotch-pinching gave it away: she had to pee. The reason she was refusing to tell me this was that on the previous visit to the museum she'd decided she was terrified of the automatic flushes installed on every public toilet in the museum (this, I later learned, is a fairly common problem).

She knew that if I made her go to the bathroom she was going to have to sit on one of the "robot toilets." Normally I hold my hand over the infrared sensors whenever we use such a facility, but this museum is where she first learned to use the public bathroom by herself, and the state-of-the-art automatic flushes on the toilets installed during a recent renovation sound, for 2 or 3 seconds, like a tsunami crashing into a tornado in the middle of a category 5 hurricane. I sort of empathized when I thought about what it would feel like to be barely three feet tall sitting on top of that (and with the way she wiggles, the sensor goes off three or four times per session). I told her stories about a different girl named Juniper who lives in Boston who went to the art museum with her dad and he did a magic thing that made the robot toilets not flush when she's sitting on them, and we talked and talked and talked about how the toilets in this art museum wouldn't go off if pops did the same magic thing. Eventually I convinced her to follow me to the men's room. The dam, it seemed, was about to burst. . .

Of course there was some slob on a toilet flipping through a newspaper next to the only unoccupied stall. He heard all the histrionics. I'm sure people have been talked down off of ledges with less negotiations than it took to get her up on that toilet, and of course the moment of success was when Grunty McGrunterpants next door decided he was done reading the sports section and stood up, igniting a perfect storm of wind, water, and feces a few feet from my fragile spawn.

Hell hath no fury like a preschooler who believes she's about to be sucked into the Detroit sewer system.

Grunty laughed.

I would have held his head in the maelstrom if my son hanging in the bjorn hadn't chosen this opportunity to ramp up his own strain of unknowable discontent.

That pretty much brings us to the present tense, with me shuttling the entire Screamers and Whiners Union, Local 413 towards the exit, even though we just arrived and I've paid $5 for parking. Despite the scene we're making I approach the middle aged woman giving me a sympathetic look from behind the membership desk and ask her if there is any toilet in the entire museum without one of the newfangled automatic flushes. She thinks for a moment and apologizes, shaking her head No, but then remembers that a staff toilet in the bowels of the Detroit Institute of Arts still has an old-fashioned handle. I am thanking her profusely when she makes the mistake of saying, "It still has a really loud flush, though."

I look at her and want to say, "You do realize she has ears, don't you?"

A new round of histrionics. A new round of negotiations. Eventually, though, a bladder is emptied. A pair of slightly damp Hello Kitty underpants find their way into my pocket, and a suddenly sweet child goes Conan for a few hours in the art museum she loves.