Written by Janie Ledford (She/Her)
My 6 year old kid, Frank, yells for me to come into the bathroom all of the time. Sometimes, it’s to show me that he brushed his teeth—other times, it’s to show me a particularly impressive turd before he flushes it. Both are admittedly amazing new feats to accomplish in a world that he is still discovering and working his way through, things he is learning to be comfortable with and will one day be mundane daily tasks. This already makes me sad, so I truly try to be as enthusiastic as possible about every turd.
My favorite times that he calls me in are when he wants to share with me his “special trick”. He yells, “MOOOOOM HURRY,” and I run in thinking he has fallen or once again the toilet is full of Orbeez (if you don’t have Orbeez in every nook and cranny of your house, count yourself lucky). Instead, he’s quiet. He’s laying down in the tub, which is halfway full of water, holding still and eyes closed. He whispers, “I’m doing my trick, my special trick.”
The first time he did it, I thought he was probably just peeing in the water, but he patiently explained to me that he was not doing anything of the sort. Rather, he was just laying in the water with his ears submerged, thinking about nothing.
THINKING ABOUT NOTHING. My mind immediately jumps to Ron Swanson accompanying Chris Trager to his 6 hour long meditation class on Parks and Rec and the following conversation:
Chris: You radiated mindfulness. What were you thinking about?
Ron: I wasn’t thinking at all.
Chris: Incredible. It takes a ton of work for me to get to that kind of a clear headspace no matter how hard I try.
Ron: Don’t try so hard.
That’s the trick right? Easier said than done.
Back to Frank, who is quietly telling me how the water sounds in his ears and asked me to fill a cup and let it drip into the water so he can listen. He is discovering the importance of stillness. Of how calm he can make himself, on his own, with just one simple resource: water.
I reflect back to being in high school, when I was wildly hormonal and full of rage due to some disproportionate over-parenting. My family (Mom, Dad, and 3 sisters other than me) used to introduce me as the “black sheep,” or more backhandedly “she’s creative, marches to her own drum.” This was a very southern way of saying they disagree with me, they can’t disown me but they also will never try to understand me. It’s dismissive and used to break my heart, because no matter how hard I tried to explain myself or my overwhelming feelings, I was told I was wrong and punished. I was constantly grounded and not allowed to go anywhere with my friends unless one of my sisters tagged along. My family didn’t trust me, but why? Why was I so awful to them?
In an attempt to find some solace and a moment of clarity, I would retreat to the bathroom—the only place I could be alone. I’d run the hottest water in the tub until it almost overflowed, and I would soak for hours. There was some unspoken rule that my family had to leave me alone in the bath. I don’t really know why, other than sometimes I would read my school assigned novels in there and that was a good excuse for my parents to let me be.
I would cry in the blistering water. I would write notes in my sketchbook, listen to hours and hours of the same CD in my portable player (usually Good Charlotte or Relient K) and imagine a world where I was allowed to be the main character. Where people praised me for my actions and artwork, instead of grimacing and saying “that’s so interesting,” (another backhanded remark that lets the speaker avoid saying “I know you made this but it’s still weird and I hate it”).
Then, before I would emerge into the outside world, I would do Frank’s special trick. I would lay all the way back, covering my ears in water, and listen to nothing for 15 or so minutes. I would clear my mind and make plans for recovering in my room, what I could draw or read that is new and fresh. I would replenish myself to take on what came next, I had to.
Sometimes I wonder if he learned this trick from me subconsciously while in utero. When I was pregnant and afraid, because at some point during pregnancy we are all terrified, I would take a bath and sing to him. I wonder if knows he has been doing his special trick with me his entire existence.
Water is an amazing thing. It is a healing entity, always regarded as peaceful and calming for humans, but it can be terrifying and great when left to nature. We want to recreate the safest parts of it for ourselves to enjoy and find respite in. That’s why we have hot tubs and swimming pools, water parks, white water rafting trips, even fishing. We turn to water for a release from our regular lives, whether it is for fun or for respite. Inherently, we know that water helps us thrive and grow. Everyone lately is reminding their friends to drink more water, we know dehydration makes us maniacs, and we literally would have nothing to eat without water to nourish the earth and animals. Hell, even Hank Hill takes the time to water his lawn, knowing that revival comes soon after the soak.
It’s why we take trips to the beach and go canoeing, but it is also why there are tsunamis and monsoons. Water erases, it builds up and crashes and floods the earth in terrifying ways. The universe sees this erasure as necessary, it’s cleaning and purifying the space that we have poisoned (even though these are deemed “natural disasters”, it seems inevitable that humans are the cause and truly are the poison).
Water resets us: a good cry in the car between meetings, skinny dipping with a friend, washing your ex out of your hair, cooking for someone you love, even brushing your teeth in the morning. We all deserve a “special trick” to help us get through the day, to center our minds, and so often we can turn to Water to be there for us, with us, and as a part of us.
As Hilary Duff said, “Let the rain fall down, I’m coming clean.”