Handwashing was the first thing I learned back in nursery school: Turning a bar of soap over and over in my hands and luxuriating in the creamy lather, the sensory bliss, though the soap would inevitably leave my skin dried out afterward. The feel, the look, the sound of the water running into the long porcelain industrial sink with several faucets poised above.
My cousin Karen and I stood side by side at the sink after finger painting. That’s what I remember: not story time or playtime but finger painting and hand washing, the feel of my hands in the paint and on the paper, the turn of the bar to the tall side, then the give of it slipping back, over and over until the bar itself was a soft, malleable mush.
Handwashing got faster and more practical over time, a little more hurried. Until Covid-19. Now I am watching videos of people wearing masks and dancing to music while demonstrating the best method to properly wash hands. I am improving my process, getting much more thorough again. The ten fingers are steeples and bridges, I’m scrubbing the fingernails, the backs of the hands, the web between the thumb and index finger.
And now I am back to my dreamy nursery school self, daydreaming of primary colors and how they feel on the pads of my fingers as they swirl into newsprint paper on the easel, the colors blending, sometimes all the way back to one color, a purple-brown puddle, the paper so wet and weighted down it crumples like a cloth when released from the easel clip. And then the sink and the soap again, paint tinting the soap bubbles as they wash toward the drain.
Karen and I stood at that nursery sink as long as we wanted, through the whole next activity, until the bar of soap was almost gone, our first experience taking a stand. The soap was tactile, and beautiful, and necessary. Finally when we were the only two left on that side of the room the teacher called us back to the circle of kids.