Up To My Ears

I’m reading Phillip Lopate’s To Show and To Tell on writing literary nonfiction (which is something of what goes on here, though that seems a lofty title for it.) In it he says, “I grew up sensing that part of me was faking being a child; I felt I was already an old soul.  Lots of people feel that, particularly those who will go on to become writers.” That is exactly how I felt when I was a child.  That the things that were supposed to be fun did not seem fun at all.

Which is why I think I have less tolerance for my children during the summer.  Yesterday, for the second time in twenty-four hours, I was watching one of their activities and a very pregnant woman walked by and I thought, “At least I’m not pregnant,” as if that were the most consolation that could be offered.

The boys are busy.  Nearly as busy as children can be during the summer and not be under the direction of paid staff.  Still, there’s loads of free time and they spend a lot of it watching television and playing electronic games.  Which I hate.  I can hardly say, “Go outside,” as they rarely see me go outside.  I kept wanting to limit the amount of electronics but I kept wondering what it was that I wanted them to do.

What I did during the summer when I was a kid was read.  Inside, in the air conditioning.  Lots.  Oh, I watched my fair share of “Gilligan’s Island” reruns and ate my weight in Nacho Cheese flavored Doritos, but mostly I read. And I realized that is what I want them to do.  Read.

The younger ones have some reading assignments for school that they are working on.  So does my oldest, the 16-year-old, but his requirements, two books, did not seem demanding enough.

“For the rest of the summer you need to read a book a week.  I expect a report each Friday.”

“Huh.”  Which is his response to nearly everything including, “I cannot stand your room another minute,” “Yes, your curfew is still eleven,” and “Do you ever check your balance because I just looked and you have fifty cents in your account.”

The following Friday I asked, “What book did you read this week?”

“Oh, yeah, I didn’t do that.”


“Yeah, I didn’t do that.”

“Go get your phone and your laptop.”  Which got his attention.

So last Friday I asked again, “What book did you read this week?”

“Uh.  There’s that book I’m working on.  You know.”

“Working on?  Did you finish it?”

“Finish it?!  A whole book in a week?!  I can’t read a whole book in a week!”

(I don’t like exclamation points, but as we had raised our voices, I don’t know how else to convey it.)

“You are busy about four hours a day!  Maybe six!  That leaves you ten hours!  You could practically read a book a day!”

“I’ll go get my laptop.”

Which is exactly the spot I did not want us to be in.  Arguing about something that in the short run is going to cause a lot of static and in the long run is going to make very little difference.

It was during a summer vacation the year before I was in sixth grade that I took my first shower.  My mother took baths and so my sister and I took baths.  I had not yet experienced the hell that is the gym shower.  But on a vacation with a friend she stood outside a shower stall (there were no tubs) and assured me it would be fine.  I have rarely wanted to take a bath since.

Until yesterday when the schedule and the heat and the jangly nerves of four people spending a lot of time together seemed to be too much and I thought, “What I really want is a bath.”  I could not remember the last time I had wanted to fill a deep tub and sink down to my ears, my toe over the hateful spot that is designed to drain water so that the tub will not overflow if the spout is filling, but never could and only seeps away the desired depth that is necessary to keep the warmth up around your shoulders once the faucet is off.

Our house has two tubs, both perfectly fine for boys who mostly shower, but not one that would in any way provide the type of relief I sought.  Normally I don’t think a thing about it, but last night it seemed the only thing that would wash away the day.  It was then that I remembered that the last time I yearned for such relief was when I was expecting my youngest son.  And I thought, “At least I’m not pregnant.”

Image, top, design by Jeffrey Bilhuber via Elle Decor.

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27 thoughts on “Up To My Ears

  1. Do you ever just dream of a motel? I did. No complimentary happy hour necessary, no complimentary breakfast. Maybe an ice machine down the hall, a coffee maker in the room, a do not disturb sign for the door, a remote for the TV, and an iron clad deal @ family HQ to NOT call me for 48 hours. Nirvana.


  2. Oh; you darling! You just have to get to Montecito, somehow!

    You NEED MY BATHTUB!!! It was made in 1860! It is the perfect depth; the perfect "(pitch!) That means:

    (when you are in it….the water comes up to your chin…..the pitch of the back is so perfect……..that you can just wallow…..in perfection!

    All seven (I think…..nope…..not all of the boys) have loved the "bubble baths" in it!~

    And the beauty of the copper tub……(besides its "beauty; Is that if Adam draws it for me before dinner………and things interfere……by 11 pm

    "now I can get into that divine tub"!!

    It is still hot! Because it is copper! Honestly…..6 hours….hot water!

    Sorry! I cannot supply them!!


  3. Oh! I am such a bathtub person! If I did not have to wash my own hair (my mother never did!) I would never ever take another shower!

    I had no idea my bathtub would be (kinda) famous……(micro-famous is more like it!(

    anyway……just so you know…..I would die….without a dog….and a bathtub (and a deep one; at that!!)

    And two or three dogs…..talking about that!

    I adore…..adore…..adore……your blog!

    If only I could write like you!!

  4. Hi Patricia, I remember those days…..but it is only almost mid-July.. How is the lap top doing. xxooxxoo

  5. I have five grown children, and your post brought back many memories of summers with lots of together time without much structure or schedule. For some of us, a little of that goes a long way, so as with everything else in life, there is a search for balance. I had the hardest time with my son during his time off school until we decided it was time for a job!

  6. Since the school year begins much earlier than in my childhood, I vividly remember the mixed feelings of summer motherhood: "so sad the kids have to go back SO early – the summer is only half over" and "thank heavens for the modern school calendar". Hang in there, girl.

  7. I think the phrase "Do as I say, not as I do" fits well here. You are a writer, you don't have time to play outside. I've found that reading contests really work. Set a goal for the kids, with prizes for each level. They love competition. When I started this my 10 year old reached 25 books, by the 4th of July and won a watch! I was surprised. Also, suggest or buy some really interesting books. My son didn't want to read for years, so I started leaving tool and gadget catalogs around. He loved them. Have some more challenges like painting, or building something. Disable the TV. One good excursion a week is nice. Teach them to cook. Ann

  8. I remember those days Patricia! In the Summertime. They rode their bikes, were on swim team, went to the park. The lake for long weekends One loves reading. Keeping up with it all was exhausting!

    I an glad that I am not pregnant! Ha!

  9. Yes, I think many of us bloggers as well are old souls. I think it's hereditary though too. My mother was never one to indulge us…..we're much closer now that we're older.

  10. I feel for you. Imagine my consternation when our school district went to a 4-day week this year. I resolved that my children were not going to watch TV all day. So I attempted to home school on Mondays. Needless to say, there were a fair few exclamation points in that process. As for summers, I have become a firm believer in camp — the sleep-away kind. A little distance is a good thing.

  11. Ah, a rude reminder that no matter how perfect our decor, how polite and sophisticated our pursuits, how good our manners, the hard truth of living within a family which might include a teenager, or two, can bring things to a grinding and undecorous place. I, and many others, have been to that unlovely spot, and can say with certitude, "Keep at it, it will improve." And just perhaps, one day in the distant future, at least one of your presently ungrateful children will thank you for being such a patient and good mother, even though you are certain you were in actuality a raging beast with enough self-restraint to prevent actual mayhem.

  12. you'll hate me after you read this – but why do you project what you love onto your children? you love to read, so did i. my daughter hates it. I never had anyone make me read, I just did it and still do because i love it. my daughter doesn't and never will. she loves fashion. I hate it. she doesn't expect me to become a fashionista because she is. if your kids hate to read novels, so what? like you said, you hate electronic games. maybe your boys will go on to develop apps, or games, or software. Maybe they will build computers or sell them. Instead of fighting against what they love – embrace it and encourage it. it could be their future. anyway, just my thoughts on child rearing. for what's worth. not much i know.

  13. Ha! I spent last night negotiating with my almost 12 year old as he was supposed to have finished reading his first "summer book" by Friday and he had read 33%. I charged my 16, 14 and almost 12 year old with reading a book per week for the summer and it's been a battle. Sigh…

    Lynn in Seattle

  14. Mrs. Shackelford, perhaps I am the last person to join the commenting circle. I am not a parent. From this perspective, however, I will venture appreciation. Appreciation for the brave work you are doing as a mom. I was a kid, at least, and am now adult enough to know that my mother was wonderful for loving me enough to persevere in the harder parts of parenting as well as the easier parts.

    I hope your son finds some books that catch his imagination – and that he sees your heart in this – and trust that he will one day be grateful for you, too, in ways that would surprise him now. 🙂

  15. It is disappointing to see so many young people (including my own son) who grew up in a "reading house" choose not to do so. While I'm sympathetic o Joni's message of letting children be who they are, there is a great sadness in not being able to share a literate, literary conversation within our family. I chose not to believe in God and my mother thought "not bringing me to Jesus" was her greatest failure. Actually I feel the same way in not bringing my son to worship at the altar of reading.

    As for summer vacation from school, I think it is way past time to develop an academic calendar that suits today's needs. The former academic vacation was so an agrarian society could use its children to help harvest crops. So much time out of school is just a waste as many studies show. Young people need the structure of school. BTW, I've been touting this message since 1969. Obviously no one else is listening!

  16. I so agree with Joni! I had one child that loved to read then and now as an adult…one that never picks up a book but is so creative in many ways. Go with the flow and stop torturing yourself!

  17. Try offering your children a $5 bill to use for a bookmark……at the end of the week, when they can tell you about the book, they get to pocket the $5 and get a fresh new bill for next week's book. This way they earn while they learn. Yes, it would be better if they buried their noses in books without having to be nudged. But so what? With luck, they'll do that next summer. Have a wonderful summer!

  18. You poor thing. I hear the Ritz Carlton calling your name. Grab a stack of books and YOU leave. Ha! You know, the Ritz has not only deep, deep, tubs, to the depth of which you speak, they have a bath butler. A BATH BUTLER! You have produced, from your body these children, and have raised them. FOR YEARS. Please don't tell me "too expensive." You deserve to move into that place!!!

  19. Let them do nothing. You're wrong to devalue it. I'm an adult and every summer I long for those summer days and nights where I could do anything or nothing. They're so precious. Few jobs will give you as much pleasure.

  20. awe… I love this post.. harkens me back to my childhood… I don't have children, but distinctly remember the onset of the "breaking point" for my Mom.. 4 kids who all had an idea of how their individual days were going to go… by August… I think my Mom was probably at her wits end! BUT, we all got through… some of my best memories ever…sitting in the back yard..sunshine…and entranced in a book……

  21. Mrs. B,
    Please know that your boys will grow up and move out and perhaps have children – and then you will be able to read to them.
    My kids loved to be read to during bath time. It used to kind of annoy me, but now I have fond memories of those days. Reading steamy children's books. ha ha.

  22. If it makes you feel any better, and it won't…my son has not decided on his reading book for the summer. I should have emphasized which year. I sent you an email, btw.

  23. The kids need to be outside or learning things unscholastic. 2 yrs ago, my 13yo took a knitting class and rarely stops knitting. This yr, my now 15 yo is being taught by dh to kayak the mtn rivers. She also volunteers at a goat farm where she has also learned to keep bees. This morning, she and I built a raised vegetable garden. She has been germinating carrots and onions that will be planted tomorrow.

    I am amazed at myself and her. Before this move, I was a confirmed city girl who reads constantly. I still love fine china, sterling, and Jazz but I have broadened my horizons in the pursuit of broadening hers.

  24. if they don't want to read ask them to keep a journal and write a scenario for a video game (remember dungeons and dragons! or–( just look for a college freshman need to read list of books ) I selected a few from the University of Florida's list. — I had a copy of a Separate Peace always wanted to read it never did but my daughter read it…. you never know why a book is a classic that is unless you read it!!

  25. I too love a bath more than a shower…having been raised with baths also… now I shower at the pool, then soak in my tub at home whenever I get the chance, which is at least once a week on a good week… my tub is the one thing I miss most when I travel 🙂

    lovely post and writing!



  26. This bathroom is gorgeous! I love the bathtub. It really stands out. I think a lot of people forget how pretty a bathroom can be and all of the home decor ideas that can be implemented.

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