Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater


‘The dirty little downside of belonging to a big happy family’

I have this very good friend, Jim, who is astonished that anyone could have grown up in a house with only one bathroom. It’s a good thing he doesn’t read my blog, because he would be shocked (shocked!) to hear that not only did we Henrys share a bathroom — we also shared our bathwater.

(Of course, he told me once he shares a shower with his cat, so there’s that.)

Anyway. Back to the Henrys and their sharing of the suds.

Those of you who do read my blog (bless you many times over) know that I am the proud member of a large, happy family. A large happy family who did a lot of sharing.

We shared popcorn in front of the TV, we shared (sort of) the toys in the toy box, we shared seats in the car. (See ‘He’s Breathing My Air’ for how that worked out.) Of course we shared bedrooms. My parents (natch) shared Mom and Dad’s Room, my three brothers shared The Boys’ Room, and I shared The Girls’ Room with my Favorite Only Younger Sister Laura. She and I shared so nicely that she even tried to move on to cohabit my dorm room when I went to college. (It’s a pretty good story, called ‘Larry and the Nose Holes’; you might like to read it after this one.)

We shared chores too. Here I am enthusiastically taking my turn loading our (quite astonishing at the time) dishwasher

And all five of us (plus two parents) shared our one bathroom — and the bathtub in it. When we were little and there were only three of us kids, Mom would line us up in there all in one go: me in the deep end, Scott in the middle, and Roger at the shallow end. Later, when there were more of us, we took turns.

I’m honestly not sure if this was about efficiency — it taking less time to bathe children using the sequential-dunking technique — or whether it was about the fact that our hot water heater couldn’t face the challenge of five tub fill-ups. But I do remember being grateful that I was the oldest and therefore got dibs on the hottest (first) bath.

In my family, bath sharing happened even before I had any siblings. Here I am getting squeaky-clean with my Aunt Susie and Cousin Jimmy

I guess sharing water was a Henry Thing. Here I am sharing a washtub with some Unidentified Cousin. At least we have pants on

Of course, there was a brief blip before my oldest younger brother was born when I got to have the tub all to myself. (See the photo at the top of this post, taken when Mom and I lived at my Gramma Peterson’s while my Dad was away in Korea, for seriously cute proof.)

Being the firstborn, I got everything all to myself for a while — including the kitchen sink

Being a child at the time, I honestly don’t remember being grossed out or embarrassed by having to share my bath time ablutions. But I do remember being humiliated and horrified when my brothers would dig this particular photo out of the big cardboard box in the attic and taunt me with it. Sometimes they’d even threaten to show it to my friends.

The incriminating photo. It didn’t help that my mother had written “Big Girl!” on the back

The end.

New York City. April 2019

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20 thoughts on “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

  1. I’m pretty sure we had the same dishwasher, too! Circa 1962. Man, that thing took a beating. But – the downside – having to wash by hand any dishes you couldn’t fit – means that NO-BODY can load a dishwasher like I can!!! LOL

    • Wow. You are spot on. I’m pretty sure that was 1962-ish. I remember that there was this hose thingie that had to hang there right in the sink so the darned thing could drain. And you are right about its capacity. With seven people in our household, that thing would get crammed nine ways to Sunday! I do remember that loading the dishwasher was a lot lonelier than our former wash/dry teams. We’d play Top 40 radio and dance around the kitchen. Sigh.

  2. OMG, this remarkable post brought out long suppressed memories of my sharing baths with my older brother and younger sister. I don’t think that my family ever took photos like yours did, which may explain why I don’t remember these communal baths as being such happy events. The next time I see my shrink I’m going to have to ask her to help me sort out the implications of all this! 🙂

    • OMG! I hope that exposing (intentional use here) those old communal bathtime memories doesn’t traumatize you too severely! One of my readers grew up in Japan, and was, like, “why is this story even unusual or amusing?” Just goes to show you that cultural context is everything. I guess. Too bad you don’t have photographic evidence — if only to show to your shrink.

  3. This reminds me of what Kramer said on “Seinfeld” about baths: “sitting in a pool of your own tepid filth.” Your story was hilarious, but that’s a LOT of bathing for one tub of tepid water!

  4. josypheen

    I think my parents have a photo of all four of us sharing a bath. It’s totally normal!

    Although…one of my earliest memories is of the horror…I was sharing a bath with my little brother, when he did a poop, right there in the bath! He was only a baby, so he didn’t mean to (i think)…but eep!

  5. Myself and three sisters shared a toybox, we each had a few unshareables on or under the bed. We three shared a bed for a while too. Then sister four came along when I was six and a quarter. We shared baths and clothes and had Identical shoes which two older could share but I had bigger feet. But like you the best share was the love we shared equally between us. I once borrowed my sisters tights to attend my first youth club disco … that was a share too far for my sophisticated elder sis… that will be another tale.
    Love your tales keep them coming.

  6. Ha! My parents had a potty picture of me framed and in the bathroom for the whole world (who came to our house and used the bathroom) to see! Adorable pics, Alice. My sister and I shared a room and a bed, until I moved out at 19 (she was 12). I never thought anything of it. Now, I don’t think teens do that so much. Anyway, we still have sleepovers on the rare occasion. Sharing made us very close, I think. And my boys still take baths together at 9! I keep wondering when they’re going to want their own water!

    • Oh. My. Gosh. Your parents FRAMED a picture of you on the potty?!? It’s amazing that you didn’t grow up to be an axe murderer! Seriously, though. I bet that’s one cute potty photo! I love it that your boys enjoy sharing a bath. It’s good for kids to share — even water!

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