Ask Maxwell: How To Relax About Using Public Restrooms on the Road?

published Aug 18, 2021
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3-year-old little boy, dressed in jeans and dark blue longsleeve, washes his hands himself in the sink in the room of the children's toilet, standing in front of the morror.
Credit: Shutterstock/Nina Unruh

I always angst over kids using public restrooms while on the road! Do you have any tips?


Dear Lizzie,

When I saw your question come in I felt really unprepared to deal with it. But since then I’ve had to stop a number of times and take a three year old to the bathroom, and YES it gave me angst at first.

This is not going to be great wisdom, but what I will say is that – aside from going on the side of the road in the grass (which small children do very well and I support) – roadside bathroom quality is hit or miss, but at least they always get relief, which means you do too.

We wear masks in bathrooms, I wipe the seat down and then everyone washes their hands afterwards. I’m not too worried about COVID on surfaces, but a dirty bathroom just skeezes me out so clean up, clean up, clean up. Usually there’s a sink and soap and that all helps do the job.

Beyond that? I always try to carry wipes and toilet paper in the car for emergencies. It gives you choices. We do have hand sanitizer as well, but use it less and less. If it gives comfort, it’s there!

Looking at the big picture, we’re very lucky to live in the world we live in today with regard to germs. Things are much cleaner, really bad germs and viruses have largely been eradicated and we’re inoculated to a lot of it (but for COVID, if you’re a small child!). Not so long ago, back in the late 1800’s during Laura Ingalls Wilder’s lifetime, people caught all sorts of things and often died. Childbirth was risky!

I remembered that her sister, Mary, went blind, but forgot that she went blind at age 14 from what they thought was scarlet fever, but turned out to be viral meningoencephalitis. This was after her brother, Freddie, died at nine months with convulsions and before her husband, Almanzo, was temporarily paralyzed after catching diptheria at 31. He walked with a cane for the rest of his life.

By comparison, helping our children relieve themselves at a less than perfect gas station before they explode in the car ain’t so bad. 🙂

Best, M

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Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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