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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Bathroomitis and the Joys of Lavender Soap

October 10, 2005

My four-year old son used to be an extremely rowdy restaurant customer.

Early on, he screamed like a banshee while eating in restaurants. Later, during his terrible twos, he graduated to holding conversations with customers seated at surrounding tables while they were hopelessly trying to finish their meal. Today, in terms of enjoying a peaceful meal away from home, we are miles ahead of where we were in his early years. He no longer yells and screams at the table and rarely, if ever, disturbs neighboring patrons.

Nowadays he has a strange new affliction. I call it Bathroomitis. He has traded in his large voice for a small bladder.

For some strange reason, restaurants make him want to go to the bathroom. I can’t explain this phenomenon but it’s real. Five minutes after we are seated in a restaurant, something clicks in his brain, then travels southward, and out of his mouth comes, “Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom.”

“But you just went five minutes ago, before we left the house.”

“I know, but I have to go again.” And he does.

Early on, I assumed his multiple restroom visits were a crafty ploy he had devised to keep us away from the table allowing him to wander through restaurants. But every time I took him to the restroom, he did, in fact, need to go.

One trip to the lavatory per restaurant visit wouldn’t be bad. But, as with everything in our family, nothing is done in moderation. He often makes four trips in one restaurant stay.

I began to think that it might be a medical problem, but this strange phenomenon only occurs in restaurants. At home he’s a camel. He can go hours without ever stepping foot in a bathroom. In a restaurant he develops a bladder the size of an English pea.

Consequently, I have become an expert on restaurant bathrooms. I know what every restaurant lavatory looks like from Jackson to New Orleans. I know which eatery offers the best soap, who mops their floor regularly, and who never restocks the paper towels.

“How was your meal today, sir?”

“The meal was fine. However, that mint-green hue you chose when painting your bathroom walls makes one look a little peaked when washing their hands for the fourth time. Also, you soap is a little fruity. Try something with lavender or herbs.”

“Will you be having dessert today, Mr. St.John?”

“Yes, I’ll take mine in stall number three. And could you please restock the paper towels.”

These days, at the end of a meal, I have visited the bathroom sink so often that, by the time dessert arrives, my overly washed hands have morphed into that I’ve-been-swimming-for-hours prune look.

I’ve tried everything. I talked to a pediatrician friend who assured me that nothing was out of order. I had him checked for diabetes, I even changed my son’s restaurant beverage of choice— Sprite— to water, thinking that the lemon-lime combination acted as a diuretic in his system. To no avail, I still heard those four familiar words multiple times during a restaurant visit: “Daddy I gotta go!”

I have become quite the connoisseur when it comes to paper towels. I know a three-ply from a pseudo-two-ply, and can spot a single-ply towel from a mile away. I have developed a deep hatred for those old-fashioned pull-the-towel-down-from-inside-the-machine-while the-used-cloth-loops-back-into-the-machine gas-station-style towel dispensers. As luck would have it, my son loves those contraptions. I turned around once and found that he had crawled up into the towel loop and was hanging by his feet, upside down in the bathroom. “Look daddy, no hands!”

Having a son with a chronic case of Bathroomitis makes one appreciate the little things in life such as adequate restroom ventilation, distance from the dining room to the washroom, and low-to-the-ground child-friendly urinals.

Ultimately, I have come to believe that his Bathroomitis is nothing more than a Pavlovian response directly related to the excitement of visiting a restaurant and the sheer anticipation of enjoying a restaurant meal. In the end, he’s just like his old man, he loves food and he gets excited when he’s about to eat a mess of it.

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