Toilet Paper in Times of Crisis

Cross-referenced with my extensive dad knowledge about toilet paper, here is what I can assume about the current situation.

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By Shannon Carpenter

“Dad, where has the toilet paper gone?” my son asked me when we were at the store. I looked up from my shopping list, which didn’t include doomsday items, and saw what he was talking about.

The entire aisle of toilet paper looked like a scene from an apocalyptic movie. Except in that movie, it’s usually canned goods and flour that have been ravaged. Here, it was just toilet paper. I sighed.

“People are panic buying,” I told him.

“But toilet paper?” he said.


I can only assume that I am not educated on the current situation regarding the coronavirus, or as it likes to be called by its friends, the COVID-19 virus. From what I do know, cross-referenced with my extensive dad knowledge about toilet paper, here is what I can assume.

“Son, toilet paper is known as paper gold. Like money without the fancy pictures. It is a magical substance that shields homes from dangerous spirits. Think of it as a gargoyle on a building. As long as there is TP in the house, the boogie man has to stay outside. It’s very biblical. It’s why the black plague was so rampant a thousand years ago. They didn’t have toilet paper.”

“That’s not true,” he said.

“Wait, there’s more. In times of need, you can eat toilet paper. You can actually make a very nice toilet paper soup that tastes just fine once you garnish it with crushed up Lucky Charms.”

“That’s bull,” he said.

“And if you believe hard enough, one day the Toilet Paper fairy will magically make all your student debt disappear. Now, honestly, that last one is more hearsay. It’s something that parents tell our kids so they don’t worry. Nothing makes student loan debt disappear. Not even bankruptcy court.”

My son shook his head and we continued our very normal shopping.

I use humor to help explain the world to my children. It’s my natural instinct. I used it as I grew up to make it through difficult times, so it’s probably predictable that it shows up in my parenting style.

I know my kids are concerned, as they should be. Horrific reports come in from all corners and all their activities have been canceled. Their “normal” has been disrupted, and as parents, we try to explain the new normal in a way that they can understand. I use humor. Other parents use pie charts. I maintain that humor works better, but only if your kids have a high bullcrap detector.

Honestly, I can’t explain the toilet paper thing to him other than saying it’s people panic buying. Someone thought: “Man, I better get some extra TP if I’m in the house.” That blossomed into “Man, I better get some TP before they all get the TP.” This eventually leads to “Oh my god they are never making TP again, God save the Queen!” And there you go, that’s pretty much what happened. Well, sort of.

There are a couple that thought: “Wait, if everyone is buying toilet paper, maybe I should buy ALL the toilet paper and charge everyone 10.99 for single-ply sheets!” That last part is not a joke. People are doing that. This is a family column so I won’t use all the four-letter words I want to describe those people. But it rhymes with Truck Sticks.

I did try to explain something else to my son, though. Something that we see and take for granted.

“We have to take this seriously, which means we cut down on our group activities a bit. We play this smart. We listen to the experts. We help our community.”

“I’m worried that people aren’t smart.”

I look at the toilet paper aisle and find it hard to disagree with him.

But I do point out the good that we see as well. We have neighbors that have offered to bring things to people if they can’t leave the house. We have doctors and nurses working in the thick of things; they aren’t calling in sick. Companies and businesses are letting (or requiring) a lot of people to work from home to avoid exposure. It’s these kinds of people, and these kinds of actions, that are going to truly help. Not the people buying 24 cases of toilet paper. For the most part, they are just scared.

We can best help our children understand what is going on by leading by example. Don’t panic. Be smart and practice social distancing. Don’t go out to bars or crowded events.

And for all that is holy, don’t buy every single roll of toilet paper. They are going to make more and you are really just screwing over your own neighbors.

Also, don’t hoard all the donuts. That will then make this personal.

Originally published at on March 18, 2020.

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