Martin and I spent Holy Week/Passover in Texas, visiting my parents. Away from home, Martin had fewer friends and activities to occupy him, so when I wasn’t dumping him on my parents—I mean, letting my mother and stepfather enjoy time with their grandson—I resorted to visiting an “inflatable play zone.”
In lay person’s terms, an “inflatable play zone” might be called a “bouncy-house emporium,” or “hell.” It is a large, undivided space (think high-ceilinged hotel conference room, or big-box store) filled with blow-up castles, mazes, slides, in which kids can jump and climb to exhaustion. In an inflatable play zone, you hear a constant whirr from the machines pumping air, a sound as if you were in an airplane. A gigantic airplane with screaming children in sensory overload. An airplane with nothing to occupy you other than watching the screaming children in sensory overload.
One afternoon Martin and I set out for the “Extreme Fun” bouncy-house place, in north Austin. My parents were due for a few hours’ break, having watched Martin all morning while I enjoyed a massage at the local spa. My brother Rudy, who was visiting Texas from California, at first agreed to accompany us but then mysteriously realized he needed to “work” on “a project for a friend,” so Martin and I were alone.
We reached our destination, disembarked my parents’ Highlander, crossed the parking lot, and discovered a note stating that, after seven years’ business, Extreme Fun had shuttered its doors.
I brought Martin back to the car and, seeking to prevent a tantrum, launched into my speech about disappointment. “Oh, that’s a disappointment. Let’s think: Should we cry? Should we—”
At this point, ten seconds into the disappointment discourse, Martin cut me off and said:
“Is there another bouncy-house place around here?”
Holy cow, that was a good question. A good, appropriate question, expressed perfectly, without whining or tears. Even the intonation flowed.
A question like that deserves reward. I pulled out my iPhone and searched for another bouncy-house place. After Google Mapping the choices, I restarted the Highlander and drove us half an hour west to the “Hoppin’ House” in Lakeway, Texas.
The Hoppin’ House turned out to be a pleasant facility with eight or ten inflatables and a foam-cube pit. We stayed for more than an hour. At no point was more than one other family present, so Martin had his run of the place.
After a while Martin needed a potty break. The boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, child-size, sat side-by-side. I held Martin’s hand and opened the door to the girls’ room, so I could enter with him.
Martin pulled back. He asked, “Is this the bathroom for little boys?”
He poses that question, or some variety of it, often. I responded, as usual, that it was the bathroom for mommies and their children, and that the other one was for daddies and their children.
Martin pulled back again. He looked at the other door, as if contemplating.
I’d never let Martin use a public restroom alone. He gets so easily distracted. Who knows what might go on once the door shuts? Bathrooms are so germy. He would put his hands on everything. And he doesn’t like to do “stand-up peepees.” He would sit on the toilet, and let me tell you, I can barely manipulate those flimsy seat covers. It ain’t gonna happen for Martin.
Still, there he was, gazing upon the boys’ room. I’d been in the girls’ room earlier. It was tiny; in the same-sized boys’ room, there couldn’t have been more than two stalls, and probably no urinals. (I loathe urinals.) The bathroom had one exit, and we were the only ones in the vicinity, so I could lurk outside the door without feeling foolish.
It was like with Justin, our next-door neighbor, and babysitting: If I was ever going to let Martin use a public restroom alone, this set-up was darn close to perfect.
“Martin,” I asked, “would you like to go in the boys’ room?”
Without hesitation, Martin said yes. He didn’t smile. He looked courageous, determined, as he disappeared inside.
I waited. I don’t know how long I waited. Long enough that I thought Martin should be done peeing. Then I cracked open the door and peered into the bathroom.
Martin, who didn’t notice the intrusion, was washing his hands. At home, he protests against washing his hands, or loses focus and makes faces in the mirror instead, or runs out of the bathroom and claims he must use the kitchen sink. In the public bathroom, he was nothing but business. I watched him rinse those little hands and grab a paper towel to dry.
I shut the door so he wouldn’t know that I’d checked up on him.
Moments later Martin emerged. I exclaimed, “You did it! You went in the bathroom by yourself!” and threw my arms around him while praising the big-boy deed. Martin seemed uninterested in my praise. He said he was thirsty and asked for a bottle of water.
To Martin, I guess, using the boys’ room alone was no big deal.
Check that one off the list.