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Two Steps Behind

I feel like I’m always two steps behind.


My to-do list is typically made up of things that I’d intended to be done with before the list was even made. Those projects I need to get started on? They should’ve been done last week. That plumber I need to call? Well—I can put that off for another couple of paychecks since it’s not urgent (and hasn’t been for several months apparently). Nolan? He’s halfway to the car before I’ve even begun to convince Donny to stay inside because he is, in fact, NOT an outside cat. Sleep? I admit that I’m typically behind on that too, but I’ve given up on trying to catch up by now.


And literally keeping up with Nolan is another battle all together—at least sometimes.


Sure, we have a lot of moments when we’re trying to run an errand that I have to remind him to stay with me… I mean, Nolan is a teenager with a mind of his own. Those errands often feature me in a solo performance of, “Stay With Me” from the so-far-off-Broadway-it-hasn’t-been-written show, “Let’s Not Get Hit by a Car Today” (which features the hit songs, “Put the Spit Away” and “Do You Need to Use the Bathroom?”)


When he’s motivated, though, he leaves me in the dust. Any trip to a store that sells balloons involves Nolan sprinting at top speed straight for the display—and he knows where they are in every store. In those cases, I’m usually more than 2 steps behind.


This weekend, the motivation was his bladder. We were out for a car ride (as often happens around here) when I heard Nolan’s communication app from the backseat. “Bathroom.” Since we were about 2 miles from a Kwik Trip (the hometown favorite convenience store), I figured it would not be a problem. About 45 seconds later, I hear, “Bathroom,” again followed by, “Bathroom. Bathroom. Bathroom bathroom bathroom. Bathroombathroombathroombathroombathroombathroom…”


Point taken.


We pulled into the parking lot and went inside. If there’s one thing Kwik Trip does well, it’s consistency. Their bathrooms are always clean and in working order. And in most stores (with the exception of some of the bigger stores), the bathrooms are single-seaters. When I refer to a single-seater, what I mean is that there is one room with one toilet, sink, etc. dedicated to the individual using that specific room—no stalls and shared sinks or paper towel holders. I also use this term in reference to family restrooms and unisex restrooms—no matter what they’re labelled, they’re all single-seaters to me.


This particular store has single-seater potties, and is one we’ve been in before. We make a bee-line for the women’s bathroom, and it’s locked. We had passed the men’s bathroom on the way to the women’s, so we backed up a bit to try that door knowing that it was likely a single-seater as well.


To my relief, the door was unlocked. Nolan, being highly motivated by now, was already in between me and the door. As soon as the door was open a crack, Nolan had pushed his way in. I was two steps behind him—literally.


It was at this point, that I heard shuffling from further inside the bathroom. It was clear that someone else was in this bathroom. But I didn’t panic at this point. In some of the single-seater Kwik Trip stores, the men’s rooms have a urinal and a stall with a toilet. How do I know this? Much to my dismay, I learned this the hard way by opening the door to usher Nolan in only to find a stranger facing the wall… Clearly this was one of those bathrooms.


Knowing someone was in this bathroom, I made eye contact with Nolan and told him that he could use this bathroom but that I couldn’t go in with him. He acknowledged me in the, “Fine, Mom. Whatever,” way that teens can be so fond of, and continued in.


Nolan doesn’t use public restrooms on his own (he needs too much support), so of course I was nervous. I was trying to be the mom from outside of the room—all of the worry with none of the actual contact or understanding of what was happening inside. It’s not my favorite situation.


After about 45 seconds, I reached for the door handle to open it a crack and offer Nolan some words of encouragement or verbal prompts. Of course, now the door was locked.


“Buddy?” I called through the door.


“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!” I hear back through the door. I could tell he was right on the other side of it.


“I can help you, but you need to open the door, Kiddo.”


Much to my relief, I hear the click of the door unlocking as the handle starts to turn. To my surprise, out came an older gentleman that I had never met—a stranger. After exchanging an awkward moment, of, “Oh, excuse me,” I said while he tried to get past me (because of course I was still millimeters from the door and he seemed a bit rushed or maybe shaken…) I poked my head in to see how I could help since Nolan was still in the bathroom.


And that’s when I realized there was no stall in this bathroom. That’s right. Nolan walked right into a bathroom with a total stranger and no physical boundaries to help guide his way.


Now, I have absolutely no idea what happened in that room during the 60 seconds or so that Nolan and Mr. Stranger were in there. While I don’t believe that Nolan was in any danger during that time, it could have been a bad situation. To say that I was relieved that nothing happened is an understatement.


More likely, however, is that Nolan did something that Mr. Stranger would have thought was odd. He could’ve watched Mr. Stranger pee (or poo I suppose). He could’ve entered the bathroom while Mr. Stranger was taking care of his business and done an interpretive dance with a length of toilet paper he’d found on the floor (that wouldn’t be a first for Nolan—it might be for Mr. Stranger, though). Or my personal favorite thought is that Nolan walked in on Mr. Stranger and gave him what Nolan’s grandma refers to as Big Eyes… Big Eyes is when Nolan leans in to get really close to your face to make super-close eye contact with his eyes wide open. Sometimes he clicks his tongue before he breaks eye contact, but he’s often got a big goofy grin on his face for Big Eyes.

Big Eyes for Dad


The mental image of my kid approaching a stranger at a urinal to get uncomfortably close while staring that stranger straight in the eye (probably with a huge grin on his face) is one of the funniest and most awkward things I have ever thought of. Seriously—I couldn’t have made that scenario up if I’d tried.


But these are the kinds of things that happen when I’m two steps behind.


Obviously this was a good learning opportunity for us (and maybe for Mr. Stranger—lock the door, Dude!). As hard as I try to give Nolan enough space to learn to be independent, I still have to be there to watch over and protect him. Maybe the key is to split the difference so that I have more time to react. Being one step behind instead of two feels like a pretty major improvement.


I guess I’d better catch up.

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