Each night, it’s the same routine. My husband cleans up after dinner while my 7-year old son and I get ready for bed. We brush teeth, lay out our clothes for the next day and hop in the shower. Together.
Although my son is slowly pulling away from the trappings of early childhood, the nightly shower with mom is not one of them. Despite his independence and his eagerness to jump headfirst into the grown-up world around him, it’s the one thing he won’t give up.
The goodnight story has gone by the wayside as has the goodnight kiss. He can brush his own teeth, pick out his own pajamas, and tuck himself in. But the mother-son shower (and occasional bath) remains. He isn’t ready to raise the white flag. And I’m OK with that.
The shared shower sprang from necessity. With one bathroom in our tiny house, doubling up was the only way to get everyone bathed and in bed at a reasonable hour. Plus, it allowed me to make sure he didn’t play boats for 25 minutes and conveniently forget to lather up.
The ritual has since become much more than scrubbing behind ears and in between toes. In fact, the actual cleaning part has taken a backseat to the real purpose of the seemingly mundane task: alone time with mom. It’s the time when my son shares his secrets and reveals his innermost thoughts.
In the shower, the running water muffles his words. He can say whatever he wants without the risk of being overheard. Sadness, loneliness, frustration, fear—whatever emotion happens to be troubling his little mind swirl down the drain, never to be judged or ridiculed.
“No one would play with me today,” he told me one night while trying to squeeze the last of the Berry Cool body wash onto his slowly disintegrating pouf.
“Why not?” I asked, choking back memories of my own playground rejection.
“I wanted to play tag but they wanted to play ball,” he said.
“Maybe you can take turns next time,” I reassured him. Phew. I was relieved he wasn’t being ostracized or bullied.
One night, his head drooped so low that the water ran down the tip of his nose like a trickling faucet.
“Sometimes I feel like no one listens to me. Like I’m not important,” he said.
I perked up my ears and set down my razor, resigned to spending one more day with worsening leg stubble in order to lift his spirits.
“Why don’t you tell me more about it,” I said. “I’ll listen.”
On another night, in between shampooing and conditioning, he asked me to sit down with him, right there, on the slippery tiles. I obliged, jostling for position with an elbow here, a leg there. The water continued its downpour, blinding us, pooling atop the now-obstructed drain.
“The other boys said I was their least favorite friend,” my son said, ashamed. “They said on a scale of one to ten, I’m a zero.”
“Why do you think they said that?” I choked out, trying to tame my quivering lip and ward off a full-blown bawl among the shaving cream and face scrub.
“I don’t know. I think they’re just mad at me.”
“Kids can be mean sometimes. Let’s see how things are tomorrow,” I said, correct in my prediction that his first bout of Boy Drama would blow over by recess the next day.
At an age when kisses are for babies, hugs are humiliating and acknowledging my existence for anything other than game tokens or screen time is akin to public shaming, our time together is sacred. And if it happens to be in a miniscule 1950s shower stall that seems to grow smaller with each passing year, so be it.
Some may say it’s time to cut the apron strings. But in a world where boys are too often discouraged from sharing their feelings, our shared shower has kept our communication flowing and our relationship strong.
I accept that our nightly routine is short-lived. I know the time will come when he will want nothing to do with me and our interaction will consist of little more than a “hey” or a nod of the head. I can only hope that when that time comes, he’ll be comforted with the knowledge that I’ll be there to listen whenever and wherever he needs me.
Elizabeth Penney is a freelance writer, blogger, wife and mom based in Northern California. When she’s not busy pounding away on a keyboard, she can be found building Legos, battling droids, or hiding in the treehouse with her Kindle and a glass of pinot noir. Learn more at www.elizabethpenney.com, www.twitter.com/lizpenney or www.instagram.com/lizpenney