mother and daughter at-home spa
Photo: Michael Edwards
The year was 2002 and I was tired. I was tired of touching up my roots, counting my carbs, balancing my checkbook, minding my manners, wanting a baby, a good apartment, a decent night's sleep. I was tired of being happy for friends who had all the things I wanted, tired of flossing and fish oil and adding flax to my steel-cut oatmeal. I was tired of strengthening my core and analyzing my issues. I was tired of the world and though I had no actual proof, I was pretty sure that the world was tired of me.

Then I went to a spa.

The towels were fluffy and the lighting was compassionate. Incense was burned and kale was juiced. There were hot stone massages and collagen facials, seaweed wraps and almond oil pedicures. We hiked through fields of sage and lavender, soaked in sea salts, and dined in bathrobes. If there is such a thing as avocado placenta, you can be sure that I was slathered in it. I came back to New York exfoliated, moisturized, one with nature, and utterly rested.

What a difference a decade makes. I'm pleased to report that the baby I wanted so desperately is starting fourth grade, and as of last summer, we're living in an apartment with actual closet space. Still...

These days my core appears to be made of marshmallow and where I used to work to get ahead, I now find myself working harder than ever just to make sure I don't fall behind. Factor in the additional tasks of keeping the fruit-roll-up drawer fully stocked, the orthodontist appointments scheduled, the karate exhibitions attended, the homework checked, the meals made, the garbage recycled, the checks written, the calls returned, the e-mails answered, and...well, let's just say your manicure and mental health drop to the bottom of the to-do list.

I don't have the money for a spa, and even if I did, I wouldn't dream of leaving my daughter, Julia (whose father lives in Switzerland), for a blissful weekend of mint tea and Pilates...especially when I'm pretty sure I can create the perfect spa experience here in my very own home. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Next: From cucumber coins to class pets
mother and daughter at-home spa
Photo: Michael Edwards
Julia and I begin spa day with an invigorating hike. We don't have fields of lavender and sage perfuming the desert air, but I love the smell of bus fumes in the morning, and Amsterdam Avenue is lined with teachable moments. At the spa, I marveled at the gophers and bunnies and exotic peacocks roaming free. Here in Manhattan, Julia reaches for a pigeon feather by the curb and I explain how hepatitis is spread. At the spa, I gazed at a cactus and our guide explained how to make prickly pear jam. At the bodega on West 93rd, we grab a box of Hot Pockets and I explain that you can microwave an entire meal in just a minute or two, no plate or utensils required. It is a magical morning.

We return home with an Enya CD, a candle, a block of tofu, a bottle of romaine-kale-parsley-celery-apple-lemon-ginger juice, the new Jane Fonda workout, and one box of Ninjago Ultra Sonic Raider Legos, because I need my able-bodied young assistant to be busy when I'm ready to zone out.

I light the freesia-scented candle, marinate the tofu, and switch on Enya's "Orinoco Flow." I lay out the many products supplied to me by the beauty editors of O magazine, and decide to begin with a little softening butter salt scrub. The instructions tell me to "melt in [this] amazing scrubbing butter and let the luscious blend of natural oils, antiaging Dunaliella seaweed, sugar, and Dead Sea salts go to work for you." I have spent half my life trying to steer clear of oil, sugar, salt, and any seaweed that's not wrapped around sticky rice and high-grade tuna—now I am massaging it into my stomach, hips, thighs, back, arms, legs, and duvet cover. The scent is giving me a headache, or perhaps it's the candle, or maybe it's all that Orinoco flowing through my brain. "Jules," I call to the living room, "let's eighty-six the Enya!" My child, who has been known to play the thoroughly obnoxious theme to My Little Pony upward of nine times in a row, actually yells back, "Thank God!" I rinse off the salt scrub, lotion up my hands, slip into a pair of rehydrating cotton gloves that are printed with words like indulge, soothe, and enjoy, cover my eyes with cucumber slices as any spa girl worth her salt scrub would do, and try, if not to indulge, soothe, and enjoy, then at least drift into a catnap.

"Mommy," my daughter whispers, "does wearing pickles on your face relax you?" I murmur that I'm asleep and attempt to wave her off with a gloved hand—effectively ending my shot at Mother of the Year. "Because," she continues, "I wanted to ask you about bringing Pogo"—the class lizard—"home for the holidays." My first thought is: I do not want to spend Rosh Hashanah with a lizard named Pogo. Besides, isn't placing cucumber coins over one's eyes the universal sign for don't bring up house-sitting Pogo, the class lizard? "You just relax and think about it," Julia suggests, adding, "he eats roly-poly bugs" before tiptoeing out of the room.

Next: Feeling "totally youthful and completely radiant," despite a sticky situation
I get winded opening my Jane Fonda workout DVD, step barefoot on one of Julia's plastic ninja legos when I go for the remote, and take it as a sign to skip the cardio and go straight to my new book, Self-Healing with Reiki, by Penelope Quest. Do parents name a baby Penelope Quest so she can grow up to write something with the subtitle How to Create Wholeness, Harmony & Balance for Body, Mind & Spirit? And what kind of sentence has two ampersands in it? This is the sort of thing my mind & spirit think about while I'm supposed to be visualizing the Reiki light expanding so that it "flows through your skin, spreading out to fill your aura." I also think about lunch.

In an actual spa, a highly trained chef would steam something fabulous that would leave me feeling satiated yet virtuous. I consider letting Julia take a whack at this. But she is a big fan of mixing savory and sweet, and as such, tends to garnish with Gummi Bears, so I will be my own highly trained chef. I have the tofu and green juice, which is a little like drinking a really delicious lawn. Jules sucks contentedly on her Hot Pocket (which in retrospect could have done with another 30 seconds in the microwave), and stares at my tofu. "You know, Mommy, that would be a whole lot better if we'd covered it in rainbow sprinkles."

The time has come for some post-tofu hair removal. I read through the directions included with the self-threader and set it up. On a scale of complexity, this falls somewhere between disarming a midlevel nuclear device and building an Ikea bookcase. I decide to start with little Audrey (that's right, I've named my lone black chin hair Audrey), but she refuses to budge and I am acutely aware that one wrong move could cost me my eyelashes. I resolve to leave Audrey alone and simply spend the rest of my life in dimly lit rooms. Then Julia points out two key things: (1) O's beauty department has sent along a jar of sugar wax, and (2) I've got a mustache. You think you have a kid so you can pre-board planes, but they're also excellent for pointing out your every flaw.

I apply the wax to my upper lip, rub my hand across the strip of cloth I've placed over the wax, and attempt to pull in the opposite direction of the hair growth. I get through a quarter inch and decide it hurts in the way that giving birth during a kidney stone attack while being pepper sprayed by a pit bull as an Enya song plays might hurt. I beg Julia to give it a fast yank. She refuses on the grounds that she doesn't want to be the one to inflict's hoping she remembers that when she hits her teen years. I cover the lower third of my face with a scarf and we run to the nail salon across the street, where a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Muammar Qaddafi is all too delighted to pull the wax off for 12 bucks—a small price to pay, if it keeps me from being mistaken for Gene Shalit.

At home again, I decide to wash my face with the Clarisonic. Thanks to a sonic frequency of more than 300 movements per second, the Clarisonic brush is said to remove six times the makeup and twice the dirt and oil of manual cleansing, so let's add sanding off my nose in a freak face-washing accident to my ever-growing list of phobias.

Clean, and with my nose still intact, I ask my assistant to glop on the Borghese Fango Active Mud for Face and Body mask. The Internet tells me that this mineral-rich product is sourced from "Tuscany's volcanic hills." It's supposed to "detoxify impurities" and provide my skin with "youthful radiance." We give it ten minutes before sponging off. Julia inspects her work. "Do you feel youthful and radiant, Mommy?"

I feel the way I felt when I spent an entire day just hanging out with my mother at our home spa, which consisted of an emery board and a jar of Noxzema. I feel the way I felt when we ran errands and listened to Buffy Sainte-Marie, and she sipped her Tab because the FDA hadn't yet banned cyclamates, and I sipped my milk shake because I had trouble keeping weight on...a problem that has since been resolved.

My mother probably wanted a little time off for good behavior and I probably wanted permission to babysit William, the class guinea pig. For the record, my mother said yes to William, but you have to understand that she is a much nicer person than I am, and William ate only lettuce. Julia spots a splotch of mud behind my ear and dabs it away. Tomorrow I've got work and she's got school and God only knows what the world's got planned, but today has been lovely. I take a deep breath and feel my shoulders unknot. "Yep," I say to the young lady holding the pinkest polish I've ever laid eyes on, "I feel totally youthful and completely radiant."

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