Some people sing while they are in the shower. My husband does a toe-tapping, heel-stomping, house-shaking dance when other people are taking a shower. It isn't a tribute to the beautiful music the kids and I make when we sing during our morning ablutions. Nor is it because the pulsating water creates a rhythmic beat he can't resist.
Alas, it is because Jon can't bear the sound of money running down the drain. The thump, thump, thump of his feet is not a joyful dance, but a warning: Either turn that shower off in a hurry and quit wasting water or suffer the consequences.
The shower stomp appeared about the time our oldest child, now a college freshman, began to care about hygiene. In our house that magical moment hit when our daughter entered seventh grade. Before this, we would have to gently suggest that maybe it was time she washed her hair. But when she turned 13, her showers became daily routines, and overall bathroom time increased a hundredfold.
Jon is a tightfisted Scot and a serious environmentalist to boot. Pair that with a teenage daughter discovering herself in the mirror, and you've got trouble. The trouble has multiplied as our two sons imitate their older sister's love of long, hot showers.
Their father has tried many techniques to reduce their water-wasting habits. First, he tried education.
"Do you know the typical American shower uses almost 15 gallons of water?" he would ask.
"I called the shower first!" one child would scream as he raced downstairs to beat his sibling to the bathroom.
"Fifteen gallons is a lot of water!" Jon would shout to their retreating backsides.
Then Jon tried modeling.
He is the only man I know who can take a shower in under a minute. His quick-shower method: Wet down. Shut the faucet off. Soap up. Turn on the faucet and quickly rinse off. Then Jon uses his hand as a squeegee to sluice water off his body so there's less for his towel to absorb, saving drying and ventilating costs.
It's an admirable and economical feat. The three kids patiently listened to Jon's explanation of his short-shower method and the squeegee procedure. Then they trotted off to their own bathroom and did their level best to use up a 40-gallon tank of hot water.
The next technique Jon tried was financial. Any shower longer than four minutes equaled an appropriate fine. The longer the shower, the steeper the fine. The amount varied, depending on Jon's mood and how contrite or rebellious the offending child was after stepping out of the shower. Our daughter once was charged $18 for a 22-minute shower. It was 18 minutes over the allowed time, and she was unapologetic. She got the book thrown at her.
The financial approach wasn't very successful, however. The kids rarely had money - or at least it had conveniently disappeared when it came time to pay the shower bill. They wrote many I.O.U.'s that were never redeemed in full.
The other reason the financial tactic did not work was that Jon seems unable to restrain himself when the shower cascades on and on. He and I could be sleeping late on a Saturday morning, but if one of the kids wakes up before us and hops in the shower, the sound (two floors below) will awaken Jon.
After two minutes of listening to the shower, he begins to squirm. After the third minute, he readjusts his pillow vigorously. At this point, I give up on sleeping late and wait for the predictable pattern to unfold. At five minutes, Jon grumbles. If the child dares to go beyond six minutes, Jon begins "the stomp."
He hops out of bed. Thump, thump, thump goes his right foot on the floor. On a good morning, the shower turns off immediately. But our youngest child, Ben, can play his dad like a harp.
"I'm just going to soap up!" Ben squeals from the basement after turning off the water. A few seconds later, the shower turns back on. Jon lets it run a while. Then: thump, thump, thump. The shower shuts off again.
"I just put some cream rinse in!" Ben says, turning the shower on again.
Thump, thump, thump! The shower goes off. "There's still soap in my hair!" On again. And so it goes until Jon makes an extremely loud thump, shutting off the shower for good.
It is a morning routine repeated twice a day. When our daughter is home from college, this ritual occurs even more frequently.
M y parents came to visit a few weekends ago, and my father was taking a shower. Like clockwork, Jon thumped his foot on the floor at the five-minute mark.
"That's your father-in-law in there, you know," I cautioned him.
Jon grinned mischievously and broke into a full-fledged tap dance, feet flying and arms flailing.
It worked. My dad turned off the shower and came out of the bathroom to see what all the noise was about.
Jon was elated. He had discovered a new technique.