Puttin’ on the Ritz

The older we got, the more items took up residency on the long bathroom vanity.

I grew up as one of the three “big girls.” Hannah was the oldest, born in 1975, Kate, the middle girl, in 1976, and then me in 1977. The next sibling, Landon, wasn’t born until 1981 followed, in time, by three more siblings, hence the moniker. With the nearest neighborhood kids our age more than three miles down the road, we were each other’s playmates, conversationalists and confidants. As we entered our teenage years, my mother looked on with a Madonna smile, congratulating herself on her wise family planning. My father built a bigger bathroom.

School mornings were hectic at our house: alarms blaring; kids dancing outside the occupied toilet room door or jockeying for showers; shouts of “Hurry up!” and “Don’t use all the hot water!” and “Can I wear your …” and “Has anyone seen my …”

The older we got, the more items took up residency on the long bathroom vanity. The countertop was cluttered with curling irons, curlers, crimpers, blow-dryers, hairbrushes, banana clips, towels, hair elastics and headbands, lotion, feminine products, makeup, toothbrushes, toothpaste, contact lens solution, breakfast (if we were running late), articles of clothing, books, a roll of toilet paper (used for both nose-blowing and makeup-smudging—though not at the same time), and a whole array of haircare products including mousse, hairspray, gel, and the occasional box of do-it-at-home hair dye.

After scrubbing, polishing, buffing, shaving, waxing, tweezing, styling and primping, we descended en masse to eat breakfast and make a lunch. On the weekends, my dad would make the best french toast for the family, but on school mornings, breakfasts were generally “if you can find it, you can eat it” kinds of meals. Cereal, pie, toast, leftovers, cottage cheese, eggs… bites of which were consumed while finishing homework, putting the final touches on a school project, making a sandwich, stuffing chips and a treat in a brown paper bag, or cramming for a test.

When someone saw the bus round the canyon bend, everything kicked into hyperdrive. The bus trundled up the canyon at 7:15 five mornings a week—and five mornings a week we were never ready on time. Frantic questions like “Where are my shoes?!” and “Will someone grab me some chips for my lunch?!” and “Who took the last cookie?!” and “Has anyone seen my backpack?!” echoed through the house followed by what I am sure was a blissful silence as we made the mad dash up the driveway.

How my mother must have sighed with relief when we all ran out the door! Maybe she snickered at the spectacle of kids trying to shove papers in school bags, carrying one shoe and hopping on the other foot while eating a banana and balancing a papier-mâché mobile of the solar system. Or maybe she rolled her eyes at us big girls as we picked our way through the snow in sandals because sensible shoes didn’t go with our outfits, secure in the knowledge that she was never so foolish when she was young. There were certainly many times she growled when she noticed three lunches still sitting on the kitchen counter and had to race after us so we didn’t go hungry.

But I like to think that most of the time she had a smile on her face as she stood in the kitchen we’d built and watched her children tramp up the driveway, laughing and joking with each other, lending a helping hand when needed, excited for the day ahead of them. And then she’d turn back to the one or two small children still at home with a sense of peace, knowing that she’d done her job and done it well.

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