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Showers Are for the Birds

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

By Angela Himsel

I am not a fan of showering.

Showering, as my son once theatrically put it, “is like being water boarded.” It’s an assault. And showering in the morning? Barbaric. Only a masochist would choose to leave the warmth of the blankets and face a cold flush of water before a swallow of diet Dr. Pepper. Evening showers are equally brutish. After reading to the kids, running to the kitchen five times for last minute juice and other nonsense, then chasing down the kid who escaped his room because he wanted a last look at his spaceship Legos, a shower is not on tap. Wine is.

For years, I preferred long, luxurious hot baths that included aromatherapy oils, Epsom salt, and a loofah. Baths that left my skin puckered and my entire body as limp as overcooked spaghetti. The ancient baths of Egypt and Mesopotamia were places where you not only bathed but also socialized, maybe got a massage and had some wine. Halcyon days, indeed.

Alas, becoming a mother forced me to bid farewell to the bath, and welcome the joyless shower. Because what mom has more than ten minutes to get all of her girly bits washed? In fact, finding even ten minutes to shower can be a challenge.

When my oldest son was a baby, I timed my showers around his late morning nap. Then, when he stopped napping (something that almost made me cry) I found a new strategy. After a few hours chasing pigeons in the park, he’d allow me to put him in the stroller and push him into the bathroom while I showered. He liked the sound of the water running and the steam, and if he fussed, I stuck a hand outside the shower curtain and pushed the stroller back and forth. Problem solved. Until I had a second, and then a third child.

No more naps to coordinate with my showering. No more spare moments when all three weren’t imperiling themselves or each other. A few times I considered showering in the morning before they woke, but then I came to my senses. Showering or shut eye? A contest between the two is no contest at all.

What I’d forgotten, because you forget stuff when you’re a mom, is that I now actually had time for a bath. Yes, I really did! Who and their army was going to stop me?

I viewed it as a personal challenge: how to carve out enough time in the day to get a shower while my kids were otherwise occupied? For a time, 101 Dalmatians was an excellent babysitter. Bribery should never be underestimated. But oddly enough, in a world where I felt like I was constantly short on time, time turned out to be on my side.

My kids grew up and went to school, a wonderful thing for many reasons, including the fact that I could finally shower uninterrupted at eleven in the morning, after a civilized breakfast of diet Dr. Pepper, iced coffee, and Toblerone chocolate. Then my oldest child went to college. Then the next. And yet, my habits haven’t changed.

In a way, refusing to accept my new reality reminds me of my mother. Raised during the Depression, she kept every mayonnaise jar that came through the house. She’d been hard-wired to save, and even though years had passed since the last time she’d eaten a lard sandwich for supper, she couldn’t help hoarding free packets of ketchup and tartar sauce from Long John Silvers. Thus, for the longest time, well after my kids were gainfully employed, I continued my brief, unsatisfying ten-minute showers, ever on alert for a fight to break out. Waiting for a little voice to scream, “Mom, he farted on purpose!”

What I’d forgotten, because you forget stuff when you’re a mom, is that I now actually had time for a bath. Yes, I really did! Who and their army was going to stop me? Bathing is far more than a means to cleanliness. It’s a holy experience, connecting us with an ancient form of hygiene and relaxation. A reminder that we have more in common with kings and queens than we even knew. Do you think Marie Antoinette showered? I think not.

So, I ran the tap. I sank under the hot water until it came up to my neck. After years of rushed showers, I remembered the luxury of bathing. Hot, deep soaks with salts, a few drops of lavender, a loofah nearby, and bath oil. Baths in which I can shave my legs while seated. Baths that last as long as I damn well feel like it. Baths like the ones Cleopatra took (minus the donkey milk, even if it is a good exfoliant).

I could tell you that I sometimes miss the thrill of sneaking off to grab a shower while the kids are immersed in a competitive game of Clue at the kitchen table. But that would be a lie.

It turns out, moms do have time to bathe. I just had to wait a few years for that time to arrive.


Angela Himsel’s memoir, A River Could Be a Tree, received the NYC Big Book Award for memoir in 2019. Her Rockower Award-winning column, “Angetevka,” appeared weekly at ZEEK.net. “Angetevka” juxtaposed her current, Jewish world of kosher Coke and Kabala on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her fundamentalist Christian upbringing in Jasper, Indiana, as the seventh of eleven children waiting for Jesus to return.

Himsel’s writing has been published in the New York Times, the Jewish Week, the Forward, Lilith, BOOK, the Partisan Review, Shmate, BOMB, and online at beliefnet.com, ducts.org, and damemagazine.com. Himsel studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for two years, and earned her bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Indiana University. She also holds an MA in creative writing from City College.