Friday, March 23, 2007

lather and rinse

Nora took her first bubble bath today. I know it sounds cute, but I have to confess it was one of those accidentally picturesque moments. I hadn’t planned for it to be a bubble bath at all, but in the two days since Nora’s previous bath, the bottle of baby shampoo left on its side in the bottom of the tub had leaked out half its contents, forming a giant slick – something I didn’t notice until I turned on the water full blast and it foamed all over the place. Not one to waste a perfectly good half-bottle of shampoo, I tossed Nora in and figured “Well at least she’ll SMELL GREAT when she’s done.”

Nora was thrilled with the new development. She plowed through the tub on her hands and knees and then sat there in baby-ecstasy, flapping her arms up and down in the suds. Of course this is Nora we’re talking about – the child with the mantra: “everything’s better in my mouth” – so she soon began eating the bubbles. After sampling a few, she looked up at me pensively. “Mmmm…” her look seemed to say, “an opaque vintage but with a light-bodied bouquet of sodium laureth sulfate. And do I detect a hint of woodsy polyquaternium-10?”

Normally when I give Nora a bath, I enjoy watching her play, but today I felt anxious and trapped. Since I couldn’t leave her alone, I sat on the toilet lid thinking about the many things I needed to get done. I should be grading papers. I could be moving the laundry to the dryer. If only I had thought to bring my laptop into the bathroom with me so I could be productive.

Nora sucked on a soapy washcloth and when I tried to take it away, she latched on with her four pointy teeth and let out a foamy growl like a rabid dog. I let her keep it. What is sodium laureth sulfate anyway? It couldn’t possibly be worse than the used Kleenex and lint balls she eats when she’s on dry land. She splashed some more and flashed me a smile. Softening a little, I thought, “I’ve got to stop RESENTING the inconveniencies of having children.” I love my kids. I worked hard to get each one of them into this world. They are the most important part of my otherwise unremarkable life. So why do I sometimes act like they are in my way? Why do I measure my days by Nora’s nap schedule and look forward to Gabie’s hour of Sesame Street and breathe a crazed sigh of relief when they finally all drop off to sleep at night? Why do I feel like I’m wasting time watching Nora play in the tub?

I’m not going to say I love this painting by Mary Cassatt because, truthfully, it has always bothered me a little. Even given the shortage of full-sized bathtubs in the late 19th century, it seems illogical to have a mother on the floor, bathing her daughter in a tiny porcelain bowl. As if that’s really going to do much good. And I hope the mom plans to get all wet in the process because you know it’s bound to happen. Plus, I want to know if the bath is just starting up or just winding down, because either the child should be dirty or the water should. How can they both be so impossibly clean?

After Nora’s bath today, with a little more patience and a lot less cynicism, I’m looking at the painting fresh and accepting it for what it is: a mother bathing her daughter as if she had nothing more important to do. By magnifying the simple gesture – using it to fill the entire canvas – Cassatt shows us its value. There is room for nothing extraneous. The base of the jug, the rest of the furniture, the woman’s own feet: all fall outside the artist’s judicious framing. We focus only on the mother and child, who in turn focus on the water, the foot, the touch. Imbued with significance and even a sense of the sacred, the scene reminds me of other paintings I’ve seen of Christ washing the feet of his disciples. Cassatt’s use of the small basin of water and the downcast eyes take on new meaning in light of the religious parallel. Suddenly the scene – one I used to consider ordinary – is less about the bathing of a child and more about service as the ultimate expression of love.

23 comments:

An Ordinary Mom said...

For the past few days I have really been struggling with "resenting the inconveniencies of having children" and wondering why I always think they are in the way when it took amazing intervention to get them here. When Cory needs his diaper changed right when we are running out the door I always exclaim, "I don't have time for this." But if I don't, then who does? I am his mother! He deserves a more loving and doting mom and I am trying to try hard to be this person for my kids as opposed to just thinking about it after they are in bed for the night.

Thanks so much for putting all of my feelings into such an eloquent post.

I hope your essays have released their hellish grip on you ... although I am sure Final papers are just around the corner.

bubandpie said...

Oh, oh! So beautiful it hurts to read...

(And March really sucks, doesn't it? I've been on maternity leave so often lately that I'd forgotten about how much March sucks.)

elasticwaistbandlady said...

Julie, it's time to move to Houston where it's warm enough 9 months out of the year to wash your kids down with a hose like livestock at the zoo. Fun for them. Easy for me. No grungy bathtub ring left behind to clean.

Hey, lookie here, you won something! Super Thinky Awards.

elasticwaistbandlady said...

Oh, and I meant to comment on this post's title. With kids it's always Lather, Rinse, and Repeat......over and over and over again.

Kimberly said...

This is my new favourite post out of all your posts. Not just because it's written beautifully, but because of it's applicability to me life, right now, this very second.

Emma got into the strawberries I had out for our houseguests this morning, and my kitchen was covered in strawberry juice and chunks of fruit. I just about cried, because it's been that kind of week.

If she knew to, I'm sure she would thank you from the bottom of her sticky heart for writing that.

Miscellaneous-Mum said...

Wonderful! As per usual

Mary-LUE said...

“I’ve got to stop RESENTING the inconveniences of having children.”

Amen. Double Amen.

Beautiful discussion of the painting. I love your Mom-Takes on the paintings with children in them.

Em said...

"Softening a little, I thought, “I’ve got to stop RESENTING the inconveniencies of having children.” I love my kids. I worked hard to get each one of them into this world. They are the most important part of my otherwise unremarkable life. So why do I sometimes act like they are in my way?"

Oh I relate to this entirely. Completely.

BTW, I nominated you for a thinking blogger award because of posts like this ... I'm not if you realised :)

Em said...

That should be: I'm not SURE if you realised.

(Only had three hours sleep as the neighbours were up partying until 4am and keeping us awake with the LOUD music!)

Ann Kroeker said...

Perfectly lovely, perfectly stated.

I've often thought about the scene where Jesus washes His disciples' feet and says, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:14-15)

And I think about service...how Jesus came not to be served, but to serve.

And then I think about how many feet--how many toes and between-the-toes--I've washed, and I conclude that I'm in a pretty good laboratory to learn about sacrifice, humility, servanthood and Christlikeness: the Motherhood Lab, a daily experiment in giving away one's self.

You said it better than I just did...you just got me thinking...as usual.

scribbit said...

Me too.

Jenni said...

Wow. I was just thinking it reminded me of a scene from The Aviator--"Quarantine. Q-U-A-R-A-N-T-I-N-E. Quarantine." I like your interpretation better. Beautiful. Thanks again for giving me so much to think about.

elasticwaistbandlady said...

Hey, better back it up, em! Julie's mine! I asked her to the Super Thinky Awards first and already bought her a corsage to match her new award.

Jennifer B. said...

Found you through Compulsive Writer.

What a beautiful post. I can sure relate to your frustration (as I imagine most moms could) and I am inspired by your insight.

Thank you so much.

Queenmabsmuse said...

You have some truly beautiful writing here. May I put your blog on my blogroll?

Geo said...

Beautiful processing. A print of that painting hung in my childhood home. I was never wild about it either, but now I see it with new and very appreciative eyes, thanks to you.

Klutzmom said...

I wanted to see a picture of Nora in bubbles up to her chin. Then I realized that you would have had to leave her long enough to get your camera. So the "picturesque moment" has to be a mental one. and you described it so well that I could see her in my mind.

Leigh said...

Lovely.

Chanel said...

AMAZINGLY SAID! THANK YOU!

b. said...

That's beautiful! Thank you for putting into words what I've felt a lot lately.

Bek said...

That was beautiful and something I can totally relate to. I have a Norah too and this made me want to give her a bubble bath...

Heth said...

New favorite Julie post.

Lisa said...

I read this post yesterday or the day before and thought it was very wonderfully written. I must say it made me step back and re-think some things. I try to make each moment count, but we all get in the same ruts of having too much to do or our thoughts 100 different places, etc. Anyway, my 10 year old daughter has had a hard time going to sleep the last few nights. I have tried to talk to her and work out what might be causing this, but honestly by bedtime I'm exhausted and at the end of my patience rope. Last night I was reminded of this post when she started all this again. Instead of getting upset and finally demanding she just go to and don't come back in my room I prayed then went to her room where we had a very nice talk. I posted a Scripture on her mirror about not being afraid and a note from me and her daddy about our love for her. I didn't hear from her again for the rest of the night. She told me today she read those two things "MANY" times last night before she finally went to sleep, but it helped her so much.

We all need a good nudging once in awhile!

Thank you for the reminder.