Running Water

November 2021

Athena and Yayita eating breakfast at the same kitchen table, with the same breadbox, countertops, and chairs, that I used to eat breakfast at with my Papu as a kid.

I DON’T know who it’s harder to tell to turn off the kitchen faucet while doing dishes—my three-year-old or my 92-year-old yaya. Running water is my Achilles heel; I’ll hear it and my body tenses up and its skeleton attempts to jump out and run to turn the water off. It hurts me to hear running water. Possibly because I grew up in the Sonoran Desert where since the 4th grade, I have had nailed into me not to waste water. I can still see the giant yellow Tucson Water spokesduck, Pete, telling Tucson-area pupils to “beat the peak.” I can’t ignore the fact that the human race has fucked up this beautiful planet in such a short amount of time that it would be impressive if it didn’t result in the total elimination of life on Earth. Possibly even more frustrating are the people who don’t believe in humanity’s impact on the ecosystem or are just so god damned indignant to truly not care about the future. People in my life pop into my mind, as I’m sure they did for you, too.


Child behavior experts are now advising parents to allow their toddlers to help out with chores since it prepares them to help around the house when older. Have these people tried doing dishes with a 2- or 3-year-old? It all starts off great! You and your toddler who is standing on a stool, chair, or similar gadget with a soapy sponge in hand, ready to go! You wet your sponge and get some bubbles going, too. You wet the dishes and start scrubbing, then hand your little a plastic dish—their plastic dish to be more specific. They scrub, hand it to you and receive another dish. You proceed to rescrub the remnants of your toddler’s effort at cleaning a dish. You continue on, moving twice, three times as fast as your toddler, when suddenly you realize they’ve lost interest in dishing and are now just turning on and off the faucet while somehow managing to soak 70% of their body. You gently remind them that we are here to wash the dishes and they can continue to help by using the soapy sponge to wash the dishes; you even hand them a plastic guest cup. They promptly start scrubbin’ until 3 seconds in—they inform you that they need more soap. You squeeze the sponge releasing slight, dingey bubbles.

“See, you still have bubbles,” you say as you continue chipping away at the melted cheese plastered onto the plate that your partner used.

The toddler scrubs with the subpar bubbles, begins to rinse the cup, and then harshly drops it into the sink, spilling water onto the counter, floor, your child, and your child’s parent.

“UUGGggghhhh…” you ignite but your calm, inner parent slams on the killswitch. “Baby, why don’t you watch mama for a little bit.”

“NOOO! I wanna do dishes!” as they begin sticking their dirty sponge in your clean dish pile.

You take a deep breath. “Why don’t you go play with your new birthday toys?” you offer, trying to buy yourself some time to finish the half full sink of dirty dishes.

“Ok,” they agree. VICTORY!

You manage to get the dishes down to the big pans and silverware when you hear your kid scream, “AHHH the cat got me!!!” followed by bawling screams and a toddler running dramatically from your bedroom into your arms.

“Come here, mi amor. It’s okay. Sana Sana Colita de rana…” as you cuddle your distraught toddler.

“Moooom…can I watch my panda show?” your baby whine-asks you.

You let out the heaviest sigh. “Sure baby” you say as you press the power button. You realize your feet hurt as you place the final dish into strainer. But at least you saved gallons of water for the next generation.


I’m at my 92-year-old yaya’s house watching her load the dishwasher from 1960s. She organizes the seven dishes sitting in or near the shallow, steel sink:

  • A Snapfish coffee mug with pictures of her favorite great-granddaughter proclaiming, “I Heart Yayita”
  • A faux porcelain salad plate (a wedding gift, if I’m not mistaken) that held her “slice of toast with a piece of cheese”
  • A small plastic Tupperware bowl that I’m sure would not pass any health standard today but has seen four generations and innumerable microwave visits
  • A spatula—I have no idea what that was used for, but my tia jokes that it’s going into the urn with Yaya when the time comes because it’s her favorite kitchen tool. She scrapes everything. If we don’t clean the plastic bag containing the masa during tamaladas well enough, Yaya comes over with the spatula to get every last blended kernel of corn. She then realizes her tamale crew is lazy and re-scrapes the creamed corn cans to get every last bit of juice she can into the giant bowl where we mix the masa
  • A spoon; probably an accomplice with the Tupperware bowl, indicating that someone had ice cream last night
  • A butter knife with no remnants of the butter my tia put on her morning English muffin
  • A small juice glass (also from Yaya and Papu’s wedding) that has a red rose with green steam elegantly painted around the glass. Drops of Sunny D stain the bottom of the glass. Last week it was Donald Duck OJ. “I haven’t seen Tampico in a bit,” I think to myself.

Yaya takes the reused paper plate sitting next to the sink, empties the crumbs off it, and adds it back to the stack of the other used paper plates piled high near the bread box that is, I’m guessing, from the 1950s based on the lettering of the “BREAD” across the glass).

She turns the water on, and this old broad’s hands have seen some shit and flipped thousands of tortillas, so she doesn’t seem to mind that the scalding water is letting off steam while she uses a finger to ensure the water hot enough for the dishes’ pre-dishwasher rinse.

Finally, the mug is under the water. Yaya is holding it with her left hand and has a tissue paper-thin, green dish sponge, adds some dollar store Dawn, and superficially cleans out the mug and sticks it on the top dish rack in the old Kenmore dishwasher.

Next, she’s onto the plate. While I would have just put the plate into the dishwasher, Yaya rinses it, uses a few bubbles to scrub, rinses it, then places it next to the mug. She repeats with the Tupperware.

The spatula, spoon, and knife get a quick dip under the flowing faucet, and then set into the dishwasher’s silverware bin.

Lastly, the juice glass gets the green sponge treatment before it is placed near the mug.

“See, that’s how you do it. You have to rinse everything so that the dishwasher cleans everything real good,” she imparts to me. I almost open my mouth to advise back that I agree with everyone and she does in fact need a new dish washer, but I didn’t want to go into her re-retelling of the week before last when my tios came over and looked at it for an hour, went to Ace to get some new parts, and “fixed it just right.” Only a mother could have faith in her sons to fix something almost as old as her youngest.

She opens up the cabinet under the sink and reaches for a dishwasher tablet. This is about when in my head I’m screaming, “THE WATER IS STILL RUNNING!” and fight the urge to rush over and turn off the faucet. I stop myself because she has been doing dishes 88 years, and who am I to tell her what to do? Fucking Mexican gender roles die hard. How can I convey to this old Greekxican mother of 8 that she is wasting my daughter’s water?

She fumbles around, places the tablet in its holster, and closes the door (and I immediately recognize it wasn’t hard enough to fully shut it), turns the dial, and presses start. She is baffled why it isn’t starting.

“Yayita, I think you need to close it harder,” I offer from my perch on the kitchen stool.

“I did,” she argues as she tries opening and shutting the old door. It’s still not shut by the way.

We redo this play twice more before she gets it. “See, it works,” she triumphantly brags.

 Next, she turns her attention to the running water and the sink that from my vantage point is sparkling, but clearly not up to my yayita’s standards. I think she grabs some baking soda and dumps some dish soap onto the sink (yes, the water is still going), and uses a different sponge to scrub the sides of the sink until they bubble with suds.

My heart rate is up, but some ease starts to set in once I recognize the crescendo is almost here and the water will soon be off. She uses the water sprayer to remove the soap from the sides of the sink, then she scrubs the base of the sink, empties the few scraps of food collected in the dish drain, rinses the base, places the sponges and rags in the water, rings them out, places them on the sink’s center wall, washes her hands, and turns the water off. My relief feels like I just peed after a long car ride. I sigh again, this time in felicity.

“Yayita, you know, I’m worried about the future of living in the desert—we just don’t have the water, the developers keep building, and people from parts of the country where water isn’t scarce are moving here and don’t understand how precious it is,” I confess.

“I know what you mean. People don’t realize how much water they waste.”

I smirk. I love my yaya.

Author’s End Note:

As I wrote this, my daughter was playing in the sink, splashing water with the faucet running. Excuse me while I melt into a puddle of skin.

A young girl and her shirtless papu are enjoying pancakes at the breakfast table in the kitchen.
Alisha in 2nd grade with her Papu at the same breakfast table, circa 1992.

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