by Tracy Barrett
I couldn’t have been more than four or five years old when my father’s aunts (not really his aunts; Aunt Marj was a childhood friend of his mother’s, and Aunt Vera was her housemate and I suppose her partner) took me and my siblings to Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey.
Marj and Vera were both tiny, both white haired. They were also unconventional women, although I didn’t know that at the time. Marj had always wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t afford medical school, so my uncle paid for her education after he himself had become a physician. She must have been in her forties at the time and she practiced rheumatology into her eighties. Vera was a social worker who had some pretty rough clients.
Did they take us on the famous Cyclone? I doubt it, but I don’t remember. All I remember about that day is wetting my pants. Probably not out of fear on one of the rides, but out of being too shy to tell these near-strangers that I had to go to the bathroom.
I wound up in a stall in a ladies room with Vera, who told me to take off my underpants. I did, so embarrassed I couldn’t even look at her. She tossed them in the trash and then we went to some gift shop or kiosk and she bought me a pair of terrycloth shorts to wear under my dress. All was done matter-of-factly, and it wasn’t mentioned again. She didn’t ask why I hadn’t said anything, didn’t restrict my drinks for the rest of the afternoon; it was like it had never happened.
This is the only thing I remember about that day—not the rides, the crowds, the shows, not even the cotton candy. I wonder why I remember this incident—was it the embarrassment? The relief that a big deal wasn’t going to be made out of what was obviously a huge deal to me? The delicacy with which this woman (never a mother herself) handled the situation?
It can be difficult for adults to remember how kids feel about things. It’s easy to be dismissive of a teenager’s desire to be like everyone else, to tell a bullied child to just ignore it, to mishandle the embarrassment of wetting your pants. But these things are hugely important to the kids who are our readers. We tend to forget this after we’re no longer in that stage of life, but if we want to be true to our readers’ view of the world, we have to try to remember.