“Don’t Flush Paper Towels Down the Toilet,” and Other Things I Can’t Believe I Have To Say Out Loud

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Well.

Just spent the last two hours working this whole braided essay into a column like divinely inspired basket weaver over here.

It was called “I Promise to Smoke Crack This Year.” Right hand to God, you guys, I found a way to give a column that title and then turn it into 1,900 publishable words that a legitimate news outfit like this one here would have run.

And then my kid came to shake me down to be her bodyguard while she went downstairs to use the bathroom.

We have two bathrooms in our house. One upstairs and one downstairs.

Should be the perfect setup right?

Well, late last week I ran out of toilet paper in the upstairs bathroom but there was a roll of paper towels that had been left beside the vanity after a cleaning session, so I ripped off a little chunk of one sheet and used it as a sort of field alternative. I was raised in the woods. I’ve MacGyvered far worse solutions out of far less, my friends.

But I knew, as I did it, that this was not a long term solution.

Like all adults, I made a mental note to retrieve a roll of toilet paper from the downstairs linen closet on my next trip below, and bring with me upon my glorious return.

Then, like most adults, I crumpled the mental note up and threw it in my mental trash bin, or may as well have, for all the good it did me. I did not retrieve the roll of toilet paper and I did not bring it upstairs with me, and my return wasn’t even mildly exciting, let alone glorious, so the whole stupid idea sputtered and died on impact basically.

Anyhow, that was like a week ago.

My kids have been using the upstairs bathroom. I only use the upstairs bathroom so occasionally that I did not become aware that I had forgotten the toilet paper recon mission entirely until about 20 minutes ago, when my kid came about halfway through me recording my aforementioned column about how I promised to smoke crack religiously every single day in 2021 that would have left you cheering me on instead of clucking like a bunch of hens in my general direction.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” she said, even as I held my finger up in the universal clandestine recording studio sign language gesture known globally as “shhhh!”

I straightfaced her.

I straightfaced her hard.

Because my kid is eight. She’s been toilet trained for six years. She is aware of the location of all toilets in the house.

And yet, inexplicably, here we were.

There are a lot of moments like this, as a mother, in my experience.

Where something comes out of your kid’s mouth and you just gaze at them in genuine awe of the fact that they have lived this long apparently abjectly unaware of the fact that they have thumbs, and feet, and more than enough self-determination to handle these minor crises of life entirely unassisted.

“Then go to the bathroom,” I replied, after a silenced I stretched out three seconds longer than necessary to punctuate the point my face strained against the laws of physics themselves to convey.

And the switch washed over her so swiftly that I could only anticipate based on an utter, utter avalanche of previous personal experience alone.

“I can’t,” she wailed at me, this frightful creature, half-woman half-banshee, one hundred percent shrill and histrionic.

“I -”

“I had a bad dream,” she screeched on, adrift now in the emotional undertow of it all and lost to me as I gently held my breath and shuttered my eardrums by forcing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” directly in from whichever cortex of my brain is responsible for musical encoding. “I had a bad dream that a killer bunny was below the stairs, well not below the stairs but there, at the bottom, at the bottom of the stairs, and it killed all our pets and it smelled like Cheetos and it was awful, I’m telling you, it was the most awful, awful bunny, and it happened in this house.” The rest of her run-on defense just dribbled and trickled from her swollen lips, contorted in grief and all the abject terror of a traumatized veteran confronted with the backfiring of an ill-maintained pickup truck.

I just learned this cool new breathing technique. I’m a huge fan of meditation, but I’m really bad at the kind of meditation you have to pay money to do with a group of other people in yoga pants above a whole foods co-op in the hip part of town. I can’t count my breath’s durations or I get sidetracked wondering how we came to tell time by pronouncing the word “Mississippi” silently to ourselves between beats. I can’t attain, let alone maintain, the posture of a self-actualized vegan Buddhist monk for thirty minutes at a stretch without serious musculoskeletal consequences I deem comically prohibitive. I’m better at this kind of meditation. The kind I’m doing right now. The kind that shoves a phillips head right in between the grinding cogs of my thoughts and stops them, straightens their collars, brushes the dust off their lapels and arranges them into orderly lines so I can assign them spaces on this page right here.

I started doing it right then and there, as my child looked on in horror, probably thinking she was witnessing the fatal aneurysm that would be the pivotal point of her childhood narrative and render her the ward of my best friend, her Aunt Shanell, who would domesticate her unflinchingly because she’s just generally better at adulting – and therefore at parenting – that I could ever dream of being.

Probably beat the crap out of whatever nightmare had her in my room while I was recording, the most sacred time of all the times at my house, asking me to accompany her downstairs so Frank from Donnie Darko didn’t eat her soul because she’s a mere mortal child with an excretory system and the meanest maternal figure in the whole while stupid world.

“I know you’re working,” she said to me, having been jolted out of her own emotional meltdown long enough to arrest the autonomic hijacking and regain control of her brain, and her mouth, and her muscle spasms. “But I need to go downstairs to use the bathroom because this one is clogged and I’m afraid of a killer rabbit from my dreams.”

It must be one of the blessings of youth, to be capable of swinging from white-hot emotional rage to razor-sharp logical problem solving and communication like a speed freak after a fresh bump. I don’t miss many things about childhood but I would love a shot of whatever neuroplasticity she’s having. Because she’d calmed down but I was still sniff-sniff-sighing and clinging to the fuzzy, vignetted edges of my happy place like the terrified child she’d just been before me.

“How is this toilet clogg-” I breathed deep and willed the cortisol to flush from my system as I realized what the situation was.

The toilet was clogged because I hadn’t brought toilet paper up and my kids had done exactly what I’d done, but in their childlike, overexaggerated way. I’d used a corner of a Bounty once and moved on with life. They’d been shoving clods of the things down that little escape hatch at the bottom of the bowl by the fistful for a week because, clearly, if there’s no toilet paper immediately visible after a half-focused glance around a few spots in the room there is no toilet paper anywhere on this planet and we must be supposed to use whatever is lying around.

Right hand to god, you guys, if I’d had a copy of the New York Times stacked beside the vanity they’d have flushed January 2018 – April 2020 down there over the course of four or five days.

A couple weeks ago, my mother handed me an industrial-size case of toilet paper as I attempted to walk out the door. When I asked, politely, what the actual heck, she said that the girls had told her we didn’t have any toilet paper and hadn’t had any toilet paper for weeks. She looked at me reproachfully, as if she wanted to ask was I drinking again, even though I’ve never even been a drinker, surprisingly enough.

“We have toilet paper,” I told her, dumbfounded. “There’s like sixteen rolls of toilet paper in the downstairs linen closet. All they would have to do is stand up, walk seven paces to the closet, pick up a roll of toilet paper, and take it back to the toilet with them.” We stared at each other for a moment, as the chilling realization that my kids could tell my mother the sky is neon beige with fuschia clouds and she would call the Associated Press immediately with the information as if she’d just spotted one of America’s Most Wanted in the Tim Horton’s drive through line, settled like a fresh layer of snow upon us both.

I knew, watching my child weep openly at the reminder of the killer bunny in Monty Python and how funny he was, what was happening. I knew what had happened already, and what was about to happen next, and none of it, you guys. None of it was any good. At all.

Defeated, I stopped my recording, highlighted the entire track, and blew it into the ether with a terse tap of the “delete” button.

It had taken too long, and would require too much polishing to get me successfully from a title of “I Promise to Smoke Crack This Year” to a publishable and insightful final period and an implied “the end.”

It was over.

It was brilliant and cerebral, thoughtful and gently humorous. It was stick-to-your-ribs style good stuff.

And I just deleted it because I knew that there was no version of this evening that ended with my child seeing herself to the downstairs toilet or me not smearing Vaseline Intensive Care eucalyptus salve under my nose holes like the coroner in Silence of the Lambs and marching my resolved keister into the upstairs bathroom with a roll of toilet paper and the only plunger I’ve ever owned with a track record of not letting me down.

I swear to the Almighty, you guys, I’ve never in my life smelled anything so atrociously, viscerally disturbing in my life, and now it’s associated in my head with Vaseline Intensive Care so every single time my kids have a chest cold from now to eternity I’m going to re-experience.

But perhaps most egregious of all, dear friends, is that you will now never know how my promising to smoke crack for the entire year 2021 was actually the poignant and masterfully-rendered crescendo to perhaps my greatest piece of written work to date.

And I know I won’t talk to you before then, so as I let you go allow me to give you my New Year’s Resolution ahead of time.

I just came up with this.

This year, I solemnly swear, to teach my kids to how to use a plunger and replace an empty toilet paper roll.

So help me God.