“This isn’t Grand Central Station!” Someone in my family used to say this about the bathroom–my mom or my grandmother, maybe both–when she was trying do something that required concentration or privacy (like pee, or take a shower, or get dressed, or any number of other things) while surrounded by children. I never understood. Having never been to Grand Central or any other station as a child, the metaphor was lost on me, and besides, I wouldn’t have gotten it anyway. I mean, what were they thinking, going in there all alone? It was our sworn mission as children to protect them from loneliness. “So what if I just opened this oatmeal pie? I don’t mind eating it here on the rug–you just go ahead with whatever you were going to do.” And then there was the curiosity. “What’s that?” “Why?” “Where are you putting it?” “Why?” “What does that mean?” “Why?” “Ew, gross. Can I have another oatmeal pie?” “Don’t worry, I’ll be RIGHT BACK!”
I have since been to Grand Central Station, and it is a chaotic place full of movement and noise. There is always something happening there, and showering or peeing in the middle of it all would be difficult. I can see how a woman might equate her bathroom with the hustle and bustle of a giant railway station if, say, she was attempting to apply mascara with a kid on each leg, a teenager edging her way into the mirror space, and a dog drinking out of the toilet with the television and the radio blaring loudly in the next room. I have also since become a woman who values her privacy, and I’ve been thinking a lot about Grand Central Station and what it signifies in the world of motherhood. It has raised some questions. For instance, how does one prepare for the constant company of a small child? And how do you cope with the penetrating gaze, the inquisition, the innocent meddling? Even with marriage there are boundaries, and adults can be told to go away. I was a teenager when my sisters were little kids; as a teenager I was allowed to lock the bathroom door, so while I got to practice lots of other things on my sisters, like diapering, hair and clothing management, and creative lunchmaking, I did not practice sharing the bathroom. Moms are not allowed to lock the door, and good luck telling a kid to go away: “Why?” Loud knocking. “What are you doing in there?” Door knob turning furiously. “But I miss you. I need you.” Small hand snaking under the door. Madness!
And then came Chapin. Before you parents roll your eyes and mutter under your breath about how clueless I am and how a cat is nothing like a child, shut the hell up and let me finish. Chapin has always loved the bathroom. He likes to play in the shower when the water isn’t running, and peer through the shower curtain in wonder when it is. He enjoys sitting on the closed toilet seat, and if someone leaves the seat up he likes to touch the water with his paw, and even drink it, and really, Visitors To My Home, do you really need a better reason for always flushing and NEVER LEAVING THE SEAT UP in my bathroom? He is also fascinated by the Great Unknown behind the cabinet doors, so anything that comes from behind those closed doors is an object that deserves intense observation and much touching and sniffing. This includes, but is not limited to, tampons, pads, Q-tips, cotton balls, hairspray, makeup, nail polish, tweezers, ovulation predictor sticks, pregnancy tests, and toothpaste. When he sees one of these items out in plain view his eyes grow large and round, his ears tremble, his tail twitches; he approaches the object, stares at it in silent communion, and then knocks it to the floor, into the trashcan, or into the open commode (seriously, PUT THE SEAT DOWN!). Oh, and he likes to sit in my lap. While I am sitting. On the toilet.
Sure, it sounds cute, and it was at first, but minus the questions, he was invading my privacy, so I started closing the door behind me whenever I went into either bathroom in my house. I should note that the door to one bathroom does not close all the way, due to some builder mismeasurement or temperature-related expansion in the door frame; and the door to the other bathroom is a pocket door that slides open easily and does not lock (except by accident, which is another story entirely). But this didn’t matter at first–the simple act of closing the door was enough for Chapin. The visual barrier seemed to make the room disappear to him. Soon, though, he caught on. He sat outside the bathroom and wailed. He scratched at the carpet around the door frame. He threw his weight against the pocket door, which, when you are in the shower, sounds like a band of drunken Hell’s Angels is coming up through the floor. He slipped his paw, then his entire limb, through the crack under the door; he reached in as far as he could, felt around, touched things. Then he figured out that he could press his face against the crack and look at me. And then, of course, he learned to open the doors. I finally surrendered. It was simpler than the alternative–tying him to the kitchen table with an extension cord–and much quieter. Still, there was another living creature watching me pee. At least it was just the cat.
And then Suzanna realized that Chapin was with me and she wasn’t, and she, too, started joining me every time I ventured into the bathroom. She who is afraid to walk on linoleum would brave the Scary Hard Surface of Death rather than allow her feline sibling to chance getting attention that might otherwise be given to her. Picture it: I am sitting, well, where else? Chapin is sitting at my feet watching my every move (Now she’s unwrapping the strange white stick. Amazing. Now she is unrolling the soft paper. Amazing. Now she is taking off her clothes. Amazing. Now she is clipping her toenails. Amazing.). Suzanna is lying in the doorway, also watching my every move (She is my mom. I love her. She is my mom. I love her. Maybe she will pet me. I love her). And just so you won’t walk away from here today believing both my animals are perverts, they like watching me do other things in the bathroom besides piss and shower. Last night I was down on my knees with my head in the cabinet looking for a new tube of toothpaste when I felt a nudge on my left side. Then I felt a nudge on my right side. I leaned back and looked around. There was Chapin. There was Suzanna. They, too, were staring into the cabinet. When they realized I had redirected my attention they both leaned against me; Suzanna forced her snout under my arm and into my face, and Chapin walked his front paws into my lap, purring loudly. “This isn’t Grand Central Station,” I said.
God, I can’t wait to have kids.