Peterson: When soap gets in your eyes

I thought I learned my lesson more than 50 years ago: Close your eyes tight when washing your face or hair with soap and water.

Because if you don’t, you will get soap in your eyes, and your eyes will sting, your eyes will burn. And you will cry because it hurts.

We constantly scan our memory banks for the earliest recollections of our lives, trying to remember what is was like to be 3 or 4 years old, which is about as far back as most people can remember.

It’s kind of like the Hubble Space Telescope, training its lenses on distant galaxies. It can look back 13.2 billion years to 600 million to 800 million years past the Big Bang when our universe was created. Light goes only so fast, so the images Hubble picks up are that old because of space and time.

It takes eight minutes for light from the sun to reach earth, so each day we look at the sun, we are seeing it as it appeared eight minutes ago because it takes light that long to traverse the 93 million miles to us. So, the sun could suddenly extinguish itself, which would be a very bad thing, and astronomers assure us that it won’t happen for billions of years – thank you, astronomers – and we wouldn’t know about it for eight minutes.

Just as a reminder, don’t look directly into the sun. It is so bright that it will cause you to go blind. That bit of advice comes from Mrs. Schloesser, mother of my best childhood friend, Stephen, when we went bowling on a Saturday afternoon when a partial eclipse of the sun occurred. Look at the sun during an eclipse, and you will go blind. It was as simple as that. Squeeze your eyes tight.

I was all of 9 or 10 years old, and that was enough to scare me stiff. As much as I wanted to glance at the sun and catch a quick glimpse of the eclipse, I didn’t do it. In fact, I made a point not to look up at all, trying to keep my eyes looking at the ground if at all possible. Sudden-onset blindness was too much for me, and I can remember clearly being outside on that sunny day and being scared senseless.

But I had to be all of 3 or 4 years old when my mom warned me about soap and water and closing my eyes tight, or face getting soap in my eyes. And I must have listened because bath time wasn’t traumatic, but there were times when I must have let up and opened my eyes when the soapy washcloth crossed my face because I can remember the stinging sensation.

And I would cry, which in this case was a good thing because the tears would rinse my eyes of the soap. Then I would cry just to cry because the sting didn’t go away with the soap. It took years, but eventually I figured it out. Eyes shut tight at all times.

Then there was the sting of criticism. I was in high school, and I was washing my hair in the laundry tub, as our house’s one bathroom did not have a shower, and the tub was the size of a large turkey roaster. The bathroom was the last room added to our house on Main Street in Donnellson, Iowa. And it was small. I think it was added begrudgingly.

What’s the big deal with indoor plumbing, after all? It’s a passing fad. Right outside the kitchen door was a hand pump for water from the well. Talk about convenience. I never drank the water, but my dad swears it was a fresh and clean as could be. I think he even drank it to prove a point. We would just pump it for fun. (It was Iowa, and we were bored.)

But as I was washing my hair one evening, I overheard my dad in the kitchen say to my mom – and not to me – “He washes his hair every day like a girl.”

Well, I didn’t confront him on the issue. I let it pass, as I wasn’t the one being talked to. Of course, I washed my hair every day. Duh. It was as long, or longer, than a girl’s hair.

Otherwise it would be greasy and stringy, and I wasn’t about to let that happen. I had appearances to keep.

Now my hair is short, mostly because I am lazy and don’t want to hassle with longer hair. It’s not like I’m going bald; I have a full head of hair. It’s just that tightly cropped hair is so much more easy to take care of.

Nevertheless, I still wash my hair every day out of habit. And twice in the past week I have gotten soap in my eyes. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but it stings like the dickens. At least I didn’t cry this time. I think I’ve grown up.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at

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