When nobody’s watching

Lessons from fighting over hot water

“I got here first!” I shouted.

“No,” my older sister said, “I did. But then I heard my phone so I went back to see who texted me.”

“Very funny,” our older brother said as he opened the door to the bathroom and scuttled out. “We know you don’t have friends, Julia.”

“Ha. Ha.” Julia put up her hands in a fake show of “you’ve got me” and quickly scurried into the bathroom.

Sometimes it really sucks to be the baby brother.

After ten minutes of waiting, I started banging the door.

“Julia, come on,” I said. “Julia, don’t waste all the hot water. You know that’s not fair. Come on –”

“Whoa, whoa there little fellow,” my dad interrupted me as he closed his bedroom door behind him. “You’re mother is still trying to get some rest.” He made a show of lowering his voice. “What’s going on here?” he said while pointing his thumb at the bathroom door.

“Same thing that happens every morning,” I said. “Todd and Julia get to the shower before me and then steal all the hot water. It’s so not fair! I just — I wish I was older.”

My dad laughed. “Ah yes. How long has she been in there?”

“At least 10 minutes.” I said.

“Julia,” my dad knocked quietly, “It’s time to get out now.”

A few minutes later Julia cracked open the door of the bathroom. “It was all Todd’s fault,” she said, “There was barely any hot water left when I got there.”

“Ugh,” I groaned. “You guys are so mean.”

My father shook his head. “How many times have I told you children to save a little hot water for everyone that goes after you?”

“Well by the time I get there, there’s no hot water left to save,” I mumble.

“Sure there is,” my dad said. “Your mother and I both shower after you, and though we never complain about it, it would be nice to keep us in mind and leave us some of the hot water that’s left.”

That sure shut me up. I never thought about how my parents were always the last of our family in the shower, but unlike me who whined about it all day, they never said a word about the cold. They just repeatedly asked us to save hot water for our siblings, which we never trusted each other to do.

“Alright, little man,” my dad said. “In you go.”

I walked into the bathroom and turned on the faucet to as hot as it could go. I waited a few seconds for it to heat up but at only a lukewarm cold, I knew from experience that it was as good as it was going to get. I took off my towel and climbed on in.

But in the shower that morning, I just couldn’t shake my father’s words: “never complain” and “it would be nice.” And for the first time ever, I turned the shower dial a few degrees colder. I tensed and leaned towards the side of the shower, preparing for the onslaught of cold water, but it never came. The shower remained at about the same temperature.

So I decided to push my luck and turned the nob half-way between hot and cold. I was so scared this time that I got out of the shower entirely and waited with my hand in the stream. At first the shower got cold. Like really cold. I love my parents, I thought, but not this much. I was reaching for the dial when it happened. The water got hot. Really, really hot and stayed there.

All the sudden, everything made sense. With a knowing smile on my face, I hopped back in the shower.

The next morning, I stayed in bed as my sister’s and my alarm went off. As usual, she jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom. Some time later, she came back in a towel and wet hair.

“Are you feeling OK?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I replied groggily.

“Well, the shower’s open, you know,” she said, “But there isn’t much hot water left at this point.”

“That’s too bad,” I said, “Now mom and dad won’t get any.”

She cocked her head at me, puzzled. I shrugged and went off to take my shower.

That morning at breakfast, Julia complained that Todd was stealing all the hot water from the entire family.

“I get that he wakes up earliest,” Julia said, “but it’s just not fair to steal it all.”

“Come on,” said Todd, “There isn’t that much hot water to begin with. All I get is a few good minutes. And besides, you’re just trying to take the blame off of your twenty minutes showers.”

I watched the conversation with amusement. Under the table, I felt my feet being kicked. I looked up at my dad across from me. His characteristic grin at his children’s shower bickering was big on his face.

He raised his eyebrows at me. I smiled back.

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