I don’t mean to brag, but my son Griffin has flushed more toilets on Ball State University’s campus than any other person in history. And he’s only eleven.
Most Fridays after I pick him up from school, we head to campus and choose a building or three to explore. We start at the first floor and work our way up and down the floors and halls. We check the floor plans, which sometimes show toilets, sometimes not.
We’ve visited the bowels of museums and auditoriums. New buildings with fancy efficient toilets, and old porcelain dinosaurs that flush with the ferocity of a T-Rex roar.
It’s not completely stress-free. He wants the bathroom to himself. He narrates his visits like he sees on Toilet YouTube. Yes, Toilet YouTube is a thing. There’s an order in which he likes to flush the urinal, stalls, and check the sink. People get in the way. Especially stinky old grandpas.
A “stinky old grandpa” (SOG) is anyone who sits in a stall for longer than 30 seconds. I’m not sure why he started calling them that. Having discovered an SOG, Griffin will walk out, grit his teeth and report that “There’s a stinky old grandpa pooping.” He’s not the best at modulating the volume of his voice. Adjectives like stinky and old should be whispered in public. We’re working on it.
While first floor bathrooms see the most traffic, SOGs prefer the little-visited top floor or basement bathrooms where they think they can poop in peace and quiet. On Fridays that peace and quiet is sometimes distubed by an 11-year-old boy who may or may not have peeked under the stall before stomping out of the bathroom and reported the findings to his father.
Sometimes we’ll wait outside the bathroom for the SOG to take care of business. Once while waiting Griffin hollered, “He’s been pooping for an hour!” Griffin was right he was taking a long time. I blame TikTok.
So, yes, it gets awkward. His obsession with toilets began with a fear. Griffin is autistic and is sensitive to loud noises like flushing and hand dryers. It all started when we were on a road trip and he refused to use any public bathroom. His ABA therapists began working with him, taking him to various public bathrooms at gas stations, restaurants, and stores. He became fascinated with the variety of toilet brands (Kohler is his favorite), flushing mechanisms, and various plumbing characteristics. Now he wants to see every toilet in every bathroom.
At times it’s debilitating. We visited Cedar Point where there are so many bathrooms and so many SOGs. I’m sure he flushed 25 toilets for every ride we rode. It’s almost a compulsion. He has to flush the toilets. He was a knot of anxiety. We eventually gave up on the day and went home.
If we set expectations of how many toilets he can visit, we can manage some of his anxiety. Some environments, like amusement parks, it’s unmanageable.
But on Fridays at Ball State I let him loose. He’s learning to deal with the disappointment of an SOG taking forever to poop. He’s learning not to call anyone a Stinky Old Grandpa or remark on physical differences. He’s learning how to stand to the side as an elevator door opens. He’s learning how to walk in crowds in public and use his manners. Between buildings, he does parkour on every bench and rock outside.
The other day at the student center, he walked into the piano room where four students were studying and asked them if he could play a jazz song for them. Of course they said yes. Griff sat at the piano, which was very out of tune (get on that BSU), and filled the room with a little bit of New Orleans. He doesn’t need music. He doesn’t need to look at his hands, so he played and watched the students watching him. At the end, they applauded him and praised him. I had him take a bow. None of this would’ve happened if not for his toilet obsession.
Maybe I shouldn’t give into this obsession, but after years of trying to wean him off of his bathroom visits, we now lean into it. We both look forward to Fridays. Griffin isn’t into sports or cartoons or movies. He’s into toilets and I’m into Griffin, therefore I’m into toilets as well.
It can be hard to control what our own likes and interests are. We like what we like. And it’s impossible to control the likes and interests of others.
Instead of trying to change him, we’ve learned, not just to accept his differences, but embrace them. It’s fun seeing the world through his eyes.
Griffin loves toilets and I love Griffin.