Some days, I feel like the hero parent who helps my kids through schoolwork, teaches them about complex and nuanced subjects like Confucianism, and takes them to see incredible things in incredible places. All without losing a child along the way. I know, because I count them each night, and when I get to three, I feel like the luckiest father in the world.

Following the time-honored routine of “get your shoes on, yes now, has everyone used the bathroom?, please stop distracting your brother” (repeat as needed), we hurried out of the house yesterday for a scheduled tour of the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden Palace. It’s meant to be done entirely outdoors by walking and taking public transporation! We’ll get to see that much more of Beijing that way! It’s cheaper that way too! It’ll be great!

Five minutes into the tour, it’s obvious we have underdressed for the weather. It’s raining, the temperature is easily ten degrees colder than it had been in previous days, and my children are dressed in t-shirts, shorts, and a light jacket that is mostly but not entirely waterproof. Janet, the smarter and better prepared amongst us this day, has already lent her two scarves to them to keep them as warm. The children are shivvering and huddling together, but upon asking them how they’re doing, I get nothing but grateful and enthusiastic thumbs ups. They want to see more. At that point there is nothing much more we can do except ask the guide to hurry the tour along. “Besides, it’s good for their character,” Janet and I convince ourselves, and that would have made for a fine enough adventure with a reminder to keep a better eye on the weather forecast, if only…

… I didn’t mess up the toilet. In my defense, the toilet was already plugged when we got home. But by then, we had two kids that needed to use the restroom, and we were catching a flight at 5am the next morning. There was no plunger in sight, and contacting the AirBnB host seemed like it might not resolve the matter quickly enough. Janet calmly suggested, “Perhaps we should use a wire hanger.” “That’s a great idea!” I said… and then proceeded to use the toilet brush to try to unplug the toilet instead.

Now, please understand that the toilet brush appears to be just the right size for the drain — if you don’t push it in too far. Well, I pushed it in too far. It quickly apparent that not only was it not going to unplug the toilet, but that I was going to have difficulty getting it out. I gently pulled. I gently bent it. I pulled harder. I even put my hand in there to improve the angle and get a better grip. I did everything a smart person would, except think that perhaps shoving a toilet brush deep into a toilet in the first place is an incredibly stupid idea.

My arm was in the murky water when Janet calls out, “Honey, do you think we can let Jasper pee?”

“I don’t want to add anything else to the toilet!” I blurted back.

“I really don’t think a little pee in there is going to make things worse,” she calmly opined.

She was right. I was in deep doo-doo with this toilet and needed to step back and assess the situation, so we let Jasper pee. Upon returning to question of how to remove a stuck toilet brush, I came up with the brilliant idea that perhaps more force would help. Because since when has “more force” ever been a smart solution to a problem? And, of course, promptly broke the toilet brush. The handle came out with me while the brush stayed lodged deep within the bowels of the porcelein god.

At this point, we knew we needed professional help. We called the host who dispatched a plumber within five minutes. He spoke no English, so I tried to explain the situation by pointing to a picture of a toilet brush on my phone and the toilet. I think he understood, but chose to believe that his interpretation could not possibly be correct. He politely smiled as I watched him remove the toilet, which sits in the tinest of bathrooms, and turn it upside down while trying to figure out what had gone wrong (it was messy, to say the least). After about 15 minutes, he turns back to me, points to the broken handle of the toilet brush and gestures back to the toilet, as if to say, “really?!”

Yes, really. Duìbùqǐ. Bàoqiàn. Bù hǎoyìsi. I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.

He eventually got it resolved, and a 25% tip on top of his fee. I was embarassed and grateful.

All the while he worked, I had been juggling making dinner for the kids. The kitchen is tiny and lacks a proper pot for boiling water. I was determined to make up for the parental fails of the day, and it was too late to go out and find food. But we had some dry pasta and sauce. I surmised that if I used the electric kettle to boil water, add it to the pasta in a bowl, rinse, and repeat often enough, I could probably cook the pasta into a fine meal for my family.

Perhaps I was distracted by the toilet fiasco. Perhaps it was a bad idea to begin with. But I cooked that pasta, alright. Into a mushy mess of carbohydrates. It had been a long night, so I nonchalantly added the pasta sauce we had and served it up. Incredulously, not a single one of them said “ew, dad” or “what the [bleep] is this?” They took a few bites each, enough to tide them over. Janet graciously opted to eat something else. Maybe the weeks’ old granola bar we had; anything more appealing that my pasta-mush special, really.

But in the end, the kids got to see some iconic Chinese history, the toilet was functional again, I fed my family as best as I could, and counted three little children safe in bed. And that, I call a win.

Below: Parental fail #1: cold but happy children at the Temple of Heaven

Below: Parental fail #2: toilet fiasco. Photo is for illustrative purposes only. Actual photo is not fit for public release. You’re welcome.

Below: Parental fail #3: mushy-pasta special, a la Alex