I’m probably 8 or 9. Traveling with dad on his annual IXRDA conference. I think Hilton Head or maybe Lake of the Ozarks, this one. One morning in our musty room with its quilted polyester bedspreads I free from its wrapper the small hotel soap and discover something I’ve never seen before. Pure treasure. This soap is nearly clear, a rich amber, a clean light smell. I’ve never seen anything like it. No stodgy common cake soap, this. No plain old white, green or yellow brick anyone could have. This was special. This was exceptional. I gasped. I had to bring one back for my mom. She would be equally bowled over by this discovery.
The next day when the housekeeper cleaned the room, I grabbed the wrapped soap that newly appeared and secreted it in my suitcase. At the end of the week, I returned home full of giddy anticipation. I told my mom I had brought her something wonderful. I handed her the small, paper-wrapped square, my tummy full of butterflies with what this amazing discovery would no doubt mean to her.
Perhaps slightly confused as to why her child was giving her an ordinary bar of hotel soap, she paused, put on her mom-game-face-for-kid-gifts. I caught her doubt. “No, open it!” I said. She did. Beneath her fingers emerged an ordinary cake of white soap. My world keeled on its axis. What rude magic was this? Where was the gleaming amber soap? My mom, paused again, and then strode forth in her mom-ness. “Oh! This is wonderful, honey, thank you.” I paused too. No. No. She can’t praise a stupid cake of soap! In that moment I saw how much she was pretending; how much she wanted to help me feel the magic I was so desperate to share with her. Despite the fact I had utterly failed to bring her something wonderful.
Years later, I figured out there had been facial soap and bath soap in the hotel and that fateful morning I had simply grabbed the bath soap by mistake. Of course by then I knew that Neutrogena’s amber soap was as common as anything else and not full of magic at all.