By Ellen Wren
Issue 144 – September/October 2008
My daughter, Kaya, and I have a special ritual. Every Saturday evening, we “do Spa.” At the beginning, my husband was working Saturdays for a month. By the end of each of those Saturdays, I was seeking a break from my toddler, Kaya was desiring some “mama time” without her little brother tagging along, and I was wanting her to bathe without tears—she dreads washing her very long, as yet uncut hair. Sacred Saturday Night Spa was born.
We’ve been doing Spa for about a year, and it has developed into much more. Now, besides a guaranteed weekly hair washing without a weeping child, Kaya and I have a time to bond as daughter and mother and to really talk, uninterrupted. I also like to think that I’m passing along to her some important information.
Kaya is approaching seven, and lately I’ve noticed that she and her friends are becoming a bit more conscious of their appearance. Suddenly they’ve begun haphazardly pinning barrettes into their hair and coveting lip gloss. Some of them are even talking about boys. Kaya seems to be paying more attention to my body rituals: watching me shave my legs (“Some women like to shave their legs and some don’t, and when you’re older, you can choose”) or get dressed for a party, and asking questions about various lotions and potions. Spa has become the perfect time to impart to her some values about body image, gender identity, sexuality, and all sorts of heady issues.
First, we set the stage: We lock the door. I light a candle. She gets out our supplies. We’ve collected lotions specifically for our feet, our cuticles, and our faces. We’ve got salt scrub and mango-scented shampoo. We have a combination body wash and shampoo whose texture defies precise description; it’s sort of like the cornstarch-and-water goop kids love to play with, but clear and minty. We’ve got eye shadow and beeswax lip stuff in five colors. We’ve got a nail clipper, detangling spray, and a wide-toothed comb. There’s a pot of outrageous body glitter that we both love. We’re the proud owners of seven shades of nail polish. The soaps we now have in stock are strawberry, coconut, and “French Milled Especially for Posh Hotel.” We have a highly prized, fancy-schmancy tube of lotion made with expensive French perfume. This item was one of those things I was “saving for a special occasion,” and so had shoved it to the back of the bathroom closet. But I’m learning, through my daughter, to acknowledge the specialness of everyday moments. As Kaya points out, what could be more special than Spa?
After we’ve laid out all the supplies on the rug and gathered fresh towels, we hop into the shower. We shampoo each other’s hair, and wash our bodies with all three varieties of soap. We chat, sing silly made-up songs, and talk about life. We splash each other and relax together. Then we hurry up and get out so we can get on with the good stuff.
Kaya and I have always been able to share thoughts and feelings easily, but in the safe space of our big, steamy bathroom, sitting beside the old claw-foot tub with the candle burning, our connection deepens. The words flow, even on topics that seem to be getting a little tougher to discuss offhandedly while I shuttle her to dance class or chop vegetables at the kitchen counter. As we sit on the rubber-ducky rug and enjoy our supplies, we talk about changes in our lives, upcoming events, and how Kaya feels about her friendships. We talk about the importance of strong, noncompetitive relationships with other girls and women, and how to nourish them. I want her to know the comfort and joy of true sisterhood. I want her to grow up in a community of women who love and support her. I express this to her in our daily lives, but it’s during Spa that we get the chance to revel in the sisterhood we share. It’s my passionate wish that, through our closeness, my daughter will be able to recognize and honor sisterhood among women as she grows.
Kaya loves the sensation of thick, rich lotion on her legs. We talk about how good this feels, rather than about how our smooth, shiny skin will look to others. We talk about how it’s healthy for people to do things to care for their bodies that make them feel rested and relaxed, or energized and ready to take on the world. We talk about the costume aspects of makeup—about how it’s great to enjoy that costume, but not to depend on it as a mask. Lipstick is fun if it is a choice. Nail polish and eye shadow might feel good to wear sometimes, but they’re not what define us. When such things feel like obligations, they become burdens. I try to impart the idea that, feminist girl that she is, Kaya need not be afraid to indulge her senses with “girly” sundries. I don’t want her to feel disloyal to her feminist side if she chooses to, say, dye her hair, or enjoy pedicures once in a while. I try to impress on her that it’s really all about choice.
We talk, too, about things I can’t mention in print because she’s asked me not to, and I would never breach her trust. I like that she knows that and will talk to me about anything, even things that make me squirm—things that would never cross my own mother’s lips. I can talk to her during Spa about very delicate subjects that, at other times, she might be defensive about. It seems that any conversation will go well during our special Spa hour.
Another beautiful thing about Spa is that it gives me a chance to really notice my daughter—to notice how her body is growing and changing. I teach her to floss. I take the time to notice a plantar wart on her little toe that I’d been too busy to examine the other day, when I was in the middle of a potty-learning experience with her little brother. I can slow down and listen to her, and see her for the big girl she is becoming. I notice new mannerisms or new speech patterns that have somehow evaded me during our busy week.
It’s also been remarkably helpful, when in the middle of a meltdown—mine or hers—that we can remind each other of Spa and the connection we feel during that time. To help one another over an angry patch, we say things like, “Remember who you are to me; remember Spa.” It works. I pray that it will keep working—that Kaya will keep wanting to do Spa—because it keeps us on track. I see the rough waters of pre-adolescence and beyond approaching. I see the issues she will have to face, the hurdles she will need to leap. More than anything, I want her to always have a safe place to land.
Even after all this, the best parts of Spa are the ceremonies my sweet girl has come up with all on her own. At the beginning of each Spa we light a candle and take turns saying, “Sacred Saturday Night Spa is beginning. Mother and daughter will be friends forever.” At the end, we blow out the candle and say, “Sacred Saturday Night Spa is ending. We blow out this candle but we will never blow out our relationship.”
That says it all. She really has a way with words.
Ellen Wren lives in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley with her husband, Doug Keller; her two shining stars, Kaya (7) and Gowan (3); and their six-toed cat, Mimi. The whole family unschools, and cherishes the flexibility their lifestyle allows them.