It’s an expression parents have heard millions of times: “Dad! I have to go to the bathroom.” A sudden flash of panic hits your face. Your brain immediately goes into overdrive to begin your assessment of the situation. The end goal is to avoid a tragedy of making a scene in the middle of the shopping market or baseball stadium. You suddenly find yourself thinking of how easy diapers were but quickly remember getting rid of those was the reason you were able to get a new car.
If you’re by yourself, you may need to bring all your kids to the bathroom with you, which is pretty much asking for an embarrassing moment to happen. I must mention that I am not a germaphobe but when we go to the bathroom, my No. 1 goal with the kids is to limit the number of things they touch. Public restrooms are usually gross; if I can limit the exposure, I’m going to try.
There wasn’t a family restroom, so it’s off to the men’s room. So here we are, the boy needs to pee and the girl does, too. Who should go first? This would be an easy decision if the ADA stall were open. Shoot! It’s occupied by a lucky dad with two kids himself. So, I quickly do some analysis and determine the boy goes first because then he can stand right outside the stall and be safe, given we can’t all fit in the non-ADA stall. Apparently, this was wrong.
Me: “Aiden, you go first and then Aubrey, you and I will go.”
Aubrey: “Noooooo, Daddy! I have to go now! I can’t wait!”
Me: “OK, let’s go. Aiden, wait outside this stall and don’t talk to anyone or look at anyone or touch anything or do anything.”
Aiden: “Why does she get to go first?”
Me: “Because she has to go now and stop touching the walls, they’re gross.”
Aiden: “Haha! Why do you care so much about touching stuff in the bathroom?”
Me: “Aiden, just stay here and be quiet.”
Now, getting in the bathroom stall with Aubrey, I quickly realize that even though we are not in the ADA stall, the water closets are at ADA height and she has to pretty much grab every part of the toilet to get up onto it.
Me: “Here, Aubrey, let me help you get up there.”
Aubrey: “I can do it, I’m a big girl!”
Me: “Yeah, but it's dirty. Let me just pick you up there.”
Aubrey (now on the toilet): “Dad, I know how to do it. I get on the toilet at home.”
Random Guy: “Hello.”
Me: “Aiden, don’t talk to strangers; be quiet.”
Aiden: “What! You’re always saying it’s nice to say hello to people.”
Me: “Not in the men’s bathroom. Now be quiet, please.”
Aubrey: “Dad, there’s no toilet paper.”
Me: “Aiden, go grab some toilet paper from the other stall.”
Me: “Go grab some toilet paper from the other stall, please.”
Me: “Aubrey, sit back down.”
Me: “Aiden, I think that’s enough.”
Me: “Aubrey, please don’t touch that.”
(Hand with toilet paper slides under the divider.)
Aiden: “Here you go, Dad.”
Me: “Cool. Thanks, Aiden.”
Me: “Aiden, don’t talk to anyone.”
Aubrey: “All done, I have to wash my hands.”
Me: “OK, let’s go.”
Aiden notices the short ADA urinal is occupied, so he goes to the taller one.
Me: “Aiden, that won’t work.”
Aiden: “Sure, it will.”
Aubrey: “Dad, can you get me soap?”
Me: “Aiden, just focus on what you’re doing; you have to aim.”
Aubrey: “Dad, I’m afraid of the dryer.”
Me: “It’s OK, it’s just loud.”
Aubrey: “I’ll just use my shorts.”
Me: “Don’t use your ….”
Me: “Aiden, you don’t need to flush those; they have a sensor on them.”
Aiden: “Then why is there a button?”
Me: “It’s an override.”
Aiden: “What’s an override?”
Aubrey, singing: “Override!”
Me: “In case the sensor is broken, they can still flush the toilet.”
Me: “Aiden, that’s too much soap.”
Me: “Aubrey, wait for us.”
Aubrey: “Hello, stranger.”
Public Lavatory Design for Families
Not every bathroom design has the opportunity to accommodate all scenarios, but it appears architects and plumbing engineers could be assessing some of these scenarios for families. In an ideal world, there would be a family bathroom but usually there isn’t enough space for a third bathroom. So, what are some things that could be done to the typical bathroom design to accommodate families?
Fixture selection can be critical for accommodating a smaller person. In the described scenario, missing out on the ADA stall and urinal was annoying. These are ideal for space and height. There are shorter toilets. Could your design afford to dedicate a stall to a smaller toilet fixture? Probably not, but your client may be impressed with you thinking about all their building occupants.
What about a smaller toilet seat? The lavatory also can be designed with children in mind. Sensor faucets are great — if they work. Spring-action metering faucets are very challenging and usually requires some parental assistance. This also is an excellent time to make sure you’re not sending hot water temperatures to the sink that could result in scalding. Kids may be used to the water temperature at home or school and might trust that the temperature is always safe.
Designing for these scenarios in every setting doesn’t make sense but I believe there are some building types that should consider designing public lavatories for the family. Those might be movie theatres, zoos, stadiums, museums, libraries and, of course, schools. School designs are actually pretty good at designing for children. It can make a child’s experience less stressful in an already very stressful environment.
The idea of designing your bathrooms around the user is going to result in a great experience for them and your client. And if you’re a parent, I pray you don’t have to go into a porta potty.