It is a good day. My husb and I are in town at Walmart shopping. I remember we were in a good mood, flirting with each other. Unsuspecting, we casually walk down the deodorant aisle. Like bees we sample some of the offerings, slightly opening the lids just a crack, enough to smell the contents, sharing the ones we liked, then jamming the sticks back in those springloaded deodorant holder thingys.
"Do I want to smell like this?"
"How about this one?"
"Do you want me to smell like this or this? Which one is better?"
"I don't know...which do you like better?" I like his smile.
We live in the woods at his parents house about a half an hour from town with my FIL and MIL and his sister (SIL). We've been working hard to put a garden in. Squash and tomatoes are flowering and I'm excited about all the life in the garden. It reminds me of my Gram's garden when I was little. Rows and rows of peas and carrots and mounds of cucumbers.
We buzz on to the soap section. The sense of smell and memory is like a time machine. Catches me offguard. Suddenly I'm tumbling backwards, transported back three decades to my Gram's kitchen. I was a tall kid with long muscular legs. When I was three I was often mistaken for a five or six yr old. I must have been quite young here. My Gram is holding me. If I was older I would've been too heavy to carry like this.
My face is nuzzled into her neck. This is burned into my brain - the smell of irish spring soap, scope mouthwash, and aquanet hairspray. She is cuddling me, holding me on her hip, swaying gently back and forth while she stirs the contents of a pot on the stove. She is standing at an angle, holding me against her with her right arm, cooking with her left. Her body between me and the boiling pot so I won't be splattered. My arms are around her, clasped together by her neck, hanging on like a little monkey. This is a position I will often mimic later with my own children.
"You ok?" he asks. It's my husb. He looks worried, like he's concerned about me.
"Yup, I like that one. It smells like my Gram."
"You wanna get it?" He gestures towards the cart with the box.
"Nah, I don't want to smell like that, I would forget what she smelled like." It wouldn't remind me of her if I used it all the time.
"I don't want it to lose it's power."
He smiles. "Well, how about this one?" I turn towards him and I'm suddenly sucker-punched out of nowhere.
I'm standing in several inches of lukewarm water. I am naked and shivering. My mom is kneeling on a woven rag rug on the linoleum floor of my Gram's bathroom. She's just finished washing Lb and Ls. She carefully wraps Ls in a towel, pats her on the tush and sends her out of the bathroom to go get dressed in jammies.
Now is the worst part of bathtime for 5yr old me. I have a knot in my stomach. I hate how rough she is with me. Jerking my head around. Calling my hair a ratsnest. Pouring water over my face. Shampoo water goes in my eyes and it burns. I try to hold my breath but soapwater always goes up my nose. I hate how it feels down there when she scrubs me so hard. I wimper and protest but I don't want to be smacked. I try to just hold still. I don't want to slip. The soap stings like hell, but I also don't want to piss her off more.
She hated giving us a bath and uses up all her gentleness and niceness on Lb and Ls. By the time it's my turn she has no patience left. She roughly scrubs my "business" with a bar of safeguard soap wrapped in a washcloth. It's hard and it hurts. I must be dirtier than all the other kids put together. I must be the dirtiest kid ever. She clenches her jaw and scrubs and scrubs. Safeguard soap. It is the smell of his skin at night, me laying next to him. The smell of his tattooed chest. Safeguard soap and old spice aftershave.
"You ok, RR?" Someone is talking to me. I look up. I must have dropped to my knees because I'm kneeling now. I see my husb. standing next to me. He looks very worried. I realize my face is wet. I feel my mouth and my cheek with my hand and hold it out to see if I'm bleeding. It is wet with my tears and spit. I feel like I can't breathe. I am gasping for air.
"It's ok, alright. It's ok." He crouches down and hugs me and I squirm away from him. He's still holding the box of soap that unlocked this horrible flashback. "No!" I yell louder than I mean to. He sees what I mean and quickly sets the box down on a shelf. He's bewildered, but trying to be supportive.
I remember we left the cart there and walked back out to my truck. He asked if I was ok there. He made sure I was safe, and went back inside and went through the checkout. By the time he got back with the cartfull of groceries I was feeling much better.
"So, you wanna talk about it?"
"Not now, later."
"Ok" he squeezed my hand supportively.
My mom's shitshow of a job parenting me was probably the biggest influence on my own parenting style. Like an afterschool special narrator saying "Ok kids, here's what not to do."
For one thing, I didn't teach my kids to use cutsie little babynames for their private parts. My son knew what a penis was. My daughter knew what a vagina was. They learned the name when we were going over all the body parts. I named it like any other body part. No special significance, except that your butt and your penis or vagina were collectively known as private parts. Those are parts you keep to yourself.
It wasn't until I was maybe ten years old that I realized that "business" was not the name of my private part. This was utterly embarrassing. I was a little bit younger when I learned that "winky" wasn't the name for the boy part. That was a babyname. I was not going to have my kids using cutsie little family nicknames for their bodies. Nope. Also, my kids were fairly young when I taught them to wash themselves.
I taught my daughter to wash her vagina with just water. And use a washcloth. And do it herself. I would help if they needed it, but by the time they were 3 they were both getting everything clean but their backs.
"Your body is yours. All of it. From your head all the way down to your toes. That means you can take care of it. You are responsible for keeping your whole body clean. Not always clean, but regularly cleaned. That means your armpits, behind your ears, in your belly button, between your toes, that crease where your leg connects to your body, your penis/vagina (depending on which kid) and your butt crack too. Don't forget to rinse all the soap off. You don't want to get a rash. If you need help with your hair I'll help you with that. Dry yourself off good. Don't forget all the creases. You don't want to get a rash."
You don't want to get a rash. Not once did my mother ever say those words to me. For fucks sake I was maybe ten when I read in a book about babysitting that you are always supposed to wipe a baby from front to back when changing a diaper! Ten! Ten years old and no one had taught me how to wipe. No one had cared enough to teach me not to use soap down there. No wonder I was always itchy. No wonder my underwear always had whitish discharge built up in it. My mom never made me change my undies regularly either, so often that discharge would be there for a few days until it got all cracked like a dried up mud puddle in the sun. I'd be sitting on the toilet peeling it off of my undies dropping it into the water. This was my normal.
When I started working as a direct care assistant with foster care kids, I changed up my "your body is yours" lecture. I dropped the words penis and vagina entirely, swapped out for the generic term "private parts." This was the preferred terminology that their caseworkers used and made it easier to cater the lesson to everybody. I also had to teach some older kids how to bathe themselves. I'd stand, fully clothed (obviously), in the bathroom with a doll and a dry washcloth demonstrating proper technique. I remember one little girl would laugh and laugh when I used the term "all the little nooks and crannies" when referring to folds and belly rolls. I had to explain that body odor was a thing. That you wipe front to back so poop germs don't get in your front private part. That sweat builds up in skin folds. That everybody has to take baths. That no, they were not the "dirty kid." That everyone gets sweaty and stinky but everyone gets to take a bath or shower and feel fresh and new again. That you want to dry yourself thoroughly. That you don't want to get a rash. That toothpaste was like soap for your teeth. That using lotion is one way to take care of your skin after you have a bath. That nobody was allowed to touch them. Nobody but themselves. I told them the things that I needed to hear when I was that age.