Brand building through storytelling

What women want…and other discoveries from the hot tub

BougainvilleaAt a spa in Mexico, there’s a hot tub that gets my vote for the world’s most restorative place. It’s in a patio behind the women’s locker room, sheltered by a high fence and lush with pink bougainvillea.

We arrive there in big white robes, which we slip off to bask in the steaming water. Nobody bothers with a swimsuit. The only sounds are rushing water, birdsong and our voices as we talk about whatever comes to mind.

All day I’ve been conscious of the differences between us—who sprints up the mountain on the morning hike, barely breaking a sweat, and who has to pause with me to catch her breath. I’ve coveted one woman’s nifty workout gear and another’s fluid grace in the yoga studio. I’ve wondered if I’ll ever touch my toes, let alone get my belly to the mat. None of that matters in the hot tub. We’re just women sharing pieces of our complicated lives.

We might have known one another for decades, or about five minutes. Our conversation ranges from the much-missed pleasures of dark Belgian chocolate to the challenge of moving on from divorce or cancer surgery.

Soon enough, we’ll be on our way home to the far-flung places where we walk the dog and pay the bills. Home could be a small-town bungalow that needs a paint job, or a penthouse on Central Park West. No matter—we’re more alike than different. For the most part, we want the same things.

Freud posed the famous question “What do women want?” He never did figure it out. But then he never listened to a motley group of women whose conversation circles from lipstick to libido and then detours to the future of the earth. If he could hear what any one of us has heard, he’d know we don’t expect our lives to fit inside tidy packages.

Conflicting desires are just part of being a woman. For instance: I want to be my woman—but I hate to let other people down.

I want to look like a grownup, not a vacant-eyed teenage model—but I’m not keen on pesky facial lines that weren’t there yesterday.

I want to leave a greener world for my grandchildren—but I also want to fly to Spain and eat fresh asparagus in mid-winter.

I always wanted to raise a confident son who could flourish without my guiding hand—but when he left home, I couldn’t pass his empty room without a shiver of sadness.

I want women to be welcome anywhere in the wide world that men can go. But I’m grateful for private female conversations where we discover who we are and who we still can become.

I’m writing this to you from my home office in a downtown condo. It’s been a while since my last trip to the spa (Rancho La Puerta, in case you’re wondering). Toward the end of my stay, I went to a workshop on “how to take the Ranch home.” It consisted of tips on healthy living. Why did I bother? I already eat my broccoli, and I like to drink as much wine in a day as I’m allowed in a week, according to the rules of longevity. What I took home from the Ranch was the spirit of the hot tub and the stories I heard there.

One story in particular, told by a woman named Edie. She was old enough to be my mother and reminded me of her—flamboyant and controlling on the surface, with an underlying air of vulnerability. Edie had a daughter, Meg, who was about my age. The two of them adored each other, but they also had a gift for wounding each other in the tender, hidden places other people couldn’t see.

My mother and I had the same kind of bond. Often I wondered what she wanted from me. Now she was dead and could never receive it. So I thought, until I heard Edie’s story.

Meg was nearly 40, Edie told me, when she became pregnant for the first time. Edie had been longing for a grandchild. Even more, she longed to make her daughter happy. So she gave Meg her idea of the ultimate gift. She had Meg’s spare room turned into a nursery and filled it with the best of everything.

Meg’s baby was stillborn. While she and her husband grieved in the hospital, a wrenching thought struck Edie: how could her daughter bear the sight of the nursery? She rushed to Meg’s house and cleaned out the room—the baby clothes, the imported crib, the rocking horse from FAO Schwartz.

“I thought Meg would be relieved,” Edie told me. “But she tore a strip off me. She said I’d deprived her of a chance to mourn. Tell me…” Long pause. “Was I so wrong?”

I understood Meg’s anger, and said so. My own much-missed mother had done a thing or two that I couldn’t quite forgive in her lifetime. When we fought, I used to see the same stricken expression on her face that I was seeing right now on Edie’s. My mother must have asked other women, “Was I so wrong?”

I told Edie what someone must have told my mother: she’d made a foolish call with a loving heart, as all mothers do now and then. Every mother wants to shield her child from pain, but sometimes pain just has to be borne. Every mother wants to strike the perfect balance between helping and hindering, but every woman finds out that sometimes she will fail.

Suddenly I knew what my mother had always wanted-forgiveness for loving too much. It wasn’t too late for her wish to come true. I looked at Edie’s haunted, expectant face. “You did the best you could,” I said.

I never saw Edie again. But I often think of her, and of the moment we shared in the hot tub.

This online column is my virtual hot tub. I hope you’ll slip in and join me.


Posted by Rona

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