Some nights, it is a literal shit show. Nothing quite matches the moment when I looked down at the shower floor and saw a giant blob of poop. My oblivious toddler looked at me, puzzled, clearly wondering, “How’d that get there?”
Thankfully, most nights, we deal with more metaphorical bath time messes. Like the nights when the 3-year-old commandeers all toys like she’s auditioning for an episode of “Hoarders,” and the toddler cries pitifully at the injustice. There was also the memorable evening when the toddler chomped down on my arm. Her four brand-new teeth broke skin and bruised me. And then there’s “The Scream.” My 3-year-old has perfected a sound that’s an earsplitting blend of Screeching Brakes and Angry Cat. From experience, I know she can keep this up for a long, long time.
I keep a bottle of wine on standby for those occasions.
But some nights, it is amazing. I am a Reform Jew, and visiting the mikveh simply isn’t on my radar, but there are nights in the tub with my daughters that hint at what it might feel like. I watch marker residue and dinner crumbs dissipate, and the impurities acquired throughout the day vanish. Their skin smells clean and soft and sweet. The older one will make up a silly song for her sister, and identical giggles escape two different bodies. I watch my daughters practice “swimming” by scooting on their bottoms across the tub.
“We’re mermaids!” the 3-year-old tells me, impervious to cooling water and wrinkling skin. And if I take the toddler out too soon, they both protest. The little one will wrap her pudgy arms around her big sister, who acts as spokeswoman. “No mama. Please. Me and my sister want to play together!”
Now, how can I argue with that?
I don’t. I won’t–because this is something I have been trying to encourage since the toddler was an embryo. When I found out I was pregnant, I did everything I could to prepare the older one for a new addition: We read all the requisite “Big Sister” books and gifted her with several baby dolls. We grouped everything–snacks, sneakers, even cleaning supplies–into families, so she’d understand.
It helped, I think. But what really cemented their connection was the bath. Joint bath time gave my daughters a taste of what sisterhood is like: someone to laugh with, fight with, and protect.
I understand those feelings well. I have a sister, two years my junior, and we grew up side by side. We were playmates in childhood, confidants in our teens, drinking buddies in college. (Sorry, Mom). My sister and I are different–very much so, in a lot of ways. And there are other parts of our personalities that are weirdly similar. But I would not be the same without her. Having a sister made me, well, me.
I have faith that this bond will hold true for my daughters. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the word “mikveh” shares its root letters with the Hebrew word for hope. I hope to nurture their bond, forged in a tub. And if I’m lucky, the love between my daughters will not be washed away.
My girls are still for a moment, wrapped in towels. Two sets of eyes–one deep brown, the other hazel-gray–blink away bath water, and rivulets run down their chubby baby faces. I close my eyes and savor the taste of this perfect moment, because I know it will not last.
“I’m getting bigger, Mama!” sings the 3-year-old.
“Mama!” the toddler echoes, and waves her hand in the air. “Me too!” she wants to say.
I know. I know.