How do 3 year olds substantiate a relationship? Does it start with fond glances over a box of chocolate milk? A shared love of all works by Dr. Suess? Perhaps fleeting laughter over the antics of that silly classroom hamster? Whatever the initial spark, Tim and I were committed. We sat together on the brightly tiled, Hebrew alphabet rug and raised our voices together in song…”alef beit veit, gimel dalet hei”. I don’t think Hebrew qualifies as a love language. Too much phlegmy “chcchhing” involved.
These days I look at toddlers, my own spastic 16 month old included, and find myself unduly fascinated with the level of intelligence that can spout from approximately 40 inches of human. It’s already a scientific wonder that all those organs manage to fit inside such a compact body, but add in any sort of verbal wherewithal or cognitive function beyond drooling over shiny objects and I am completely dumbfounded. They can form compound sentences! Scamper off to the potty unassisted! And, apparently, fall in love with each other from 9am-12pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
We had a song, Tim and I (or maybe it was a poem). “One, two. I love you.” Catchy, right? We used to chant it to each other while tucked into our coat cubbies at the end of the day. As each of us huddled into the 2’x4’ wooden container housing our jackets and lunchboxes, we would gaze deeply upon one another and repeat our Shakespearean sonnet in unison. His eyes were a dark, chocolate brown, rather oversized in a tiny elfin face. And he had freckles speckled haphazardly across the bridge of his pug nose and dotting his baby cheeks. The kind of freckled constellation that a mother swoons over, and a 13 year old kid later tries desperately to scrub from his adolescent face.
For the most part, I believe our flirtation was pretty above-board. We walked side-by-side during our classroom field trip to the grocery store, where he manned-up honorably and partially blocked my view during the disturbing meat-grinding demonstration. He used just the right tone of voice when helping to instruct me on the art of hammering nails into Styrofoam, not too patronizing with just enough focused praise. Overall I think it was a lovely little romance, and might have blossomed into a long-term, kindergarten relationship if one small advance hadn’t flushed it all down the toilet.
Unisex bathrooms are confusing. Even to adults. I realize it can be a space saver at small restaurants, or a lazy attempt at keeping the line moving when it’s apparent that women take at least twice the amount of time to do their business than men, but for the most part I think people are cool with gender specification when it comes to the ol’ potty. As a 3 year old I was just at a loss. Most likely it had only been a couple months since I had even started using the bathroom by myself, and let’s be honest, I’m sure some panty pooping still crossed my mind now and again as a matter of convenience. But add in the fact that I was bopping into a bathroom where a strange and unfamiliar urinal posted sentry across the wall from the sad little porcelain toilet, and I was sunk. At what age does one learn propriety? Or more importantly, performance anxiety? First you want me to know when it’s time to go, then I have to request permission to use the bathroom and then I have to try and tinkle with a random dude in the room? Help!
It was a place of uncertainty – a tiled and whitewashed underworld that smelled of bleach and offered a bleak view of mis-aimed toilet paper and yellow splatters of urine. I held it in as long as possible before grudgingly trudging towards the bog of eternal stench. If I was lucky, there would only be another little girl finishing up before my turn. I may not have been used to bathroom gossip at the time, but I was certainly more at ease with those of my own kind. I’d pop open the buttons to my corduroy jumper as quickly as possible and squat ,hunched forward, knobby knees knocking, staring at the reflection in my polished mary-janes while peeing like a racehorse. There was a precise system to be followed, and the quicker I could finish, the less likely a chance that some random snot-nosed boy would saunter into the bathroom, hand already poised to unleash the dragon.
Then, one day, it happened. The worst case scenario. A moment so ingrained in my mind some 30 years later that I can almost smell the tinges of cleaning product and feel the prickles of sweat on the back of my neck. No sooner had I taken a seat with my Sesame Street panties slung low around my bobby-socked ankles, then in walked Tim.
Some people say all romance is lost in a marriage once couples stop closing the restroom door. But that still doesn’t mean someone is literally watching you pee. Someone you love, who “1, 2 I loves you” right back, staring quizzically at you while your bladder unloads. I was traumatized. Pinching off mid-flow, I scrambled to pick myself up and put myself back together while his freckles seemed to pulse behind my scrunched-closed eyelids. Of course, he seemed totally unphased and continued to watch as I went through the motions of washing my hands.
“Hey” he said when I finally turned to face him.
“Um, hi” I muttered, not making eye contact and desperately looking at the door.
“You look pretty today. So…you wanna kiss?”
Hold up. What?
I was 3 years old and my little jewish boyfriend was trying to get to first base in the communal pre-school bathroom.
All vestiges of romantical feelings for tiny Tim were gone. Following that mortifying moment, the spell was broken and I did my best to avoid eye contact of any sort throughout the rest of our minute acquaintance. He would forever remain locked in my memory as an awkward toddler boy propositioning me in the bathroom. A memory that would be regurgitated in my mind throughout college when awkward frat-boys attempted to proposition me in foul smelling bars, just before last-call, in a last-ditch effort to sling a girl home to score. It’s an early, yet valuable lesson to learn I suppose. Don’t trade sexual favors in public restrooms. Don’t date men who are wholly devoid of social timing. Always pee in private.
I guess you can’t fault a guy for trying.