I'm getting ready for a trip up the New Jersey Turnpike to see my dad.
Since the Little Girl was a baby, it's always been a rough route to ride, mostly because of the bathroom breaks. Nothing prepares the single father with female child in tow for the logistical difficulties liberally ladled by the Molly Pitcher Rest Stop, along what's been called the country's most-used toll way.
First of all, the highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive, according to Bruce Springsteen, this particular roadway's troubadour and favorite son. Crowded, in other words. When you get to the rest stop, especially on a weekend, it's a swirling chaos of trip-crazed kids and their unraveling parents. No way you let a little one loose in the madness.
Once, when my daughter was 4 or so, my only choice was to take her into a men's room stall with me. I hustled her past the grimy scrum of purpose-driven guys, then locked us into the small and too-warm chamber. Still, I reveled in a brief moment of sanctuary – until the Little Girl got down on all fours and peered into the neighboring stall. She addressed the man within: "Hi. This is my da-da. He's poopin'. Hey dad, he's poopin', too. What's his name? What color is his house?"
I made sure I heard the guy exit before I got us out of there, my mind recalling a Republican congressman and the inglorious end to his career when he did some stall-to-stall communication in an airport lavatory. This was different, of course. But still.
These days, the Little Girl declines to go into a women's room alone. So when we travel or hit the mall, I search for family restrooms, if they're available. Lately, I've begun to study the faces outside the women's rooms for a kind-looking lady who might escort the kid into the proper-gendered facility.
Truth be told, I haven't ever actually gone through with asking a woman to do this, since it feels like an awkward cross between a proposition and a really burdensome favor. Also, you never know what nut jobs are floating about.
Recently, when the child had to go, I asked whether she could wait. Crying ensued. So into the men's room we went, father and daughter on a bizarre journey for which there is no roadmap.
"Why are the men standing, dad?" she asked.
"They're making phone calls," I answered.