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Calgon, take me awayyyy! When motherhood puts you over the edge.
Some commercials from childhood really stick with us.
Last Thursday morning at 11, I walked out of the apartment unannounced in a huff, fumbling to tie my sneakers in a hurry, and unintentionally slamming the door. I walked down my street at a clipped pace and listened to the rustle of trees, noting the few cluster of leaves that were already turning yellow. I walked by a row of window boxes filled with succulents and tiny peppers flushed red with ripeness. I paused briefly to look at a book with an interesting cover left on a stoop up for grabs, making a mental note to pick it up if it was still there on my return.
A walk always does wonders. Two hundred steps later, I breathe a little easier and slow my pace.
The moment the apartment door slammed shut was a moment of deja vu. It reminded me of the few times when the kids were babies when I’d hurriedly hand them over to Mark the minute he walked through the front door because I was so done. It had been a good hot minute since I ran from the apartment like that, in need of space, of air, of separation from the everyday that can sometimes overwhelm or even suffocate. This time, it wasn’t solely from the frustrations of parenthood, but an amalgam of things. To make matters worse, I couldn’t really make sense of what I was feeling. Sadness? Discontent? An empty hole? Just a jumbled mess of emotions as I fought back tears in broad daylight.
“Where did you go?” my youngest texts me with an emoji 🤯, presumably after hearing the door slam and finding herself alone in the apartment.
“I just had to get out. I don’t want to be around anyone right now.”
I see a row of hearts appear on my phone. ❤️❤️❤️
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The women of Calgon and their bubble baths
When I was a kid in the 80s, I used to watch commercials of women in these luxuriously large bathtubs, soaking in bubble baths after exclaiming they couldn’t take it anymore. That commercial would often run through my head back when the kids were small. If only ads made true on their promises.
“The traffic. The boss. The baby! The dog. That does it!! Calgon, take me awayyyy!” (you can see the original 1978 commercial here)
Those Calgon ads ran on TV for years and every season or so the women and their hairstyles would change, but those spacious bathtubs remained luxurious, the fantasy bathrooms immaculately clean.Back when I was a kid when I didn't understand the ways of the world (or advertising), I truly believed that Calgon was a magic potion that took away all your problems—literally. I mean, it had to be true! One minute the moms on my TV screen were tearing their hair out in exasperation, and the next they were whisked away to a heavenly oasis of soft-lit candles and irresistible, fluffy bubble baths. I remember thinking to myself, how do I get my hands on this stuff?
I don’t know when the bubble burst exactly, but I distinctly recall the letdown when I came to learn that no product could magically make your troubles disappear. Talk about disappointment after finding out that I’d been duped all those years. It amuses me to think that I had problems at such a young age that I wanted to escape from; I wonder now what those problems were.
Mothers are supposed to be this unwavering rock, a solid foundation, the ones that in young children’s eyes have all the answers and superhero levels of patience and resolve. We aren’t supposed to show our vulnerability. In other words, we aren’t supposed to show that we’re human.
Can adults have tantrums? (yes) What do we say to our young children when they witness their mothers losing their composure? I don’t think it happened often back then (I think, I hope), but I remember the look of confusion and fear in my kids’ eyes the few times they saw me lose my shit, probably over something like potty training, when I didn’t have my act together quickly enough to lock myself in the bathroom to spare the kids the show of emotions. I know as parents we model behaviors for our children as they look to us for clues in how to handle disappointment, success, and everything in between. But I often wondered, is it so bad for children to see their mothers cry? Why are we afraid to pull back the Oz-like curtain?
Pay no attention to the mom behind the curtain!
Instead, we dry our eyes, take a few deep breaths, and step back out into our Emerald City.