Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mom-Spit baths

© Christy K Robinson

When my brother and I were little kids, our parents took us on the road every summer. They packed up the green Rambler station wagon, with our suitcases on the top carrier, and an air mattress with sheets and pillows in the cargo area, along with a Styrofoam ice chest. I had a stack of library books, and my little brother played games or drove me crazy. It took two and a half days of round-the-clock driving to get from Phoenix, Arizona, to our grandparents’ homes in northern Minnesota.

We didn’t stay in motels or eat at restaurants along the way. Dad stopped for gas station restrooms (usually—unless we had to go potty between the car doors on the side of the road), and just long enough for Mom to make sandwiches and cut up fruit for us at a roadside picnic table.

Since we weren’t stopping at motels, we couldn’t take baths for three days. That meant washcloths and soap, and water from a bucket or the gas station restroom sink. So about 20 miles from our destination, Mom brought out the paper towels and the Mom Spit. My brother and I squirmed and shrank away, but in a Rambler, there wasn’t much space to hide.

“Ewww, Mom. Noooooooooo, not the spit!”

“It’s just the same as a mama cat, cleaning her kittens. Now hold still. That apple butter will come off your cheeks before we get there.” To get the process started, we'd stick our own tongues waaaay out and try to lick off our own chops. And then she'd spit on the paper towel and proceed to scrub off the schmutz.

It’s not really like a mama cat, you know. I watch my two cats grooming each other.  Mali is fast asleep on a chair, when Smetana, the younger one, jumps up and walks on Mali, who awakes. Smetana licks Mali’s forehead for maybe 30 seconds before she puts her head down for reciprocal grooming. Then she gets what she came for: at least 10 minutes of washing on her face, neck, chin, ears, and eyes, before they both fall asleep in bliss, a blur of fur.

Mom Spit is a universal experience, a timeless experience. Certainly my friends were on the receiving end, and have imposed it on their own young. And when I looked for an image to accompany this article, and typed in “mom spit,” wouldn’t you know, there’s actually a commercial product by that name! (Not the image I’m posting here.)

Moms would never use their own saliva to clean someone else's child. Mom Spit is intimate. It's a family matter. It shows a loving attention to detail.

Before Purel, before baby wipes,
before the Tide pen, there was:
Mom Spit.
It takes a lot of spit to wet a napkin or paper towel, even if it’s just a corner. It must have taken a lot of spit for Jesus to make mud out of dust, to heal the blind beggar—but just think of the royal and divine DNA mixed in with the dust of which we’re made! You know, Jesus probably knew a thing or two about Mom Spit when he was a little boy playing with friends, or that last minute before the caravan arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover.

When Jesus offers to wash us, it’s not something to squirm away from. For him, it meant the shedding of his blood, but for us, it’s a declaration that we’re as clean as he is, and that he has officially forgotten that we were ever dirty.  And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Hebrews 8:11

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you. And thanks for spit-washing me so I’d look clean and angelic for Grandma.

Postscript: When I posted this in Facebook, the women commented on the experience of giving and receiving Mom Spit. The men commented on the picture of the car.


  1. This is a beautiful post, Christy! I use the mom spit on my son, but he isn't old enough to know it's gross, yet. LOL My mom used it on me, and I remember trying to squirm away, too. Saliva is so personal. We swap it when we kiss, we smear it on our kids to clean them off, we imagine it on the rims of used cups. It's interesting the Jesus chose to use his own saliva.

  2. Comments from Facebook:

    Cindy M, Arizona:
    Yep always before family portraits, dance recitals and formal family events. Process: spit on finger, wipe sludge off and perhaps a little spit curl. Wonderful story. Well written. Thank you.

    Kara W, Wisconsin:
    Mom Spit baths are still common in this house. Going out in public + a 2 year old = much needed mom or Dad spit baths on a regular. We do actually try to keep wipes on hand but they never seem to be in hand when needed. lol

    Karen C, Australia:
    It's why I have such a problem with other people's mouths to this day.

    Sarah B, England:
    I had grandma spit baths. Which was just as bad! :)

    Sunny L, California:
    And I saw a recent video of a little giraffe (chasing a butterfly) and this little giraffe got a Mom Spit face cleaning (and didn't seem to like it any better than human kids do!)

    Pamela K C, Washington:
    Periodically got a quick spit bath in car on way to church. Was a mystery to me since we had just bathed the day before. Then I became a mom and understood it is mom reflex. Spit on finger, produce a nice spit curl. Spit on hankie...get choco cake off face. As a grandma, I have taken to using baby wipes. No spit left!

    Christy K Robinson:
    Since everyone has water bottles these days, maybe Mom Spit is on the decline. In that case, it's good to chronicle the experience!

    Patty N, Canada:
    No matter how many water bottles you've got, your child will spill the water just before you reach grandma's, with a nice smear of something on their face. lol!

  3. My mother never used spit. When we travelled long distance like that she always carried 4 gallons of water. One gallon of water per each person.our names were on them. We used the one gallon for drinking and bathing per day. My parents also carried a five gallon gas can with water in case radiator overheated or emergency. Ours would be refilled between stops. My dad was a mechanic. We even travelled with an emergency supply of new a few gallons of gas.

    For our hair to be freshened up, mom used baby powder and sprinkled it all over our hair to absorb the oils and then brushed it out and then she made our arms and face glow with baby oil after our baths. This way we always smelled good and glowed when we had to do the courteous hugging. Mom was a nurse and was against sharing spit. Haha.

    If we wanted warm water to do our sponge baths, we each had 2 designated color washcloths,the light color one for face only, the darker cloth for "the private" areas. I had one pink, one red. My bro had one dark blue, one light blue. Mom had yellow and dad had brown. She would soak cloth, then wrap in individual discarded clean bread bags and place them in a square Tupperware container with lid and place on dashboard to soak up the sun to heat them. When it came time to daily clean our privates (the darker cloth per each individual set we had to use) we did our hygiene duty, got fresh undies daily and then she placed the used dark washclohs in a seperate "soiled" plastic bag. When we stopped at gas stations she would then thoroughly wash these and pour listerine mouthwash over them and wash our undies as well. Then she laid them out on a towel on dash to dry or in the back of the station wagon on side ledges. If she wanted faster drying she rolled them up in the back swat car windows with wash clothe in outside to get air dried. I hated her flapping my undies in the wind. Fortunately, they were smaller back then and didn't take long to dry on a hot day and we always took scenic routes across the country. Like one time route 66. We lived in Maryland and drove to California. Or we would go from Maryland to Illinois to visit grandma. Ah, those were the days...��

  4. Great story...I wrote a long story about are non spit baths cause mom was a nurse and I don't know what happened to it. Might have gone anonymous?

    1. All comments are moderated, and I just got home to "publish" it.


Courteous, constructive comments are welcome. All comments are moderated.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...