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Give Me A Bathroom Break

by Stephen Lautens


October 4, 2002

In my family, we rarely acknowledged let alone discussed bodily functions. We were uptight in that charming Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, look-the-other-way-and-change-the-subject kind of way. I think we were all in fact comfortable with our own bodies. We just didn't want to hear about anyone else's - even immediate family.

If pressed, any and all embarrassing or personal ailments were simply described as "stomach problems". That was enough to make sure everyone gave you a wide berth, and was warning enough to make sure no one asked any more detailed questions. Going to the bathroom was "washing your hands", or at the worst, "freshening up".

I'm not sure that was a healthy attitude, but it sure was a lot more comfortable than some families. A while back I was at a wedding shower. During the speeches the mother of the groom was asked if she had any words of advice for the bride to be on joining the family. "Yes," she said. "If he's like his father, just make sure you always have lots of toilet paper on hand." There was much laughter from one side of the family. The bride's family stood looking uncomfortably at each other, no doubt wondering what they had gotten themselves into and whether they could still get a refund on the wedding cake deposit.

I sided with the uncomfortable people, since in my family we barely acknowledged the existence of the toilet. I don't think I was certain that my parents even went to the bathroom until I was in my 30s. Call us hopelessly out of touch with ourselves, but it certainly wasn't something my family thought was an appropriate subject for a toast to the bride.

Maybe it's for that reason that I never know what to do when I encounter people who are a little too comfortable with their bodily functions - and who feel it is their obligation to share the details with everyone. And I mean anyone, not just pharmacists, nurses or other health professionals. These people feel the world has to know what's going on inside them.

I was waiting in a lineup at an ATM with a woman behind me loudly discussing the state of her health on her cell phone. In spite of humming "O Canada" to myself as loudly as possible, I left with such a detailed knowledge of her gynecological problems that I felt I ought to have billed her for a consultation.

A friend of mine has a person like this in his office. A simple: "How's it going?" results in a catalogue of her recent bodily functions, which may or may not include cramps, various liquids and gases, as well as any of the other more serious by-products of being human. Apparently the only thing that could make her happier is if she had a body like that clear plastic model we had as kids called "The Invisible Woman". That way she could actually point out the progress of things as they worked their way through her system rather than having to describe them like a narrator on The Learning Channel.

So give me good, honest repression any day of the week. And if you ask me how my bodily functions are, the answer is always going to be "just fine thanks" regardless of my actual condition. 

Trust me - a little denial is going to make us both feel better.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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