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My View: Life lessons were learned in a one-bathroom house

By Kathleen Brown

Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s in the Parkview area of Tonawanda was a very special time and place.

Imagine seven people and only one bathroom in the house. That describes the post-World War II home in which I grew up. I am an avid fan of HGTV and I always marvel at the young couples that scoff at homes that only have two bathrooms and “no en-suite. Horrors!”

Horrors! Don’t these millennials know there is so much to be learned from a one-bathroom home? Their future children may miss some very valuable life lessons that might make them highly successful adults.

For example, the lesson “rank has its privileges” was drilled into us five kids from a very early age. If my dad needed to use the bathroom, we cleared out immediately – no ifs, ands or buts. All of us knew my dad’s bathroom schedule and planned around it to avoid conflict with his higher rank.

If any of us hoped to hurry him up we could look forward to a serious dressing down learned from his years in the Army during World War II. We children were left knowing that Dad owned that room and he allowed access at his pleasure.

Planning and time management were vital to getting in to use this busy room. Schedules were made well in advance of important events and double-checked to make sure there would be an open time slot to get a shower in. We all learned that privacy was a luxury and that the bathroom could be shared while taking a shower.

Pride and privacy were never values we had to protect in our lives because we had learned to share this room since infancy. I also learned boys were as vain as girls and could take just as long to take a shower and get ready as us sisters.

In order to live with so many people and only one bathroom, we learned the value of compromise and staying on the good side of one another because revenge could mean being locked out of the one and only bathroom.

The art of negotiating was another lesson learned in this environment. I learned early on that the best argument is a short one delivered with emotion and the backing of others.

Standing your ground was part of this as well, because he who was actually in the room had the best chance of winning squatting rights. Creating allies in this sometimes-hostile environment was also very important.

Interestingly to me as a teacher of over 35 years of experience, my mother and father never really helped us win any of the bathroom wars. My parents employed something called benign neglect and were more interested in their own lives than our little ones.

I do recall my dad bellowing from his recliner that if there was any more arguing over the bathroom, no one was going to use it and we could find somewhere else to go.

This was not as farfetched an idea at the time. I had a friend next door who was regularly locked out of his house in the morning and then again in the afternoon.

He learned where the public bathrooms were, such as at the back of the Jets Drugstore in the plaza near where we lived. We kids learned how to fight our own fights and solve our own problems.

Ironically, despite all these lessons learned the hard way, my family remains very close. We vacation together every other summer for a week in a cottage at Lake Muskoka, Ont. However, we always make sure to get one with multiple bathrooms – no sense being ridiculous!

Kathleen Brown, of Buffalo, says her “deprived“ childhood helped prepare her for the world of work.
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