Sunday, October 31, 2010

From Thrill Ride to Fear Factor: The XLerator Turns Ugly

A while ago I wrote about the XLerator about which I said it's something akin to a bathroom thrill ride for 9 year old boys.  To quote that previous post, "the XLerator is to handdryers what the Hummer is to sports utility vehicles (the original Hummer, not the wussy H3)--extreme, testosterone laden, and completely over the top."

These observation still hold, but now that my younger son (who is four) is fully potty trained and able to use restraurant bathrooms, the old XLerator has taken on a whole new persona: evil weapon of terror.

The four year old is particularly sensitive to loud noises, and especially those in bathrooms, which I imagine is due to the echoing and amplifying effect of all that tile.  Loud-flushing toilets are bad enough. "Is this one a loud one or a quiet one?" he always asks as we approach a new bathroom.  Once inside, he carefully evaluates the standing urinals, which, if they're low enough he can use, or the regular old johns, which are always the right height but more prone to having a very loud flush.  Often I end up doing the flushing for him, once he has backed away to a respectable distance and covered his ears just in case.

I vaguely recall having a similar fear of loud toilets--there was a particular one in the bathroom of our church in Great Falls, South Carolina, that, back through the misty fog of early childhood memories, I still recall being terrified of.

But, I never had to deal with the XLerator, unlike my poor four year old.  The thing roars like an F18 taking off right there in the echo chamber of your local restaurant restroom,  rendering a noise-phobic four year old into a howling, curled up, almost-comatose ball of fear.

So, now we have a new routine when we go to bathrooms.  Upon entry, look first to see if they have traditional paper towels, old school wimpy hand driers, or the infamous XLerator.  If the latter, while the little one does his business, I stand casually and directly in front of hand drier, shielding it with my body to prevent any other bathroom patrons from sneaking up and using it to dry their hands before we can evacuate the premises.

And then there's the question of what to do with the four year old's hands once he's finished, since I'm still working to instill in him the social nicety of washing your hands after a visit to the restroom.  In some bathrooms they have both paper towels and the XLerator, and this works just fine, though the four year old will keep stealing glances at the silver beast out of the corner of his eye just in case the thing might decide to go off on its own.  In other bathrooms, though, the air dryer is the only option and we have to just let the restroom hygiene lessons wait for another day.   After all, I tell myself, which is more unsanitary, a couple of unwashed hands or having a four year old collapse in terror and roll around on a bathroom floor?

This is what parenthood--and the XLerator--has reduced me to.

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