Breathing steam

Source:; some rights reserved.
Source:; some rights reserved.

Note: My therapist tells me that I “married my mother.” So I’ve been thinking back about some chronic clashes my mother and I had over the years to compare notes. This story was one that came to mind.

I had allergies all the time when I was a kid, so my nose was often so stopped up that I had to mouth breathe. Anything that made it harder for me to suck in air alarmed me. Muggy air felt like it didn’t have enough oxygen in it. Trying to swim the front crawl always ended up with me coughing about the water that splashed in my mouth. And washing my hair was a stress fest.

When I was little, my mom tried washing my hair in the tub, but she always splashed my face, making me sputter and cry. Showering wasn’t an option because we only had a tub. (Yes, there were houses like that, back in the day.) So one day she had the bright idea of washing my hair like in a beauty salon, with me reclining backward.

We didn’t have a reclining chair like that, so she cleared off part of her kitchen counter and had me lie on my back on the counter with my neck on the edge of the sink. It worked beautifully, except for one thing: Water temperature.

My mother got the water hot enough for huge billows of steam. It felt like breathing through thick soggy cotton, and the heat bordered on unbearable. (I wouldn’t even wash dishes by hand in water that temperature.) I think we were both relieved when I was old enough to wash my own hair.

Years later, I asked her why she always used such hot water. She looked astonished and said she didn’t really know.

Now as an adult, all I can think is that she thought hot water would cut the oil in my hair a bit more. Or maybe it was because she was a nurse and she was accustomed to hot temps to sterilize things, so she associated “hot” with “clean.” Or maybe it was just a little bit punitive since I was a pain in the ass about getting my hair washed.

Not in all the years since then, until today, did I think to ask, “Why didn’t you teach me how to wash my hair without getting water in my eyes? Or get no-tears shampoo? Or just use a big plastic glass of water to better control the flow of water over my hair? Or just use cooler water?”

It was just easier for her to hurry through the chore and let me calm down afterwards.

This was one more area in which I was “picky, fussy, spoiled and ungrateful.” Another reason to feel guilty.

  4 comments for “Breathing steam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.