I love kids. I’m great with kids. They like me, I like playing games, and I can listen to child psychobabble for hours on end (well I can tolerate it but that’s still a gift). The problem is that I have this irrational fear that I look like the type of man that other adults deem suspicious when interacting with young children. It’s all in my head, my imagination running away with old episodes of Law and Order: SVU and To Catch a Predator, thinking that parents are on the lookout for shady individuals. And I have this feeling that my large frame, often wild and bushy beard, and the vague distant look on my face that I may be plotting something at all times, sets off an alarm in paranoid parents’ minds when I am interacting with my young cousins in public.
This fear of mine came to a boiling point on my mom’s birthday a few weeks ago. My parents and I were having dinner at a restaurant in town called Hasler Brothers Steakhouse with my dad’s sisters and my six year cousin Eldon. I was quietly sitting in the corner watching whatever god-awful college bowl game was on that night when my dad suggested that the chatty Eldon sit next to me. So I turned my attention from football and became enraptured in this young boys obsession with dinosaurs. His eyes grew wide with excitement behind his glasses as he detailed the anatomy of the Plesiosaur and recreated the epic battles between Allosaurus and Triceratops with his hands.
Suddenly he stopped everything and looked at me with fear. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he whispered. And I was not briefed on how to handle that situation when he was annexed over to my section of the restaurant, so I ignored him like a responsible adult. After a moment he said it again but this time it was not a whisper so I was forced to engage.
“Then go,” I said and he gave me a look that said Dude, I’m six. What the hell does that mean? So I turned to my dad and said that Eldon had to pee. To which he replied, “Then take him.”
So I begrudgingly led him to the restroom that the restaurant shares with the bar next door. And instantly the fear of judgment hit me because the thought struck that “nervous-looking bearded guy leads small child to restroom” is not a fun vibe to send out to the world.
Once inside the empty restroom Eldon set off exploring the different stalls while I stood in the corner wishing I could just phase through the wall and escape the situation. He finally chose a urinal and proceeded to pull down both his pants and underwear. I totally forgot that that was how small boys used the restroom and immediately started searching for hidden cameras as if I were the subject of some sort of sting operation. Eldon turned to me, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “Pretend you don’t see me.” Sadly, I couldn’t.
I suggested that maybe he should go to a stall but he was all like Dude, I got this. I pointed out that he wasn’t even tall enough for the urinal to which he was all like Dude, I got this. When suddenly an adult man that I did not know entered the restroom. He surveyed the situation, a small pant-less child using the urinal and me trying desperately to mentally escape to a field full of puppies, and then proceeded to go about his day and use the restroom.
There was no safe place to look. It was between A) watch my pant-less cousin pee next to a stranger, B) turn around and watch it in the mirror, or C) read the things taped to the paper towel dispenser. I chose option D and left the bathroom entirely. Leaving my young cousin alone in a restroom with a stranger. Because I’m an adult who makes good decisions.
More men exited from the bar in pursuit of the bathroom and were greeted by me awkwardly guarding the door like a creepy sentry. They ignored me the best they could, entered the restroom and I felt more and more like a horrible human being.
Finally one man poked his head back out the bathroom and said “I think we have a problem in here.” I entered the room to see Eldon squirming around the trying to pull his pants back on and button them. For some reason this was a big task because apparently he was raised by wolves or something. So I had to debate the pros and cons of helping out in this situation. He insisted that he could do it but he was slipping and sliding his way across the whole bathroom. I crouched down like a lineman awaiting the snap with my hands out in case I had to help with the button. After a minute of struggle he finally was able to button up and wash his hands and I was free from this nightmare.
As I was exiting the restroom I looked back at the first man who entered and apologized for the entire situation. He laughed as he washed his hands and said, “Don’t worry. I have kids too.” And it was initially weird to think that this man thought that Eldon was my son but there was also a tremendous wave of relief when it was finally confirmed that I don’t in fact look like a pedophile, just a very confused father. And I’m OK with that.