My bladder control has always been average at best.
The second time I peed my pants at school my teacher hadn’t believed me when I told her I REALLY REALLY had to go. I sat in my chair as the pee pooled at my feet and I put my head in my hands. It had happened to another kid earlier that year. I knew I would be remembered as the girl who peed her pants for an ETERNITY (in third grade, this was a week, or until the next class party). But I got to spend the rest of the day at home in my favorite dress and watching tv. Best of all, I had an out.
I didn’t particularly like my teacher in 3rd grade. Mrs. Klein* was cold and mean enough that my mother, also an elementary school teacher, broke her cardinal rule of NOT meddling in our schooling and requested my younger brother not be put in her class when he got to third grade. Any excuse I could think of to escape her classroom, I took. This embarrassment was a boon. An exit strategy. A boulder in a river of garbage.
Unlike the first and second grade bathrooms, the third grade wing was new and the bathroom was somewhat private at the end of the hall of classrooms. Even better, there was a handicap stall that was built for an 8-year-old-sized king. This brown metal rectangle became my refuge.
This is where I did my finest imagination work. I created two imaginary friends to keep me company for my long breaks in the bathroom. Two sisters, one older and one younger loosely based on the characters in Little House on the Prairie, met me there in the stall when I was bored with my own thoughts. They would tell jokes and braid each other’s hair and argue against the walls of the stall.
This is where I learned the basics of skin care. I’d wash my hands for long periods of time, toying with the soap in my hands, using them like bubble wands, until I began to feel the wrinkling of my fingertips. Then, depending on the mood I was in, I would experiment with drying. How much better did an ungodly amount of paper towel work versus a single sheet? Depends on the time you want to take drying your hands. How much of a difference did rubbing your hands under the dryer make? A big one. What rubbing speed was most effective? Moderate at first then, as you feel the slick of the water give way to spots of dry, vigorous.
This is where I learned how much time one can spend in a bathroom per day before people ask questions. You can squeeze out about 4 “pee” breaks (2-3 minutes each) and one “business” break (5-7 minutes). To get away with the longer end of the time frame, be sure to space these breaks out in hour+ intervals. I had the most success with 1 hour and 15 minutes. Be sure to hold your pee during times between these breaks so as not to throw off your break schedule. Always leave the room with the same amount of urgency so as to never appear as if you don’t actually have to go.
My bathroom breaks were my solace during that year in Mrs. Klein’s room. I don’t remember much of her classroom. I don’t remember having any friends in her class. I don’t remember any cool projects I did. But I wasn’t jaded on school or, even, on teachers because I had a safe place to run. Unlike today, adults spent little time imagining what happened in a 3rd grade bathroom.
In fourth grade I went on to be my weird, awkward self but I stayed in class. I liked my teacher. She made me feel welcome. I wrote poems in my free time instead of hiding. I didn’t need to cling to the boulder because the river wasn’t garbage anymore.
*name UNchanged, because teachers that make kids feel unwelcome and unwanted in their classrooms don’t get that kindness. don’t @ me Mrs. Klein