Almost two years ago, a friend and I checked out a 3-bedroom apartment in New Jersey, an apartment so close to the New York City that when you leaned out the front window on a clear day with the right wind, you could spit across the Hudson River and hit Columbia University square in the pupil. We were moving from Washington, D.C. because my husband would be starting a new job after the holiday season abated and we were in a hurry to secure an address. It was the first apartment I looked at and I took it right away because it had something I had long coveted, a clawfoot bathtub.
Nevermind the low rent for such a fantastic neighborhood that was closer to midtown Manhattan than some neighborhoods in Queens. Nevermind the three bedrooms, a rarity in apartment buildings, and that we would be able to have a nursery for our daughter and an office! What had grabbed my attention while combing the ads for housing was the tub and here it was, gleaming before me, saying “Please, do sit down.”
Bathtubs are critical to my happiness. I need hot baths to unwind and collect my thoughts. While studying in London, I earned the nickname “Bubbles” because I would often escape to the bathtub downstairs, literally a room with just a tub, and soak. Because I was sharing a room with four other 20-year-olds at the time, the bathtub was the only place where anyone could enjoy some privacy and the quiet of their own thoughts.
The clawfoot tub enticed me on many levels. When I picked out this apartment, I was five months pregnant so the thought of sinking into hot lavender-scented suds and being cradled by this porcelain god clearly appealed to me. The bathroom itself was small and a little dingy, but the tub was big and beautiful and really, all I cared about were my needs at that time. The tub took up most of the bathroom, with a toilet and a corner sink squeezed in like after-thoughts. I don’t know the exact square footage, but let’s just say your knees almost touch the wall when you sit on the toilet. The space was tight.
But now, my relationship with my bathroom has taken a turn for the worse. I wouldn’t say we’re not on speaking terms, but, well, the thrill is fading.
Motherhood changes everything. I knew that. What I didn’t know is that it would change my attitude about bathrooms. I have an 18-month-old daughter who likes to join me in the bathroom. She will also begin toilet-training next year and it recently hit me that we have absolutely no floor space for a toddler toilet. Sure, we could do the booster seat potty. We’ll have to hoist Anna up there everytime and she’ll be robbed of the pleasure of pissing in her own pot all because her mother couldn’t fight the siren song of a clawfoot tub that predates her great-grandmother.
My obsession with bathrooms has led to jealousy and a perverse curiosity. I find myself wanting to ask people about their bathrooms during watercooler chitchat, the way people hesitantly expose a personal secret to a co-worker. When I visit friends in the suburbs, the real suburbs, not New Jersey-wave-to-your-neighbors-in-Manhattan suburbs, but SUV-centric McMansion towns, the first thing I want to do is scope out their bathroom. How big is theirs? And what do all these switches do? How many steps does it take to go from the shower to the sink? And oh, wow, is that track lighting?
After years of cramped city living, of snubbing my nose at those over-entitled, space-hogging suburbanites with their big fat gas-guzzling cars and their palatial bathrooms because I could walk to an art museum whereas they could only drive to their nearest Wal-mart for local culture, I am finding that the joke is indeed on me. Even with a toilet-training booster seat, we lack the floor space to set the seat somewhere else while Mom and Dad do their business. Those suburbanites may not live down the street from an art museum, but by God their kids can sit upon their toddler potties like kings and queens with ample leg room to spare. Meanwhile, my daughter may have membership to MoMA and she might be able to distinguish a Picasso from a Matisse by age 3, but she’s going to have to also learn some yoga tricks to figure out how to squeeze her growing body into the closet that is the family bathroom.