Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater; baby will do all the throwing. If you haven’t built an ark, lie back and enjoy the water works!
Bathtime is the best and worst of parenthood. It encapsulates extremes of duty and reward. The good bit is tucking your children — squeaky clean, damp-haired, fresh-pyjama’d and baby-talcumed — into their beds. The bad bit is going back into the bathroom afterwards. It’s a post-nuclear wasteland: a devastation of sodden towels, a fallout of bath toys, a heap of dirty clothes and an inexplicable oddness of socks. Every night.
Yet bathtime is a must in the ritual of going to bed. I can still remember, as a child, being bathed with my three sisters. Four up along the bath. My parents would move down the line, one soaping, one rinsing. As we grew bigger, it became two-by-two and finally — singly — when newly-modest adolescents required total privacy. This left the youngest pre-pubescent sister mystified, and demanding to know: Why won’t anyone in this house bathe with me?’
Love is bathing with a battery-operated frogman
Sharing a bath with a sibling is a normal act of familiarity; sharing a bath with your children requires real sacrifice. Love is bathing with a battery-operated frogman. Well, for true devotion you have to make room for two wind-up whales, a dolly who needs a shampoo, more ducks than a wild bird sanctuary and a flotilla of bobbing plastic crockery.
What I really mean is, love is sharing a bath with your children. And once they’ve got into the habit, it’s hard to break till they grow up and want to ‘go private’. You find yourself longing for the solitary pleasure of a lone bath.
No soap dropped in and gone squelchy, no drunken ducks (have you noticed, they always float on their sides? I’ve never yet bathed with a duck sober enough to float upright). No more squabbles about whose turn it is up the tap end. Love is sitting on the plug with your ears wedged between the taps.
Lying back in a few drops of pricey bath oil
Instead of that, to bathe alone. I can just about remember it: piping hot water that wasn’t going to scald anyone; lying back in a few drops of pricey bath oil (rather than an overdose of Mr Men bubbles), relaxing with your eyes closed or leisurely loofahing the rough bits.
When it comes to motherhood, there doesn’t seem much to be done about the rough bits.
Not that my children have always adored bathing as much as they do now. My son Ben had obviously not read Leboyer’s excellent work about how new babies love to be gently floated in warm water. Ben screamed at the sight of his baby bath, as though being asked to swim the Channel in December. For months he could only be bathed, bolt upright, in a green bucket, clutching on to the sides. My daughter, on the other hand, has been doing lengths of the big bath since her birth.
Discovering about grown-up bodies
Children who get to bathe with their parents learn a lot without realising it. I don’t mean just the water-pouring shampoo — decanting and discovering there’s never enough toothpaste to squeeze out your whole name on the bathroom wall.
I mean discovering about grown-up bodies — how you’re going to turn out — the lumpy bits and dangly bits and hairy bits. All without a trace of shyness or shame.
Bathtime is good to discuss troublesome thoughts or problem ideas, too. It’s intimate, but there are lots of things to occupy you while you talk. It can be a rumbustious, splashy time to unwind at the end of the day. Or a quieter, questioning time.
Like Explaining the main drainage system: ‘If I pull the plug out now, how long till the water gets to the sea?’
Telling tales: ‘Harry me bite here!’ (From my youngest.)
Learning vocabulary: `Why don’t you say piss-cology? What’s a silent “p”, anyway?’
Practical biology: (while I was pregnant) ‘Will the soap go in the baby’s eyes if you wash your tummy?’
Save water – bathe with a friend
Yes, it’s a good time for explaining and calming and cuddling. You just have to accept the state of the bathroom afterwards. Do you remember during that water shortage, we were urged to `Save water — bathe with a friend’? Well, I’ve never found that multiple bathing was compatible with water conservation. Our bathroom floor looks as though the tide’s come in. And the ring round the bath looks as though the tide’s just gone out.
But when I see my two sitting like pink and gold bookends up each end of the bath — Ben conducting a maritime battle with the soap dish and Miranda pouring (and drinking) ‘tea’ at her end — I drop exhausted on to the linen basket and think these long, splashy baths are well worthwhile.
Just good child psychology — or piss-cology, as some of us call it.
Then I see a faraway look in Miranda’s eyes and notice a slight eddy in the water at her end of the bath. Ah, yes. I recall that old Music Hall line… The ‘p’ is silent, as in the bath.