Oh, the things we do just to coax a little urine from our daughter’s bladder.

At home I’ve come up with a little game. I convince Ella to sit on the toilet for a preemptive pee by singing the ABC song, and then she has to pee when we get to the letter “p.” Novel, I know.

In public, it’s a different ball game. She’s a very particular pee-er.

If the facility has auto-flush toilets, she refuses to go. She’ll tie her legs into a knot and clinch every muscle and refuse to put her bottom on the beast with the gaping maw that suddenly growls and swallows everything in sight. If it’s dirty, no dice. If there’s another public pee-er, she turns pee-shy. Two weeks ago, at the park, Trish took Ella into the women’s room and I went into the men’s room. Two minutes later Ella was standing at the men’s room door; she wanted to pee with me.

When we’re feeling desperate, we appeal to Ella’s nature instinct. “We’ll let you pee in the grass!” has never failed. On our trip to the beach she wouldn’t pee in Wendy’s, so Trish took her behind the dumpster into a vacant field, and voila! Last week I pulled off onto a country road and started down someone’s long, dirt driveway so Ella could water their grass. On Friday night, she wouldn’t use the restaurant’s bathroom, so on our way to the car Trish said, “come on, let’s go pee in the grass!” Yes, we were in town. Trish had scoped out a patch of greenery, again, by the dumpster. My wife’s abilities to accommodate our daughter leave me in awe. Maybe you’ve read about pooping on the rocks.

On Saturday Ella went with me to the grocery store. She used the bathroom at home before we left, but she had also drunk a big cup of milk, so halfway through our shopping experience (which took forever, because the peanut butter is near the bread and not the peanuts) I took her into the men’s room to try to avoid her soaking the car seat on the trip home.

There were two stalls. We first went into the handicap stall, but the seat wasn’t clean (why don’t men lift seats, or wipe up their own urine? I don’t get it. Being “manly” doesn’t mean being disgusting.) so we went into the smaller stall.

Ella wanted Purple Baby to pee first. This was a stall (no pun intended) tactic, and I wasn’t having any of it.

The stall wasn’t just smaller, it was smallll. I could barely turn around, but with a toddler who’s demanding first-pee rights to the  baby doll she’s waving around, it was like an octopus in a phone booth (when there were phone booths). I pulled her pants down and tried to set her on the seat and immediately met with the ironing board maneuver — rigid from head to toe, unbendable, unwilling to sit.

Moments like these make me a little nervous. If someone were to walk in, they’d see and hear this: the legs and feet of an adult man turned toward the little legs and feet of a kid with shorts and underpants gathered around the kid’s ankles, and the man’s saying, “come on, just try it. Would you please sit down? We’re not leaving here until you … .” And before they hear the word “pee” they’ve run out and called 911, and I’m trying to explain to officer Numbnuts, who has no kids, the toilet training rituals of my 2-year-old. How do you, by the way, prove that a child is yours when the child has no form of ID?

In these situations I always try to say something so Ella replies with a “Dad,” so at least passersby won’t think a total stranger is wrangling a little girl.

We left that store peeless, but I knew she wouldn’t make it all the way home. So I drove to another grocery store a mile or so up the street and headed straight for the restroom. Just before we got to the door an old man appeared out of nowhere, stepped in front of us and started toward the men’s room. My heart sank. This odd old fellow is going to worry Ella into not peeing, and I’ll be forced into armed conflict, again, and lose, again, and I’ll have to drive around to the back of the shopping center looking for a blade of grass.

But she didn’t fight it. By this time I think she was ready to burst. I quickly papered the seat, plopped her atop it, without any fuss, from her or me, and the pee flowed freely.

I thought the old timer next door must be shaking his head. What’s become of the world when men take little girls into public men’s rooms to pee?

We had a successful urination, and I got to show Ella how to flush with my foot!