My seven-minute showers are the most imaginative moments of my days.
I know that screaming I hear isn’t from a mortal wound. It’s just the start of a housewide search for a pink bouncy ball that my kid lost weeks ago, but has to find right now. But that doesn’t keep me from running through list of what-ifs.
That thud I heard overhead might have just been a heavy toy upended and discarded during the bouncy ball search. But maybe it was my son climbing his bookcase and somehow pulling the whole thing down on top of him even though it’s secured to the wall and even though he’s never shown an interest in climbing.
Or maybe he’s not upstairs at all now because the search made him hungry and he decided today’s the day he will cut his own apples. Maybe he’s bleeding all over the floor. Or maybe everything’s just fine, but he got a paper cut from the book he was quietly reading and he’s handling it himself by checking the linen closet for Band-Aids. Only, if he can reach the Band-Aids, he can also reach everything else in the linen closet, which means all those tempting vitamin gummies are right there, and of course today is going to be the day he works out childproof packaging and eats the whole bottle’s worth.
Or maybe, even though he won’t leave my side for more than two minutes when I’m not in the shower, he was so dissatisfied with the snack selection that today he’s going to unlock the front door and try to walk to the grocery store by himself. And even though our door squeaks, I didn’t hear it over the combined sound of the shower and the bathroom fan. I seriously consider flicking the switch off because I only need the light to shave and it’s not like I’d risk taking the time for that anyway.
Every shower is a new exercise in creativity. But each one ends the same way: a generally happy kid quietly self-occupied. Although I’ve come out of the shower to all manner of Instagram-worthy messes, we’ve never made the 6 o’clock news.
I could, of course, avoid all this worry and just shower while he naps. But that would require him to actually nap. And even if he was napping, what if he woke up during my shower and then I couldn’t get him back to sleep? Naps are precious writing time. If it’s a choice between showering and writing, I’m opening my laptop.
I could also, I suppose, avoid all this worry and just shower at night. But after 12-plus-hour stretches of child care, a husband who works late, and a child who likes to go to bed even later, I just want to sleep. When faced with the choice between showering and sleeping, I’m getting my pillow.
But all of these questions about when and how to shower are beside the point. How likely are kids to get injured while their parents are showering? About as likely as they are to get injured while their parents aren’t showering. If you’re searching for headlines about kids accidentally getting hurt while their parents selfishly self-cared, you’ll be disappointed.
If there’s no serious danger, why are there so many parenting memes about dry shampoo? Why are there so many parents seeking permission to shower from online forums?
When Jessie Bohnenkamp advised new moms that they could, in fact, shower every day, she was surprised by the “maelstrom of mommy ire” showered back at her. Commenters claimed that she must be lying about either the showers or her household help because no mom can possibly shower every day.
Reflecting upon the criticism she received, Bohnenkamp categorizes the skipped shower as a “badge of honor” for parents. A skipped shower is suffering, and new moms are supposed to suffer. “How many hours you labored, whether you had an epidural, how long you breastfed, how little you sleep, how much you suffered: this is how your status as a mother is measured, especially in the early days,” Bohnenkamp says.
When we say things like “I don’t have time to take a shower,” we’re not actually referring to the 10-minute window we’d need to get clean. Instead, we’re saying something about the perceived demands of parenthood. We “can’t” shower because the kids need school lunches. We “can’t” shower because we have to clean the playroom. We “can’t” shower because we have to cook dinner, or help with homework, or coach a soccer team. We “can’t” shower because we have to be there every second for our kids. We “can’t” shower because taking time for ourselves seems risky.
If our kids get hurt while eating, or playing, or going to school, that’s unavoidable. But the thought of our kids getting hurt while we’re taking time for ourselves fills us with preemptive guilt. We “can’t” take a shower because we are meant to be super moms.
There are many possible answers to these “can’t”s. We could acknowledge that humans don’t need to shower everyday and waste less time and worry over showering. We could bring our littlest ones into the bathroom with us so that we can keep an eye on them. We could acknowledge that the kids will never be completely safe, even if we bubble-wrap our living rooms and just go shower. But we’d probably still worry.
What if we viewed showering as a symbol of independence? Our shower doors and curtains remind us that our kids are capable of separating from us and encourage us to detach ourselves from the role of super parent, if only for 10 minutes.