As my teenage daughter likes to remind me, sharing a bathroom with her brother, well, sucks. I get it. Growing up, my older brother and I shared a bathroom. Luckily though, our bathroom had two sinks, which meant we had own our space for occasional side by side nighttime teeth brushing or last minute before school glances in our matching oval mirrors. It was nice looking for a 1970s kids’ bathroom, with speckled apricot colored countertops, a terra cotta ceramic tiled floor and floral wallpaper with a contrasting ebony background. Assuming I set my alarm early enough and raced to the bathroom to get first dibs for a hot shower, I enjoyed my morning time in there, the potpourri in the mini glass bowls giving an added fresh scent to the room. But, if for some reason, I had over slept, even for a minute or two, I would race to find a closed door, the sound of the shower the exclamation point that not only would I be waiting a while to get in there, but the combination of fog, humidity and inevitable older brother bathroom smelliness would be a terrible start to my adolescent day.
My daughter is 15 and my son is 13. Like my brother and me, they share a bathroom.
“When will you be out of the bathroom?” my 13-year-old son Daniel yells to his older sister. He had already knocked on the closed door. Twice. Then a third time, not just a tap but a more forceful attempt, using his balled up fist rather than the palm of his hand. I’m not too far away if needed, downstairs in my office typing away at my computer.
Emily’s Taylor Swift music blares from behind the closed door, now a decibel or two louder, a direct response I am sure to her brother’s request. Then, a moment or two passes, as if she’s given his question some thought or perhaps she is simply done with whatever it is she’s been doing in there. Taylor Swift’s voice lowers to a whisper her lyrics now barely audible. The sound of the knob turning as Emily opens the door is an introduction to the final act of this familiar scene. She gives a dramatic flip of her wavy chestnut hair as she breezes by Daniel, and then, as an unexpected twist to the contentious plot, she gives him a quick tickle under his armpit, setting off laughter from both. “I’m still pissed,” Daniel says, still giggling as he walks into the bathroom shutting the door closed which he then quickly re-opens to throw his sister’s wet towel down the hallway.
I stop tapping at the keyboard, sit back in my desk chair and smile. Or is it a smirk? I survived the bathroom battles and banter with my brother years ago; now it’s my kids’ turn to do the same.
“You know what I will miss the most about my house?” a good friend recently asked in anticipation of her upcoming move to a new and bigger home in our community – one with bathrooms connected to each child’s room. Before I even had the chance to guess or give the obligatory “What?” she continued. “My kids’ forced time together … sharing a bathroom.” She paused, composing herself, as if she was about to grab a tissue from her bag. I knew exactly what she meant. “The fighting, the talking, everything. I’ve even heard them giggling in there. Many times … especially after an argument.” I sighed alongside her, thinking about my two teenagers, how as they’ve become older, time together needs to be somewhat forced upon them. Not just at the dinner table or on family car rides. Long gone are the days they sat in the gritty sand at Compo Beach, digging with their shovels and pails, taking turns to run to the water to fill their buckets.
Having my teenage kids share a bathroom is more than just sharing sink space and toothpaste with each other, more than yelling “I need to get in there” or “when will you be done?” Maybe they’ll learn to respect one another simply by flushing the toilet for the next person’s use or removing the inside out dirty clothes and wet towels before leaving the room. In this stage of adolescent life when one is glued to her phone or her laptop and the other is either focused on the X-box or the outside basketball hoop, sharing a bathroom forces them to stop what they’re doing and be in the moment. With each other. Together. And if that moment is a negotiation, an argument, a realization how to accommodate or understand each other’s needs and feelings for their shared space, or just a passing by shove or tickle, I’ll take it.
I think I might call my brother today.