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The Family Bathroom
By Jennifer Eyre White
Once upon a time, I took a lot of long, hot, relaxing baths. I could spend an hour in there, adding hot water as needed, simmering until tender. There may have been candles, there may have been a glass of wine. Perhaps a magazine. Perhaps a spouse. Now there are mostly children.
I'm rarely alone in the bathroom any more. Two pairs of feet follow me in whenever I go, two little people chattering about this, that, or whatever, asking me questions, handing me toilet paper, trying to help me wipe. Sometimes they succeed, which makes me remind myself that I really should set some boundaries with these kids. But I don't do it.
When I take a bath it usually ends up with all five of us in the bathroom: me, Kennard, the two kids, and the baby. It starts off with me sneaking away, filling my bath, slipping in. Imagining that it will be nice to have some time alone to clear my head. Just as I'm starting to relax, Ben and Riley will notice I'm gone, and come padding in to see what I'm doing. Big Girl Riley will take up position on the toilet (lid down), and Little Boy Ben will squat on the floor next to the tub. Then Kennard, holding Baby Kirby, will wander in and sit down on the kids' stepstool. And there we all are. In the family bathroom.
Ben usually decides that my bath looks barren and, solicitous boy that he is, he'll start throwing bath toys in. He doesn't believe me when I tell him I don't want them. Then he wants to wash my hair, so I let him. Then he wants to rub soap on as much of my body as he can get to. He doesn't consider any of it to be off limits.
"Dassa brown one," he says knowledgeably, pointing a soapy finger at my nipple. "Two! Two brown ones!" he corrects himself. Then his gaze travels southward. "Hey, ya got hair down dare," he says.
Boundaries. We really should get some.
Then Riley leads us into a repeat-after-me camp song ("I said a boom-chicka-boom! I said a boom-chicka-boom!") I sing with her, like she knows I will. I'm a camp-song addict. I send her to camp each summer just to troll for new songs. Turns out that bathroom acoustics are good for singing camp songs; the echo makes it sound like there's about five other kids in here.
Ben sings a word here and there, watching our lips intently, trying to figure out what we're saying. Even Kennard joins in, but softly, since he's not really a camp song kind of guy. Yet.
After a while Ben gives up on the camp song and starts belting out his own -- the ABCs, or Row Your Boat, or Mary Had a Little Lamb. Doesn't matter what he sings, they all end up sounding like army drill songs. (MARY HADDA WIDDLE WAM! SIR YES SIR!)
Sometimes Kirby fusses, but mostly he's quiet, wide-eyed, taking it all in. Maybe he's shell-shocked. Maybe he's wondering if there's been some horrible mistake, and the nurses screwed up all three of his ID bracelets at the hospital. Maybe he's thinking, "Gee, these people certainly spend a lot of time in the bathroom."
Sooner or later Ben will rip off his diaper and climb in with me. This is usually followed by a joyful announcement: "Pee-pee comer!" he shouts.
"I'll be getting out now," I tell Kennard.
Tonight, though, I'm tired and grumpy. The baby kept me up all night, and I've been ready to go to bed from the moment I got out of it this morning. Tonight I want to take a soothing bath, alone, all by my grumpy self. Me, and possibly a beer. For medicinal purposes. I don't want little people all over me, I don't want 65 plastic bath toys giving me wedgies, I'm not even in the mood for camp songs. So when I go in for my bath, I lock the door behind me. I set a cold bottle of Guinness on the side of the tub, run the water really hot, and sink down low. My skin is red wherever the water touches it -- no way a kid could come in this bath with me.
After a minute, I hear the doorknob rattle. Riley says, "Mommy, can I come in?"
"I'm bathing right now, I'll be out soon."
She sighs loudly, waits a minute, then walks away. One down, a few to go.
The doorknob rattles again. Kennard, sounding surprised, calls out, "Hey, it's locked!"
"Yep," I say.
"Waah," he says, then walks away. I hear Kirby fussing in his arms, fading out as Kennard carries him down the hallway.
Then: rattle, rattle, rattle. "Mama! Maaaaaaaama! ARE YOU!"
"I'm in here, Ben, I'll be out soon."
I hear him flop down on the floor outside the bathroom. I can see his fingers sticking under the door, wiggling around.
I soak awhile longer, but it just isn't right. My head vibrates with the background thrum of them wanting me -- it's like that annoying buzz my speakers sometimes make. I can't relax. So I climb out, drip across the bathroom floor, and unlock the door. I drip back over to the bathtub, climb in, and wait.
They're all in the bathroom before I get to six Mississippi, and the decibel level ratchets right on up. Strangely, though, I start to feel a little bit better. Maybe it's the beer.
When I get out there's no place to stand, just a lot of family in this bathroom.
This essay originally appeared on literarymama.com.