But then I took my mostly potty-trained toddler on our first diaper-free road trip, and decided I wasn’t as thrilled to be free of those chains as I would have imagined.
As if a road trip with two small children isn’t taxing enough, between the two of them, our 4- and 2-year-old need as many potty breaks as the number of Goldfish crackers they can scatter throughout a vehicle on a multi-day drive. Which is a lot. And the unremitting potty breaks makes for an excruciatingly long journey.
“Pee-pee, poo-poo,” Emme chirps from the backseat.
When a newly potty-trained 2-year-old tells you she has to go, and she’s strapped into a car seat, flying at 65-miles-per hour down a deserted desert highway, it’s something of an emergency.
Craig and I quickly shift into “pee-pee, poo-poo” mode. He leans forward, gripping the steering wheel as I scan the sides of the road for something, anything that can suffice as a place to pull over so our 2-year-old can pee.
“Quick! On the right!” I shout. But it’s too late. The small pullout littered with broken glass is already behind us.
“Okay, Emme, we’re going to stop,” I say, trying hide the tenor of my rising panic. “Just hold it.”
If you’ve never had to clean a child’s car seat before, you’ve never had to attempt to deconstruct, then reconstruct, this mystifyingly intricate web of straps and buckles that is a modern-day five-star safety-rated children’s car seat, you should consider yourself lucky.
“Look, there!” Craig manages to slow down enough in time to turn into the next promising spot: A driveway leading to an abandoned trailer. I jump out of my seat, unstrap Emme, yank down her big-girl panties, and wait.
“No pee-pee. No poo-poo,” she says sweetly.
Strap her back into the car seat. Pull back onto the highway.
Ten miles later: “Pee-pee, poo-poo.”
Craig and I look sideways at each other. There’s a good chance our toddler is simply bored and knows a surefire way to get her parents to release her from the tedium of a long ride. But there’s also a chance she actually has to go.
We pull over at the next gas station we see. I question whether it’s open; tumbleweeds blow across the parking lot, and a stray dog lifts her head as we approach.
“I have to go too!” I’m pretty sure our oldest daughter does not need to go to the bathroom, but of course she wants to explore the bathroom of this ramshackle gas station.
This is pretty much the last bathroom I would like to explore, I think to myself. But Craig and I steel ourselves, and venture inside, our two small daughters in tow.
When a mother warns, “Don’t touch anything!” it basically compels a child to touch everything in sight. Things like the white trash canister screwed to the wall, the one with the flip-top lid, are irresistible.
The entire place is so interesting, in fact, that both of our children lose the urge to use the facilities.
We’re back on the road as fast as is humanly possible – as fast as humanly possible with two small children, that is.
Not 20 minutes later Elle insists that this time, she really does need to go to the bathroom.
“Maybe it’s time for lunch,” I suggest.
We find a family-friendly looking restaurant in Blanding, Utah. The first thing we do, of course, is explore the facility’s bathroom. Elle takes advantage. Emme does not.
After we order, we let the girls out of the booth to look at the video games near the restaurant’s front counter. Road trips with two small children are exhausting, we lament, sipping our iced tea.
“Mom,” Elle yells from across the room. “Emme peed on the floor.”
We look across the booth at each other, each willing the other parent to take responsibility for the child who just made a puddle in the entryway of this dining establishment. We wait a few moments too long. By the time Craig warily rises from the booth, Emme has pulled her wet pants to her ankles and is waddling away, her bare little 2-year-old bum behind her.
Our next stop: The local grocery store, where we buy diapers.