Love Your Toilet: A Mom’s Guide to Plumbing

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untitled-design-2Today was a good day. Today, the new toilet came.

As a mother, a wife and a human being, toilets and I have a passionate yet complicated relationship. Some days I think about the toilet once or twice. Some days, not so much. And then there are days like last Thursday, when one light flush of the toilet in my children’s bathroom upstairs unleashed a tidal deluge of beige water gushing over the top of the seat, around the base of the porcelain, then down, down, down through the recessed lights of my kitchen, over the counter, sliding down onto the wooden floor and right down into the basement. “I WON’T BE IGNORED,” the toilet seemed to cry. (Or maybe that was me crying…hard to tell).

You shouldn’t ignore your toilet, because toilets, like money or well-behaved children, don’t grow on trees, so it’s important to be able to troubleshoot and resolve issues before the rest of your house becomes Urinetown.

As with so many other aspects of parenting and home maintenance, you have to get creative, you have to be prepared and you have to be unafraid to get your hands dirty. And I’m not talking dirty like, “Oh, the toilet keeps running, so I need to open the tank and adjust the handle lift chain and/or replace the flapper.” Or, “The kids used too much toilet paper and I need to get the heavy duty plunger in there.” I’m talking dirty dirty.

Take this scenario: You or a member of your household have clogged the toilet with a “deposit,” and repeated attempts to plunge the toilet are futile.

What not to do: Do not pour boiling water into the toilet to try and “melt” the deposit. You can crack the porcelain and you will be you-know-what out of luck.

What most people do: Call your plumber. Beg to be squeezed into their schedule. Rearrange your entire family’s work and school schedules in order to be home for the four hour window. Know that when he/she arrives and rings the doorbell, it will absolutely be during your child’s naptime. Watch with bated breath as he/she jams a snake in your toilet, eliciting noises from it that make it sound like the poor thing is going through childbirth without an epidural. Wonder if porcelain can feel pain. Then control your shaking hand as you write a check for $150.

What is probably frowned upon by most plumbing professionals, but you can do if you’re willing to get dirty (I know someone who does this and though disgusting, it tends to work. And also, that person is me.):

1. Count the number of toilets in your home. A second toilet is vital to the success of this method. However, in lieu of a second toilet, a backyard and a shovel can make do in a pinch.

2. If you have a second toilet, resist the urge to post on Facebook how #blessed you are.

3. If you have long hair, put your hair up. Remove your watch, rings, any other jewelry from your hands to armpits. Roll up your sleeves, and/or take off your shirt.

4. Go to the kitchen and get a roll of Saran Wrap and three to five Ziploc bags (gallon size or larger) and a garbage bag, preferably one with a drawstring. Grab a dry cleaning hanger from your closet – the kind with a cardboard tube wrapped around the base of the wire – and fashion a poking device from the cardboard tube.

5. Unroll the Saran Wrap all around the vicinity of your toilet base. (At this point, if you have young children, they will have wandered in and grown curious as to what fun game you are playing. This is your signal to commence the “maximum two hours” of screen time you allow your children a day.)

6. Take a deep breath.

7. Place each one of your hands inside the Ziploc bag.

8. Stick the cardboard tube of the hanger into the bowl and start poking at the offending items clogging the “trap.” (Because whoever named the parts of a toilet had a hell of a sense of humor. Fun fact: the part of the toilet responsible for filling the tank and making sure it doesn’t overflow is called a ballcock or balltap).

9. With one hand that is securely inside the Ziploc bag, scoop up as much of the poop as you can, quickly grab one of the empty bags, and drop it in there. Be careful that it doesn’t splatter (unless you are not so busy and have two hours to spare, waiting to be seen at Urgent Care for a raging case of pinkeye).

10. At this point, without fail, your doorbell will ring. The children will shriek excitedly, as children do when they hear a bell of any kind, anywhere, ever. In your hurry to get to the door, you may or may not remember that you holding a cardboard poop stick, a Ziploc bag filled with feces and, depending on what choice you made during step 1, you may also be topless. Proceed with caution.

11. After you have purchased the thirteen boxes of Girl Scout cookies/signed for a registered letter addressed to the previous owner of your home/mildly terrified neighborhood children looking for a Pokémon Go gym, you may briefly lose your train of thought and stare into space. You may start questioning the life choices that brought you to this moment.

12. Snap out of it. Return to the bathroom.

13. Attempt to flush the toilet again. If you haven’t scooped enough poop out of the bowl, the toilet will clog yet again. It may also make a noise that sounds like it’s being strangled. That is not a positive development. Get your plastic bag hand in there and grab some more poop. Place it in the poop bag. Try and flush again. If you are not being punished for some horrible thing you did in a previous life, the poop should slip out of the bowl, down the trap and make noises much like the one my former co-worker would emit when he was eating soup at his desk while on a conference call: a loud, slurping gulp, followed by a hiccup. Thankfully, your toilet, unlike my co-worker, will only make this noise once, and unlike hearing the sound made by my co-worker, the noise should fill your heart with glee. You did it! You got some of the poop in your toilet down the drain! CONGRATULATIONS! But you’re not quite done…

14. Take the wet, cardboard hanger tube and gently place it inside the large garbage bag, brown side down. I say gently, because if you jam it in there too fast, you will inevitably poke a hole through the bag, with the doody part sticking out, and the rest of the garbage bag hanging on the wet stick. This is only a good thing if you are also brainstorming costume ideas for “Toilet Hobo.” So be careful. Make sure the tube is in completely. You can now take off your Ziploc gloves, put those inside the bag and pull the drawstring tight. Tie it. Triple knot it. Know if you only double knot it, your two-year-old will somehow find the bag and be able to pull through two knots to unlock the treasure inside, leaving you to find them walking around the house, chewing on the hanger tube like a poop cigar. Trust me on this.

15. What to do with your bag of poop? Remember the second toilet in your home that you counted in Step 1? Here’s where it comes into play. (And don’t discount the possibility that you may find yourself in your backyard with your child’s toy shovel, digging a shallow grave and squeezing poop out of a Ziploc bag into the ground…but hopefully not your municipal water supply.)

16. Make sure the “yellow and blue make green!” bag lock function is activated. If you have not closed the Ziploc completely, there is a high likelihood that while you are on the stairs on your way to the second toilet, you will trip, smash your chin into the step and your bag of poop will go sailing through the air, splattering onto the walls and carpet. If this does happen to you, you may want to think about just evacuating everyone and burning your house down. I’m not saying you should definitely do it, but perhaps think about it.

17. Once in front of your second toilet, carefully drop or squeeze a chunk of poop, one at a time, into the bowl and flush. Don’t press your luck by trying to go for three. You will get whammied.

18. Wait at least thirty seconds between each flush.

19. Once Toilet #2 has gulped down all of the poop from Toilet #1, it’s okay to sit down on the floor, lower the toilet seat cover, lay your head down on it and let the fat tears of simultaneous relief and revulsion roll down your face. I would say you could wipe them with your shirt sleeve, but you’re still not wearing one at this point.

20. Know that all of the above tips are completely worthless if it is not, in fact, human waste (or animal waste, for that matter; perhaps your cat is very sophisticated) that is clogging your toilet. I know someone (that someone is me) who had a severely clogged toilet. The kind of clog that necessitated calling the plumber and watching him shimmy a snake down the toilet, grunting heavily, only to tell me he essentially needed to take the toilet apart to remove the offending object. Want to harbor a guess on what that object was? If you guessed “Thomas the Tank Engine,” then I take it that at some point in your life, you have also lived with a three-year-old boy. (If so, my thoughts and prayers are with you.)

This method is highly unprofessional and inefficient, and I’m guessing it violates most, if not all, of the Centers for Disease Control fecal control guidelines. But it worked for that person I know who happens to be me on many occasions. However, the time may come, when no matter how much you jam your plastic bag hands in the bowl, your toilet refuses to budge. You do the math, and realize that the cost of a new toilet is actually less than the cost of parts and labor to fix your toilet, bathroom floor, kitchen and basement. And you find yourself weighing the pros and cons of round versus elongated seats and fantasizing about bidet functionality. It’s very exciting! 

So take care of your toilet. Make sure to maintain that handle chain. Look after the flapper and ballcock. And remember, that above all else, you are #blessed.

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Daryl lives with her husband and two small children right on the border between Westchester and Fairfield counties, but she can usually be found in the customer service line at Target in Mt. Kisco, returning socks her son hated "because they have that thing." She used to enjoy reading books, traveling with her husband, staying up to date on current affairs, going out to restaurants, concerts, and Yankees games, and sleeping past 6AM on weekends. Now, she enjoys hiding in the laundry room, hiding in the garage, peeing with the door slightly ajar, looking under the couch for Air Rescue Chase, obsessively refreshing Twitter so she can find out what's going on in the world outside Adventure Bay, and writing Paw Patrol/Bubble Guppies crossover fan fiction. You can follow her on Twitter @darylstrawberry.

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