All wet

Circumstance doesn’t always care when you have to pee

“This is a disaster.”

I ignored my wife. Sometimes that works.

“Did you hear me?”

And sometimes it doesn’t.

“I said disaster.”

“Allie, it’s not a disaster yet.”

“Really? Really? At what depths of misery do you call it a disaster?”

Our minivan was wedged in traffic two blocks from the Bay Bridge on-ramp. In the last ten minutes and three green lights, I had clawed my way forward one car-length. Our windshield wipers furiously beat away the largest downpour in years. Several drivers leaned on their horns in fury.

“They’ll still be there when we arrive,” I fake-smiled. “Labeling it a disaster is a stretch.”

“The whole point was to be early so we could take group pictures of the grandkids. When the party starts everybody will be too distracted. And it’s a surprise party — we’ll miss the surprise part.”

If I could turn Allie’s anger into energy, I’d have enough to power a flying car. Then we’d get there faster.

“We’re going to miss the party!” my four-year-old gasped. Josie was all about parties. “Are we going to miss the cake? I’m only going because there’s cake.”

“We’re not going to miss the party, sweetie.”

“We might,” Allie said. “Maybe then your dad will admit this is a disaster.”

“Not helping, Allie.”

“Neither is your short cut that has us stranded in a monsoon.”

“There was an accident on the freeway. That wasn’t moving very fast either.”

“So we’ve gone from not moving very fast to not moving at all. Brilliant.”

“And it’s a disaster,” my six-year-old added. “Daddy, we took forever doing our hair and getting into nice dresses. We’d better make it to the party.”

“Don’t worry, Ricki. We’ll make it in time for the party.”

“But not the surprise part, right? That makes it a disaster, Dad.”

“I hate disasters,” Josie added. “Especially when Daddy causes them.”

I’d forgotten both daughters were behind me. Listening. Taking Mom’s side. Again.

“Being late does not constitute a disaster, girls. Just calm down and be patient.”

I enjoyed thirty seconds of silence, then —

“Daddy! I have to go to the bathroom!”

“Me too!”

“Okay,” I sighed. “Now it’s a disaster.”

We were in an industrial area on a Saturday evening. A few warehouses. A lot of office buildings. An auto repair shop. All closed, as best we could see through the darkness and crashing rain.

“We have to go to the bathroom now, Dad.”

“Thanks for the thirty second warning, Ricki. I’m working on it.”

“Can’t you drive to a gas station or Starbucks or something?” Allie asked.

“Honey, we’ve got cars a quarter inch away on every side of us. Nobody’s moving. I can’t reverse or make a U-turn — I can’t even open my door.”

“This is your parents’ party. Think of something!”


“Okay … love the logic, love the pressure …” I thought aloud. “A block up is a major intersection. Maybe there’s a restaurant or bar or something on that street. One of us can take the girls up there and look, the other can stay with the minivan and fight our way forward.”

“You want me to wander the streets in a rainstorm in the dark? With our girls? Looking for a bar?”

“I’ll take them. You take the wheel and don’t let anybody cut an inch in front of us.”

Allie’s eyes widened at the thought. My wife hates driving. She’s not aggressive or fast or emotionally suited to drive further than a quarter mile on empty roads. When she drives on the freeway, she’s that car driving under the speed limit. The only thing not passing her up are the road signs.

“Fine,” Allie hissed, meaning it was definitely not fine. “I’ll take them.”

Allie couldn’t open her door without denting the honking Audi next to us. She crawled back, unstrapped the girls, and slid open the van’s side doors. She and the girls hurried out and threaded between cars until they reached the sidewalk. By that time their hair and dresses were thoroughly drenched.

They soon reached the corner a block up. Allie looked back and glared at me. Under flat dripping hair, her eyes burned. And not with love.

I waved and smiled. I’d pay for that later, but I couldn’t help myself.

The light turned green again. The car in front rushed across the intersection. I followed a millimeter off his bumper. And we kept going a full block as other cars surged forward. More progress than I’d made in twenty minutes! After this next light I’d be a half block from the on-ramp.…

I looked around for Allie and the girls. Only empty streets and pouring rain.


This light was green. I slowly rolled through the intersection and stopped twenty yards from the freeway entrance. All three lanes fed the on-ramp and I was in the middle one. I would end up on the bridge unless I just stopped.


I inched into the empty two car-lengths in front of me. Traffic was moving now. Still no Allie. I wondered if they’d go back to my previous spot or try this side of the intersection.…


I idled forward. Now I was two cars from the on-ramp. I stopped and hit my emergency lights.


I replied diplomatically with a middle finger out the window. That earned a chorus of honks and shouts.

“Marshall!” Allie snapped as the van door opened. “You do not do that in front of the girls! What are you thinking?”

“That I’d rather be hated by that guy behind me than divorced by you for … never mind.”

I accelerated up the ramp. Allie was hunched in back with the girls. They all looked thoroughly soaked and miserable. At least we’d avoided a bathroom accident.

“We couldn’t find a bathroom,” Allie snarled.

“Oh … So what did you do?”

“I really have to pee, Dad!” Ricki wailed.

“Me too!” Josie cried. “I’m going to flood this whole van with pee!”


We were on a five-mile-long bridge. No off-ramps, no gas stations, no McDonald’s…

“Dad! Help!”

“You’re asking the wrong parent,” Allie said.

My wife crawled over the rear seat. From the back of the van she fished out her ‘emergency duffel bag.’ It was full of spare clothes, a first aid kit, road flares and other random things we’d never used since she put it back there years ago.

“Okay girls,” Allie said grimly. “Take off your dresses. Josie, put on this.”

Allie handed our four-year-old a toddler’s diaper. Josie peeled off her soggy dress and leggings. She tugged the diaper up to her knees.

“Mom! It’s too small!”

Allie wrenched the diaper up higher. Josie’s thighs turned deep red as the diaper-tourniquet bit in.

“It hurts!”

“Okay, Josie … Just pee.”

“But that’s gross. And I’m not a baby!”

“Josie, either you pee in that diaper or you wait ten hours until we get to grandma and grandpa’s.”

“I can’t pee! This diaper hurts! And I’m wet and cold! And you’re all watching me! And we’re late to the party and I want cake! And … oh … never mind … I just peed.”

Hot urine bubbled over the front of the diaper and splashed on the van carpet.

“That’s gross!” Ricki yelled.

“That’s gross!” Josie echoed. “And it’s my pee! Make it stop! Make the diaper work!”

“Eeeew! Now it’s all over the floor!” Ricki exclaimed. “The whole back of the van is wet with pee!”

“It was already wet with you three dripping,” I said. “That’s mostly rainwater.”

“Mostly! But now it’s mixed and we can’t tell what’s rain and what’s Josie’s pee! And I still have to pee!”

Allie tugged the swollen diaper off Josie.

“I am not wearing that!” Ricki yelled.

“You’re wearing something else.”

Allie withdrew a garbage bag.

“I’d rather stick my butt out the window.”

Allie ripped two leg holes.

“Dad!” Ricki shouted. “Can I pee out the window? Please?

I rolled down the rear right window. My wife stabbed the button and rolled it back up.

“I can’t believe you!” Allie snapped.

“Mom, a garbage bag is — ”

“I was talking to your father! Really, Marshall? You’d have her pee out of a moving car in public?”

“Thirty miles an hour on the Bay Bridge in the dark during a rainstorm isn’t exactly public.”

“I. Cannot. Believe. I am having. This. Discussion.”

Allie yanked the garbage bag pantaloons onto Ricki. My six-year-old started to protest when her bladder gave out. The entire contents spilled through a leg hole and added to the moat in back.

“This is so gross …” Ricki whined. “I’m standing in a lake of everybody’s pee.”

“It’s better that sitting in it,” Allie replied from the floor.

“Will we be there in time for cake?” Josie asked. “After getting wet outside and peeing all over myself, I think I deserve cake.”

“Marshall,” my wife asked with syrupy sweetness. “Now is this a disaster?”

We arrived thirty minutes after my folks, making us the second surprise of the party. My wife and daughters’ hair was dripping wet and matted, matching their demeanor. To this semi-formal party, Allie wore what she’d stowed in the duffel bag: jeans and a men’s large Banana Slugs Need Love Too! T-shirt. Riley wore a two-year-old’s shorts as underwear, and Allie’s old Wellesley T-shirt as a dress. Josie wore a two-year-old’s stretch pants and shirt, which were skin-tight. Josie informed everybody that she wasn’t wearing underwear, and neither were her sister or mother.

I spent most of the party in my father’s garage with a six-pack of beer, shampooing the van’s carpets. And avoiding my wife.

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