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The Self Cleaning Bathroom

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When we purchased our home in 2002, we had two children and a third on the way. At that time, five bedrooms and two and a half baths seemed like more space than we could ever use. The idea that some day it might not be enough room seemed, well, silly.

At the time we moved in, our oldest (Charlotte) was two, and number two (Lewis) was one. Oliver would be born when Lewis was one and a half, and our fourth (Lawrence) would come around fourteen months after Oliver.

Okay, so we had four kids in three and a half years; I was there, you don’t need to tell me how crazy it sounds. That said, having four children so close together you don’t really get a sense for how much space they will need when they get bigger.

Four small children are exactly that… small.

a7d4cbe49c00c3d3975ba4ffcf432afb2052c930.jpgOur four kiddos when they all fit in the tub together

As the years have gone by, we have rearranged bedroom configurations several times. Sometimes they shared, and other times not. Two years ago we arrived at the configuration that still stands today. Each of our four children has their own bedroom.

Charlotte, the only girl, has the largest of the kid rooms, right at the top of the stairs. When we were figuring out how to sort things, she lobbied strongly for this room by proclaiming, “It is the only room that won’t be adjacent to a smelly boy.”

Though at the time the smelly designation was debatable, the proximity component of her argument was irrefutable. Her olfactory admonition turned out to be prescient, but we’ll get to that in a bit. In exchange for landing a double bed in the largest room, Charlotte had to agree to be the first one give her four walls up when guests come to visit. To her credit, she has never complained… about that.

So, with Charlotte happy in her room and the three boys all at the other end of the hall, we have no real issues with bedrooms.

The single bathroom they all share is another story entirely.

My wife and I share a small master bath. It works for us, but it is so small that if she is at the sink, I cannot get out of the tiny shower stall without hitting her with the door. I assure you it has everything to do with the size of the bathroom, and nothing to do with the size of her butt.

The children’s bathroom on the other hand is huge. They have a long counter with two sinks, under which there are voluminous cabinets and drawers. At the end of the counter is a full-sized, elongated bowl toilet with plenty of space on all sides. Opposite the sinks are a full-sized tub and a very large closet. The space between is large enough for a foosball table. When it comes to bathroom real estate, my children have plenty.

9946b471504575280df45685565cef9e285ef8b1.jpgThe large space where my children clean themselves - mostly.

The four Nazarians are substantially larger than they once were, and with this size seems to have come an inability to respect the other three people with whom each shares the bathroom.

So you may calibrate what I am about to tell you with your own experiences, as of this writing my children are:

  • Charlotte – 14, high school freshman, XC and track runner
  • Lewis – 13, 8th grade, karate black belt, XC runner
  • Oliver – 12, 7th grade, archer, XC runner
  • Lawrence – 11, 5th grade, runner, soccer player

With three different school schedules and as many sports in the mix, the bathroom is in use constantly. At first, the bathroom conflicts were minor scheduling squabbles, and a spat here and there about hot water use.

Making matters worse, as things began to deteriorate, their need for attention to personal hygiene seems to have become inversely proportional to their skills to provide it. In a word, they smell.

The kids bathroom became an unkempt place that
my wife and I tried to avoid.

Despite their respective abilities to catch a ball, hit a bull’s-eye with an arrow, or execute a precise karate move, my three boys seem incapable of placing all of their urine in the actual bowl of the toilet. Given the size of the target relative to the projectile, this seems all but impossible, yet it is consistently so. We do not live in a New York City subway tunnel, but try and tell them that.

Toothpaste management seems also to elude all four of them. From the blobs on the counter to the spittle-like crusts in the sink, you’d think the stuff was sticker than crude oil spilled from a tanker. Mix in a few hair-care products and the apparatus that comes with a few mouthfuls of orthodontia, and pretty soon you have a real mess on your hands.

Worst of all, clothing, towel and bath mat management was all but non-existent. At any given time there was some combination of underwear, wet towel(s) and rumpled bath mat on the cold tile floor. Of course, no child was willing to address the bathroom sins of any sibling. For example, if a boy was asked to remove his spent undies from the bathroom floor, he would reach down and pull them from underneath a towel that was not his, being very careful not to disturb it at all.

Not his? Not touching it.

We have a cleaning lady who comes in every other week, so twice a month we demanded they tidy up so she could do her job, but the fourteen intervening days were pretty much what I just described. Individual garments and towels were easy to tie to an individual offender, but you can’t fingerprint or DNA test toothpaste or skid-marks in the toilet. The denials of guilt were as prevalent as the finger pointing.

One day several weeks ago my wife had enough.

After finding the bathroom in one of the worst states yet, she summoned all four children to join her in the mess. She closed the door and proceeded to call them all out on their lackluster treatment of our home and each other. She made them watch as she restored the bathroom to a standard state of cleanliness, pointing out specifically what is acceptable and (more importantly) what is not.

When she finished her scrubbing bubble master class she issued the following brilliant parental decree:

Look around you. This is what a bathroom is supposed to look like, all the time. If at any time you come into this room and it does not look just like this, I want you to walk right out and figure out who was in there before you. He or she will be required to return the bathroom to a complete state of cleanliness with full support from your father and me. Here’s the bottom line, if you leave the bathroom messy you will be responsible for cleaning it, even it you didn’t make the mess. If you find the bathroom clean and leave it clean, you’ll never have anything to worry about. If you respect each other and respect this house, this bathroom will stay pretty spotless between bi-weekly cleanings.

Regular readers of mine might recall a story called The Logic Of Inspiring Greatness, and this was simply another execution of the same idea.

We tied our four children to a mutually codependent system of checks and balances, and nearly a month later, the bathroom has remained astonishingly clean.

Over the last fifteen years, I have learned as many things about management as I have about parenting, and the funny thing is that the majority of each is equally applicable to the other.

In almost every case our first instinct as human beings is to react, and fight for the opposite of the undesirable behavior we are seeing. In the end however, human beings don’t respond like Newton’s Third Law of Motion. They are much more complex creatures and as a result, require more creative solutions.

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