Recently, I was given a gift certificate to a ritzy spa for my thirtieth birthday. For the past two months, I’ve held on to that little card with its elaborate curlicues, both enthralled and petrified by the idea of using it. As with many large families, our scarce resources are reserved for necessities, and with anything that is left over, manicures and massages will always take a back seat to youth sports and science camp. So to indulge in such pampering was something I have never done… until today.
First I had to decide on the best way to spend my gift. As I scanned the extensive online menu of spa services, I decided to choose something that I had never experienced before, something so frivolous that I would never spend my own money on it. Maybe a massage? I have heard wonderful stories about how fantastic you feel after a massage, and I realized I’m probably the only adult woman left on the planet who has yet to partake. Excellent, that’s settled—er, wait, not so fast; I also had to pick from an impressive sublist of various types of massages. Wow, okay. Well my chakras didn’t feel particularly off balance, and I was pretty sure that anything involving warm lava stones would make me burst into giggles at the absurdity. A basic relaxation massage seemed the most fitting.
Oh, now I choose the length: 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or 90 minutes. Ninety minutes?! Is this for real? Who has an hour and a half to devote to lying on a table while a stranger gives their naked body a rubdown? Do they stop for snack and potty breaks or what? I also had to consider my need for personal space. I don’t mean to be standoffish—my heart wants to give the world a hug (and a coke)—but when a stranger accidentally brushes my elbow in the grocery store, I’m the weirdo who involuntarily leaps back and makes the poor soul feel like they’ve offended me. So the 90-minute massage-a-thon was out for sure. I opted for the half hour treatment—long enough to try it out, but not so long that I’d need to have my mail forwarded.
I arrived at my destination with a knot in my stomach and was relieved to see that it looked like a fairly normal, albeit extremely fragrant, hair salon. Okay, I can do this. I checked in at the front desk and the young attendant, who had probably been out at a kegger the night before with the rest of the college kids, suddenly morphed into a blonde pixie version of Lurch from the Addams Family. Please follow me ma’am. Right this way to… the spaaa. She opened a set of unassuming double doors to reveal a parallel universe of earth tones and multiple dribbling fountains that made me fear I was going to lose bladder control on the spot.
Pixie Lurch led me back to my changing room where she instructed me to change into a deceptively heavy robe and slippers. Wearing the oversized spa apparel did nothing to make me feel less like a child at a party for grown-ups. I sat in the large, richly upholstered chair resisting the urge to swing my feet as another woman prepared a foot soak “for my enjoyment.” Yeah right, lady, my enjoyment has far less to do with it than your desire to avoid massaging nasty, stinky feet. As I tried to blend in to my lavish surroundings, I became keenly aware that I was chewing gum, which felt very out of place all of a sudden. A quick scan of the room did not reveal any gum-friendly receptacles so, doing what any posh socialite would do, I swallowed it.
Foot lady reappeared and poured me a glass of berry-infused water from a crystal pitcher. She knelt down in front of me with a towel and looked up expectantly. What? Oh wait, she wants to, like, dry my feet for me? Wow, that’s awkward. Okay. I don’t do well with silence anyway, but lack of conversation is particularly uncomfortable when the other person is rubbing a towel between each of your piggies. When I couldn’t stand it any longer I abruptly blurted out my go-to conversation starter: I have five kids. My newfound servant lady looked a little startled, but I’m not sure if that was because I had spoken to her on such a conversational level or because that’s how people usually react when they hear of my brood. She mumbled a polite response before scurrying off to buff the next set of bunions.
Okay, clearly this was not the type of place where nervous, nonsensical chatter was commonplace. I vowed to conduct myself with a bit more civility from this point forward. I would pretend that I was… an investment banker. Nah, too stuffy. Maybe a writer? Yeah, that’s good! Oh wait. I am a writer! Score! Okay, so from this point forward I will sit in unimpressed nonchalance and exude soulful silent writer-ness.
My masseur (apparently a male is a masseur, not a masseuse; who knew? Well, the French, I guess.) appeared and introduced himself as Robert. He was indeed a “Robert”— certainly not a “Robby” or even a “Bob.” I tried to conjure up an image of Robert in his natural environment, maybe drinking a Bud Light on his sofa in front of Monday Night Football, but I couldn’t get past images of grand pianos, tiny puffy dogs and pinot grigio. He led me to a tiny room that could have been the torture chamber of a psychopath with a taste for high-end decor. Several large shower heads hung down from the ceiling, as well as various other apparatuses that were, I assume, chakra-related. After brief instruction, he left me to disrobe and lay under a sheet. Hmm, why wasn’t I more weirded out that my massage therapist was a guy? At that point I realized that Robert had somehow successfully presented himself as utterly androgynous, a skill that he undoubtedly cultivated to ward off the advances of lonely old ladies in their fanciest granny-panties.
Robert came back and began to prepare his various oils and towels as I lay on the table in utter stone-cold silence. Excruciating. So… I have five kids. Robert smiled and politely shushed me, instructing me to become one with the table. Hmm… okay. I was unaware of my jittery leg until he wedged a pillow under it and asked me to let the tension out of my body. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on forcing my muscles into a state of relaxation. Relax. Relax. Grr, relax, damnit!
“You’re still tense,” Robert chided. “Just clear your mind and focus on a feeling of weightlessness.”
Okay, weightlessness, floating, feathers, balloons, it’s really weird to have someone touching my face—oops, air mattress, astronauts. Umm… what else?
“Relax your jaw please, just relax, deep breaths…”
Ugh, okay. Breathe in… oh God, he’s massaging my chin. Don’t laugh, don’t laugh, don’t… pffft. The Law of Embarrassment dictates that the single quickest way to make yourself laugh is to desperately want to not laugh. I prayed silently to let it end at a single sputter and not become one of my infamous the-more-I-try-to-stop-the-more-I-can’t giggle fits.
I regained my composure as Robert flipped me over to begin on my back. As I stared at Robert’s loafers through a hole in the table, I realized what an awesome blog post this would be. The miniature writer who nests in my brain immediately set to work composing paragraphs that would later become what you are reading right now.
“Try not to tense your muscles, just relax.”
Dude, did you not hear me say I have five kids? This is seriously the most relaxed you will ever get me. The kids have me torqued into a permanent state of anxiety that will not go away until they graduate. From college.
He set to work kneading his overly-soft hands into the chain of kinks that is my back as my mind clicked away like a typewriter, churning out the first page of “Surviving a Massage.” Just when I finally started to relax and enjoy myself he took his thumb, weaved it under a mass of tendons, pressed it into some unseen pressure point and left it there—for a randomly long time. Hmm… am I supposed to do something here? Do I need to insert another quarter or what? Just as I was on the verge of lifting my head to see if he had fallen asleep, he resumed his handiwork and began attacking other problem areas.
Suddenly, my luxury massage ended; it was over almost as soon as it began. As I reluctantly shook Robert’s greasy hand farewell, I remembered the lengthy 90 minutes in heaven that seemed so absurd earlier that day. My half hour of relaxation had only begun to break apart the knots in my head, shoulders and upper back, while my poor hips, legs and feet that had carried the brunt of abuse during my 50 months of pregnancy were left untouched. I was surprised to realize that I hoped to come back again in the future for another rubdown from Robert. I briefly considered the chances of convincing my husband that we should set aside an exorbitant amount of money so a strange man could rub oil all over his wife’s naked body. Mmm, outlook not so good. While I am thrilled to now be counted among the ranks of women who have enjoyed a massage, I am oddly proud that it will remain a rare and special treat in my world filled with soccer practices, football drills, and Girl Scouts.
For more articles like this, please visit Surviving Five
Leigh Ann Wilson
(A hilarious and heartwarming look at life with five young children- ages 7, 6, 4, 3 and 2)
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