What kind of mother are you: the bathroom door locked, or unlocked? In some of the houses we have lived, I have had no choice, without a lock on the door. But I have to admit,for most of my years of mothering, I have willingly been the unlocked door kind, with the assumption that if a child needed me~and fast, I would be immediately available to them. Whether it was for a bath or for “going” I left the door unlocked, basically inviting whatever toddler or yes, 6-year-old at the time, into my private domain. If my youngest was a baby, they often sat in the bathroom in a baby seat, sometimes crying inconsolably. And, yes, I am reluctant to admit, I have even nursed a baby while sitting on the porcelain throne. When you live with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) from the age of 26 on, there is no avoiding those embarrassing and otherwise painful bathroom moments.
It seemed like I had no choice at the time. It was either be alone in the bathroom with a locked door and listen to screaming and pounding from the other side, or allow an open and easy access to mommy at all times, and I chose the latter, hoping to avoid some of the melee.
But by doing that for so many years, I lost something: I lost my privacy and a sense of myself. I can vividly remember the stolen moments, those times when I snuck to the bathroom, filled a tub with hot water and fragrant bubbles and lowered myself gingerly into the water, feeling the stress and strain seeping from me as I leaned back and reached for an US or People magazine. (true bathtub reading, fluff and nonsense that is little harmed if it gets wet) Like a bloodhound, the toddler would sense my disappearance and come looking for me. Nine times out of ten, they gleefully joined me as soon as they found me in the bathtub.
One particularly daunting day when I was overjoyed to finally be away from little ones and soaking in a tub, I hid behind the closed shower curtain (as if that would deter any of my kids!) and prayed it was just a question coming my way. Instead I heard a squeal of glee and the unmistakable sound of whichever child it was at the time, stripping off their clothes.
“Can’t I even have my privacy? I want my privacy!” I wailed in distress.
“Okay,” I heard from the other side, then a cupboard opening and a rustling noise. And then,
“Where is it?”
My child had been looking for mommy’s “privacy.”
As a mother raising young children, I never did find it.
I learned to just keep reading the magazine while said toddler bathed and played in the tub in front of me. Once I left 3-year-old Emily in the tub alone while I ran in the bedroom to get my robe. When I came back, she was standing in the tub holding up a dripping wet People magazine, having been mimicking mommy with her tub reading. Too bad it was a library magazine.
It is only in the last year or two that I have begun reclaiming my privacy. When we moved to this house last April I wondered if I would even use the lock on the bathroom door. At first I did very selectively; if my stomach was upset or I was joined by my husband in the shower. But gradually, I have taken back my right to a private space. After all, the youngest of our eight children, Abby, is now six years old and there is no emergency situation that can’t be conveyed through a closed door. I can still hear her running up the steps and screaming “Katie said E.T. is coming!!”
E.T. can wait. (and why is it all my children since the fourth have been terrified of E.T., and why do their siblings take advantage of that fear by screaming “E.T” behind them?)
I do sometimes still find myself sneaking upstairs to take a bath, but at least now when I am followed by a child they are on the other side of a locked door. It might be a small step but I find the locked door to be symbolic of something much larger; my learning to take care of myself.
A year ago I sent an essay on this subject to a publisher for consideration for an anthology about women reinventing themselves. Yesterday I got word that my essay was accepted. It will be featured in a book that should be published sometime next year. I like writing for anthologies. This will be the 5th one I am featured in. The thing about anthologies is that the time period between submission and acceptance can be a year or more. I had to look in my saved documents just to see exactly what I had sent for this anthology. I knew the subject matter but it had been a long time since I’d taken a look at this particular piece. I actually cringed a little when I saw the essay. With Microsoft Word, I could easily spot a couple errors. The past year working on revising my book has taught me a lot about revision and editing. I am certain this editor will polish my manuscript a bit before publication; they did with the last one they published. Still, I can’t help but feel like I should polish it up a little myself, despite the fact it is already accepted.
When I wrote this essay I was enjoying the changes in my life that meant I was learning to take care of myself. Since that essay, I’ve done more towards that route; I still walk with a sister, though it is a different sister, I lift weights, I am searching for flattering clothing and makeup. I had my front teeth filling replaced because I had stopped smiling years ago when they picked up a stain. I am doing things that I should have done amidst mothering small children, but I am not sure I ever would have been able to do with an infant to care for. The only kind of mother I ever knew how to be was one that gave, gave, gave, until there was little left for herself. Little, except my writing. That I have selfishly held onto all the while, the last vestiges of my self.
But gradually, I am finding ways to nurture myself. Besides the writing, there is the walking and the weights, the eating better and the quiet times. How much of this could I have done with an infant or even a toddler around? I’m not sure, but I do know one thing.
I could have locked that bathroom door and claimed at least that much for myself. I wish I had.