“David,” I said to my 11-year-old son one recent morning. “Imagine you are in Beijing and have constipation. You want to ask a pharmacist for medicine but he doesn’t speak English. Draw a picture to explain your condition.”
I like to surprise my boy at breakfast; make him think while he chews. It helps warm up his mind for sixth grade science. Besides, he's used to it, and he knows exactly why I ask such things. We travel a lot and I've had some pretty grim digestive-tract experiences overseas. In fact, David was with me when I lost control of my bowels in the back of a taxi cab in Abu Dhabi.
Although, like a pro, I managed to keep the explosion to myself,
Sitting in my own fecal matter, I decided the best course of action was to pretend that everything was fine and dandy. Travelers all over the world find themselves in this same situation every minute of every day. It’s a rite of passage. (Quite literally if you’re in a cab or on public transportation.) My good friend Peg experienced the great gut release on a bus in rural Thailand. I felt lucky by comparison.
When we pulled up at David’s school, I eased myself out of the cab. I told the driver to wait for me. The only place I was going was a restroom.
“Mom, you are walking funny. Are you okay?” David asked.
“Where is the women’s bathroom?” I answered, calmly.
He pointed and I teetered into the loo. I couldn’t find the light switch so I sat on the toilet in the dark. I wondered how I would clean myself up. If I opened the stall door to let light in, someone might get a glimpse of me. Suffice it to say that I’m very glad Arab restrooms tend to come equipped with a spray nozzle. And since I was wearing trousers and a dress—in an effort to stay covered in the culture—I was able to dispose of my pants in the trash can.
I walked out five minutes later as if nothing had happened. My pulse never going above 100 the whole time.
“MOM! WHERE ARE YOU PANTS?” David screamed.
“I hated them,” I whispered. My dress went down to my knees so I was still demure enough to pass for proper in Abu Dhabi. I later came clean with him about the blow out in the back of the cab. Obviously, I emphasized, I’m a master of disguise.
Cut to our house in Vermont a year later. David is on the seat at the breakfast bar, which makes me think of “stool samples.” And then I recall the two weeks I spent constipated in Beijing in 1989. I went to a pharmacy and tried to explain my symptoms—or lack thereof. To no avail. When my boyfriend expressed an interest in sunscreen for the bald spot on his head, the pharmacist handed over a bottle of Rograine. We laughed so hard that my intestines relaxed.
Anyway, the current good news is that David didn’t flinch at my request to draw a picture of constipation. His drawing – complete with a squatting man crossed out with an X —is proof that my parenting strategy is working and that David is ready for the world at large.