Family Matters Column. All of us have a public toilet story. Some of them involve the kids, some of them adults. Some of them have happy outcomes, some not so clean, and some downright dirty.
Many a new mum will tell you her morbid fascinating with finding a public loo. Not just a hole in the ground for depositing secretions, but maybe even a really clean, shiny-tiled space. Somewhere she’d be willing to lay her baby for a nappy change without the child contracting cholera or without retching from the stench.
Finding a decent toilet is particularly important on road trips – a time when everyone is tired, grumpy and ceaselessly busting from all the snacks and drinks imbibed in the car. Not much makes for a grumpier child than one who also needs to pee.
We’ve had some toilet corkers on our travels, but none more impressive than our time at the Great Wall of China, at a spot called Jinshanling. My daughter Ella was just six years old and not world-weary enough to enter a Chinese toilet and remain impassive. A bad squat toilet was always enough to psychologically render her bladder inoperative. Prepping for our long drive home, however, I insisted she go.
When we entered the toilet block in the carpark at Great Wall Jinshanling, the stench was somewhat beguiling. And because half the contents of the toilet were actually sprayed all over the floor and around the sides of the sunken toilet bowl, I had to lift Ella and hold her high above the bowl so that her feet wouldn’t touch the floor. With my back to the door, I leaned over far enough to ensure anything she managed to release would hit the target (unlike certain other patrons before us).
This leaning forward, with back strained, holding onto a six-year-old with a mental bladder-lock was a precarious position to be in and I still remember the moment my feet began to slip.
It was imperceptible at first, just sort of an unbalanced feeling. Then Ella sensed the shift in gravity and grabbed my beanie, pulling it down over my eyes. That’s when I became really discombobulated and started yelling for her to wee––fast. She couldn’t. She clutched. I yelled some more. She panicked and clutched harder, pulling my centre of gravity even further forward and thus causing my sneakers to go into serious a backward slide.
In the moments before the top of my head crashed into the cement wall behind the toilet, I knew I had two choices––put my hands up to stop myself falling and thusly drop my spotless, pink daughter into the cesspit below, or hold on tight and take the full force of a metre-long fall on the crown.
Well, I mean, which would you choose?
The impact reverberated in a contracting wave from my skull, down my neck and body to my putrid sneakers. Then those cartoon stars appeared, dancing around my head.
There I was, in the downward dog yoga position––legs splayed out straight, bum in the air, head down and implanted into the wall, with a six-year-old baby sloth clutching my belly, only inches from the cesspit, where she was clutching onto her own bellyfull of wee.
And she held onto that wee all the way back to Beijing and our apartment’s shiny white toilet.
Your toilet adventures with the kids may not have been so dramatic (I still have pink elephants dancing around my head), but have probably been equally as unpleasant. So I have some good news for you.
It’s a toilet map. That’s right. A public toilet map – thanks to the good people at the Australian Government (Department of Health and Ageing). Have you heard about this? No more shopping trips with busting, cross-legged five year olds. No more nipping into smoky country pubs or begging at the front door of restaurants with a pink-faced, stinky baby. No more covert tree waterings, prickly bushes on soft bums or strategically placed receptacles (think drink bottles).
You can now plan and plot every shopping trip, every mall adventure, every travel route to wee wee perfection by using The National Public Toilet Map (www.toiletmap.gov.au).
You can plot an entire travel route (just enter your destination ‘to’ and ‘from’) and you’ll receive a map studded with toilet icons as long as your lower intestine. If you click on one of those icons, you’ll get a close-up map outlining the exact whereabouts as well as a rundown on the toilet’s facilities, including opening times and whether the all important baby change mat is in residence. To round off this pleasant experience, you’ll even be given the contact details for who to contact in case of a less than pleasant experience.
Not only that (could there be more?), you can also access these details by phone (those with internet connection only). Just head to www.toiletmap.gov.au/mobile and type in your current location and you’ll receive several nearby toilet sites. Even if your own loo at home backs up, you’ll never be out of options! And once you’ve cruised the site, be sure to save your fave loos under your ‘My Toilets’ account.
Are you as excited as I am about all this? My only regret is that I didn’t know about it earlier – or that it wasn’t available in my day (back in the days when things were black and white, according to my daughter). But that won’t stop me from taking full advantage now.
I’m going shopping this morning. Usually I encourage both myself and my kids to empty our bladders before we leave the house. Armed with My Toilet Map, I think I’m going to wing it and chance the previously unthinkable… I’m going to head out on my intrepid adventure with a half-filled bladder. I can hear you gasping from here.
I hope The National Public Toilet Map gives you and your family a wee bit of continence… er, I mean, confidence – too.