It was 1986, my husband was out of town on business and there I stood, Ms. I AM Woman, toolbox in hand, ready to dismantle and remove the old plastic toilet seat in our main bathroom. I had found the perfect replacement. A padded, cushiony seat in a lovely sage green with an embossed flower on the lid. I’m sticking my finger down my throat as I write this. I viewed this ‘little’ project as part of an effort to upgrade our home. I could just imagine; nature calls and before you know it, you are sitting on a nice soft, decorative throne. It doesn’t get any cushier than that. How hard can it be to replace a toilet seat right? Don’t be too quick to answer.
Okay, so my little boys, aged 2 and 5 at the time, are all set up with their favourite children’s programs so I could get to the task at hand. It wouldn’t take that long. I was certain. I get in there and begin to assess the condition of the current seat. I find the location of the screws and wing nuts at the back, Uh-huh. Hmmm, pork chop counter top stretches behind the toilet, shouldn’t be a problem. I get down on the floor, on my back and wiggled my body into place between the vanity and the toilet bowl, not a pretty picture. I quickly realized the counter top made it too dark to see, although I could sort of tell by feel that the whole screw system was corroded. Yuck! I struggled to get up feeling a lot like a beetle stuck on its back and then hit my head on the pork chop counter top. Whoever created that design in bathroom counters certainly wasn’t a plumber, or a woman. Ouch!
I get the flashlight and crawl back into position eying the counter top above me the entire time. With the flashlight balancing in place along with my handy dandy I AM WOMAN power and a few grunts I managed to loosen one side. I decided I could do the rest from the top. Getting up I gave a ‘wee’ chuckle as I succeeded in not hitting my head again. I straddled the seat facing the wall and was able to successfully undo the screw. Yaaaay! I did a little I AM WOMAN dance in the very tiny bathroom, holding the wrench in hand like a mic, singing at the top of my lungs: “I am woman, hear me roar…. If I have tooo, I can do anythiiiing…” And sometimes even if I don’t have to.
Please don’t pooh pooh my efforts just yet.
Okay, now to tackle the other side. Hmmm, this spot looked a little tighter, although I could see better. On my back once again, I’m now between the toilet bowl and the bathtub. Grunt, hurumph, uhhhh. I sounded like a cow giving birth, or at least what I imagine that sounds like. This side was as stubborn as an unborn calf. I was getting more and more peed off by the second. Finally, I managed to loosen the wing nut but then realized that not only was it all corroded, the screw itself was completely stripped. All it would do was go around and around and around but nothing I was doing was going to make it unscrew.
With determination I decided the only way to get this seat off its base was with a little tapping. Back down under that dreaded counter top I went. I used the flat end of the wrench on the underside of the screw to tap, tap… tap, tap, tap, TAP, TAP, TAP, CRACK, GUSH, TRICKLE, GUSH, ….. YIKES!
I struggled to find my feet and once again hit my head on the pork chop counter, ‘sh%t’! I began grabbing every towel in sight. Towels, many, many towels were quickly thrown to the floor as I scrambled to turn off the water behind the toilet under the pork chop counter top that I continued to bang my head against countless times. The tap was firm but using all my I AM WOMAN strength I managed to eventually shut off the valve. By this time I was standing on soggy towels, holding my throbbing head, feeling a lot like Lucille Ball thinking: I AM WOMAN DAMN IT, I AM WOMAN DAMN IT, I AM WOO….MA..A..AN…… WAAAAA!
Time to reassess, again. Suddenly children appear at the bathroom door. “Mommy there’s a water fall in the basement.” Really, I mean, seriously? I scramble down the stairs, followed by my entourage and there it was, a steady drip, landing into a large puddle on the floor of the laundry room, directly under the upstairs bathroom. The only good thing was that it appeared to be slowing as I had turned off the valve. Grabbing more towels and other laundry items to sop up the water I told my big boy helpers they could watch more T.V. Yaaaay! They were happy little helpers. Once back upstairs I continued to reassess and there was no doubt, the entire toilet was history, water under the bridge. At this point I was feeling a little flushed, to say the least.
Children’s T.V. programs were done for the day and my five year old biggest boy helper asks, “Mommy are you going to be a plumber?” This comment made it quite obvious that it was time for a break to make up for my bad parenting thus far. Dinner, bath … no, forget bath, story time, I’ve got the perfect book. There we sat us three, all cozy, book in hand and I begin to read: “Chug, chug, chug. Puff, puff, puff. Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong. The little train rumbled over the tracks. She was a happy little train for she had such a jolly load to carry.” The Little Engine That Could, one of my favourites, is often used to teach children the value of optimism and hard work. Tonight, I needed to hear this story more than they did.
Once children were tucked in for the night my final reassessment of the toilet became more like a planning session for the next day. Right about now I’m guessing you are probably thinking, why not call a plumber? Not only was I trying to be thrifty but, I AM WO-ma-a-an, I can do anythiiing! I observed all the parts that held this broken piece of crapolla together in anticipation of having to install the new one. I decided my little boy helpers and I would go buy a new toilet and I’d learn how to put it together by taking the old one apart. Had this been the day of the internet, I would have watched how to replace it on YouTube. This was even before the days of, ‘Plumbing for Dummies’.
I dismantled that entire toilet while children were snug in there beds. I remember learning from my dad about covering the hole in the floor. Something about methane gasses and explosions, so I stuffed a dish towel in and put a large, heavy bowl upside down over it to keep us all safe while we slept.
The next day was shopping day. Yaaaay! Me with little boy helpers following me around like the little engine pulling the rest of the train behind it, on the hunt for a suitable toilet to match our very cushy seat. I had scanned each one with my I AM WOMAN, super sonic eyeballs, searching price, quality, cosmetics, etc. and there was no doubt. There it was standing before us: The Sir Thomas Crapper. Seriously, if you don’t believe me google the name and you will discover that in fact, Mr. Crapper, born in 1836 was most definitely instrumental in the creation of the water closet and its parts.
Now, there is always an advantage to taking your children shopping with you, particularly highly energetic little boys, as sales people will do just about anything to get you what you need and out of the store as soon as possible. After having selected the Crapper I asked for delivery as I did not have an appropriate vehicle, nor the strength to transport this piece of crap, I mean, Crapper. Normally there is a charge for this service but after hearing my lengthy tap, tap, tap story and watching my adorable little boy monkeys as they offered to try out all the toilets right then and there, the salesman was quick to say, “No problem. We can deliver today, no charge!” Yaaaay!
Once back at home I sat studying the detailed manual that came with the toilet. ‘I think I can, I think, I can, I think I can.’ I whispered to myself. I was determined and went straight to work. I cannot thank PBS and all the children’s networks back then for supporting me by entertaining my children as I set about this very difficult task. I also need to thank my oldest son for running up and down the stairs to give me play by plays about the status of his two year old brother, and checking in on me to make sure I didn’t fall in the hole.
So the flange is all cleaned up and screwed down tight. Then, having placed the wax ring at the base of the toilet, I lifted with an umph and a groan, aligned and pressed that toilet into the flange, hoping to hallelujah it sealed properly and then carried on with the next steps. Who invented this stuff anyway? Mr. Crapper, I’d love to have a word with you. Wax is really so gross looking and very sticky. Regardless, I was sooooo proud of myself. You know it makes me want to shout: ” I AM WOMAN, OH YAA HA, OH YAA HA, … I CAN REPLACE AN ENTIRE TOILET BY MYSELF, OH YAA HA…! Whatever.
‘I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could!’
The only problem now was the old toilet remained in the hallway outside the bathroom. It was more than I could muster after all my I AM WOMAN efforts. Besides, not only did my head hurt but I felt it important to leave something for my husband to do so he could say he participated. Guys appreciate that, right? He would be home soon and he could lift the thing and its parts outside and take it away. After all, I’ve just made his life a little more cushy.
So, my husband gets home, greets us at the bottom of the stairs, boys are ready to burst from excitement but have promised to let Daddy find our big surprise on his own. When Daddy gets to the top of the stairs, little boy monkeys on his heels, he heads for the bathroom but stops dead in his tracks when he sees the great white telephone resting in our hallway in pieces. “What is this?” He asks with a scrunched forehead. I say, “Guess what, we’ve got a great new toilet seat, with a new toilet to match.” The two year old chimes in, “Mommy a plumma…” I can tell my husband is about to question my activities with some guy comment like: “What was wrong with the old toilet seat?” He took one look at my face and very wisely chose to swallow his words. He dutifully lifted the toilet bowl and parts, knees bent almost monkey like (aka boy monkeys) and hobbled to the back door to carry the beast out to meet its demise. Until he tripped, then stumbled and a large piece of the bowl broke off, landing on his baby toe, which then sent him into ‘F Bomb’ mode, which then left me to try to cover little boy monkey ears all at once.
Result; husband sits, leg elevated, with broken baby toe swelling by the second. I haul out the ice and treat him with lots of TLC. Fortunately he didn’t need any anti-septic!
As he sat shaking his head at me, I decided to get the boys ready for bed. It had been a long two days. In the bath the two of them splashed about playing with plastic ducks and whales while I stood admiring the tremendous job I did. A true life’s lesson had occurred through optimism and hard work and I was just beginning to figure it all out when, while my back was turned, I heard a ‘flush, gurgle, gurgle….’ The five year old says; “Mommy, there’s a whale in the toilet!” The two boys giggled and squiggled having jumped out of the bath and into their towels and to my horror I suddenly realized what they meant. My adorable little two year old boy monkey, the littlest boy helper, had flushed his plastic whale down the toilet. There was no retrieving it. It was DOWN THERE, along with everything waxy and I was NOT going to attempt to retrieve the large plastic blue whale from the depths of the anything toilety.
At this point I realized I had done my due diligence. I had replaced a whole toilet. A little optimism and hard work had gone a long way. Now it was time for I AM WOMAN to take it easy with her family, so I did the next best thing and called a ‘plumma’ and then, life became a lot more cushy.