Monday, December 14, 2009

The Small Child Field Manual: The Bathtub

Hardly anything beats bath time!

Navy Seal, bomb squad member, Oakland Raiders beat reporter…there are some tough jobs out there, but one under-reported difficult job is parent of dirty small children. Yeah, that’s right, sounds easy, but giving a two-year old boy and a four-year old girl a bath requires an iron will and nerves of steel.

An experienced parent knows that you do need to bathe your children…something about avoiding disease, keeping your home dirt and germ free, and just avoiding the overall gross factor. We try to bathe them every two or three days, but that has been known to stretch out to a week or so when I’m not feeling up to the battle. That’s right, I said battle.

My little guy absolutely loves his bath, but he isn’t always good at it. Or, at least he’s good at it in a way that I wish he wasn’t. My girl also usually enjoys taking a bath, but she will fight you every step of the way if you try to give her one. When I announce to them that it’s bath night, all manner of hoo-ha and noise breaks out. Sometimes it’s excitement and two small bouncing heads giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting wet, sometimes it’s loud protests from the girl who feels that she is not dirty or weird excuses as to why she can’t take a bath such as, “My mouth hurts.” or “I’m too tired.” Whatever the reaction to the bath-time announcement it is always loud and it is always immediate. To the untrained eye, bathing a two-year old boy and a four-year old girl seems like an cuddly and cute activity, but I assure you it’s warfare. Cute and cuddly warfare, to be sure, but still warfare.

Whadda ya mean, I gotta take off my clothes?

First of all, you need to calm them down from the excitement induced from merely stating that it is, in fact, time to take a bath. Hopping two year olds have been known to hop into the tub fully clothed in their excitement, so the calm-down is a necessary step. Once the children are moderately calm, the next item in the chain of events is removing clothing. An excitable kid who wants to get into a bubble bath has very little interest in making sure that his jeans and diaper do not become water-logged, so as you are trying to wrangle them, they will certainly be placing their hands and fingers and occasionally feet into the stream of water from the spout of the still-filling bathtub. Plus, removing partially wet jeans from the body of a wiggling tot is tougher than it sounds. Fortunately, my daughter is old enough to take off her own clothes, which can be a blessing. It can also be a bit embarrassing at times, such as when your half-naked daughter walks into a room filled with your friends who are over for dinner.

Once I manage to get both kids disrobed and sitting in the tub, that’s when the danger begins. It is best to engage in this battle armed with the appropriate bath-time battle gear which consists of clothes that you will not want to wear any longer than the session of the bath. There are few immutable laws in the universe. These laws include gravity, entropy, and those laws governing the absolute certainty of both Death and Taxes. The following is one such irrefutable rule: You will desire to immediately change your outfit at the conclusion of a small child’s bath, as you will be wet.

You see, once the kids get wet, they have a strong desire to make certain that anyone in their immediate vicinity is also wet. Much as those who scale Everest must have the appropriate gear, it is important to wear appropriate bath-time clothing. Long-sleeved shirts or sweaters are discouraged, as that’s just more fabric to get soaked, jeans are acceptable so long as you do not plan on wearing them again until after laundry day, and socks are right out. If you’re wearing socks when you bathe two small children than you’re either a fan of wrinkled feet or you’re very inexperienced at this whole bath thing.

If you are appropriately equipped for battle in your bare feet, ratty t-shirt and dirty jeans, you are ready to proceed. It is important to note that one thing that kids universally do not like is getting soap in their eyes. However, they seem to have no compunction with getting soap into the eyes of anyone else. Splash fights must be nipped in the bud immediately, or you will have two kids pointing at each other and decrying the sins of the other without ever considering what their own actions contributed to the situation.

Rub a dub dub, a sweet Ellie in the tub!

Their desire to avoid getting soap in their eyes is also important to remember when trying to wash little ones’ hair. Kids love getting wet, but they hate putting their head under the water to get their hair wet. My method of washing my children’s hair involves dipping them once to get the hair wet, applying the shampoo from a bottle that is adorned with some manner of cartoon fish or animated mermaid, and then dipping the child again into the soapy water to rinse. This step is the crux of the battle, and if you can accomplish this step, you are a true bath warrior.

Your children will scream all manner of child inspired reasons why this dipping step should not be taken, but if you maintain your will, the battle can be won. The most difficult part of the hair washing is fighting your own child’s desire to not maintain calm. The biggest reason that soap gets in their eyes when you dip them to wash their hair is because they wiggle and convulse like a freshly caught trout trying to escape the fishing boat. If you can get them to be calm, they won’t get soap in their eyes. I have convinced my daughter of this, and ever since she realized it, she isn’t too tough to bathe, but my son still subscribes to the school of wiggle and toss. In the end, I prevail and both boy and girl hair has been cleaned.

The next step is totally optional, but will make your children endlessly happy if you allow it…Bath Playtime. Since they are now clean, it is acceptable to take the kids out of the tub at this point. However, they love to get their bath toys and play and splash with them. This is probably the cutest part of the bath-time ritual, and fun to watch, but beware that it is also the point at which your bathroom will take the largest amount of collateral damage. It is advisable at this point to have two or three large absorbent towels at the ready, as kids have remarkable abilities to displace water. It shouldn’t even be physically possible for them to get more water on your bathroom floor than you put into the bathtub, but I swear that my children have accomplished this feat on at least five or six occasions. If you’re going to allow playtime, my only recommendation is that you also be armed with a camera, as you’re going to get some cute shots that you will treasure always and also be able to use in a blackmail-style fashion to ensure proper behavior when your kids become teenagers. As a parent, it’s a win-win situation.

The final step is removal from the tub. This can be easy, but usually involves some manner of negotiation on how much more time they can have in the tub. My kids have become master negotiators to get more time in the bath to the point that I think that hostage negotiators should be trained by having to negotiate my kids out of the tub. Getting them wrapped in their towels and out of the bathroom isn’t too difficult, but getting them dressed can be yet another challenge. My son is little enough and still in diapers so that, once you get a good handle on him, putting him onto the changing table and wrestling him into a diaper and pajamas can be done with nothing more than a little bit of elbow grease. You do need to be careful, because if he gets free and starts running around on his own, he can become wild and unpredictable. Last week, for instance, he wriggled free and before I knew it he had run through the living room, squatted in the kitchen, and peed all over the kitchen floor. He did so with an evil smile on his face that was simultaneously cute and wicked.

When finished with her bath, my daughter prefers to dress herself, and usually we let her do so, although she would rather just walk around the house nude for as long as humanly possible before succumbing to her jammies. Eventually, she does get her clothes on, but there is something about four year olds that greatly enjoys the naked experience.

Once the jammies are on, the bath can be considered a success and all you need to do is drain the tub, clean up the bathroom, change your clothes, put the assorted wet clothing items and bathroom rugs in the wash, and get the kiddos down for bed…which is a whole different cute battle. People without kids probably wonder why it takes parents so long to do anything, but trust me, kids are time consuming. Being a parent is it’s own reward…and that reward is the ability to sleep well due to exhaustion! Man, I love my kids!

No comments: