Bath Night

So with all that brouhaha about writing being hard last night, here I am, writing again. And this time, I am writing about Bath Night.

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The twins are little, and getting Sam into a bath is difficult, so Bath Night happens once a week in our house, and it’s the same night for everyone. I know that once they’re older, once they get dirtier, and once I can more reliably trust Sam to wash himself, bath night will become more frequent, but for now, it’s a once a week thing. Typically, it’s a Sunday night, but if the Sunday is very busy, it might get pushed off to a Monday night or pulled back to Saturday. It’s always a night that Kyle hasn’t needed to drive home, since the nights he needs to drive home, he doesn’t get here until around 7, and that’s well past time to start baths and expect to do anything else ever.

Kyle has the kinder job of Bath Night, and he goes into the bathroom first. The tub was rinsed out after the last Bath Night, but since we have a weird cat who likes to drink from the bathtub faucet, and since lord only knows what Sam does when he’s in there, the tub gets another quick clean so that it’s suitable for bathing. Kyle then goes and fetches towels from either the upstairs closet (why they’re upstairs when we only bathe the kids downstairs I don’t really know) or the dryer, and while doing that, he grabs pajamas suitable for the night’s temperatures (because while we are not opposed to the kids sleeping in underwear and little more, bath night means that everyone will soon be cold).

Then I come into the bathroom. I get the unkind job of doing the actual bathing, and the kids all have varying levels of tolerance. I fill the tub not too deep for the babies, and I make sure the water is just above lukewarm or else I will hear about it in varying levels of screaming. I fill a smaller basin with clean water and set it aside so that the soapy water doesn’t get used for rinsing. I set aside a cup to rinse hair and bodies, and I set aside Mustela shampoo for cradle cap, Johnson & Johnson’s lavender lotion bath, and some Suave stuff that smells like white grapes.

(this is how your purchasing decisions change as your children grow older: when they’re babies, you pluck This Specific Item from This Specific Shelf to solve This Specific Problem, and when they’re older, you’re just like “eh, that smells good and says ‘No Tears,’ but most importantly, it’s on SALE”)

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While I do this, Kyle gets Carrie undressed, because she gets the first bath, being the littlest. She used to like baths, when she could lie in the baby bath seat and just chill about it, but since she’s grown big enough to sit up in the tub, bathtime is hell for her. She’s more tolerant when you give her toys to bang together or slap against the water, but overall, she feels that as she’s not being held and Water is Different, it’s a waste of her time. So I get the naked Carrie into the bath, and I try to be quick about everything. I try to be careful about not getting too much water in her face or anything like that, but typically, by rinsing time, she’s so ANGRY about taking a bath that she’s flapping and flailing her arms about, so water gets in her face anyway.

So I do things quickly. I rinse her once, then wash her hair with the Mustela and the special anti-cradle-cap brush, which probably isn’t necessary, but we still have it. I let the Mustela sit in her hair to do its job and then quickly use the Johnson & Johnson’s to wash the rest of her, all while she’s screaming like I’m slowly pulling out her fingernails one by one. The screaming only briefly stops when I rinse her hair, but this is because she’s holding her breath instinctively, as a few drops of water have gotten onto her face, and we can’t have that. As soon as she’s convinced she’s not drowning, though, it’s right back to the screaming. The whole process takes less than two minutes, but those two minutes are enough to make her regard me with a look of utmost betrayal when I lift her from the water onto a clean towel and give her a cuddle for her trouble.

We have those towels with the hoods, which are great for babies, because babies are bad at keeping towels on any part of their body without a hood like protrusion. I drape the hood over her hair and she sniffles and pouts at me, and then once her hair is dry enough, I give it a quick run through with a fine tooth comb and bring her out to the warmer living room so that she can get dressed.

Here’s where things can sometimes begin to go awry, because it’s hard for Kyle to time the undressing of the next child (usually just Isaac, but sometimes Isaac and Sam, which is dangerous) to right when I bring Carrie out to the living room. You don’t want to undress the baby too soon, or you risk the baby getting cold and peeing all over the place. By the same token, you don’t want to undress the baby too late or the first baby will get cold and pee all over the place.

But usually, it ends up being Carrie who gets the short end of the stick there. Kyle sees me come out and quickly helps Isaac out of his clothes and diaper, and then I bring Isaac into the bathroom while Kyle dresses Carrie.

Isaac is far more tolerant of baths than his sister and brother, especially when he has things to look at. Because he’s such a curious child, he likes to smack his hand against the water or toys or bubbles and see what happens. He also likes to pick up any number of floating toys and put them in his mouth, which looks disgusting to me (they’re usually covered in soap suds), but it keeps him content enough that I can wash his hair and body the same as I do Carrie’s without him making more than a contented “hmm” as he chews a purple letter X.

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(shown tonight, being very tolerant)

The danger, however, is that Sam will want to participate. Carrie’s bath happens quickly enough that he usually hasn’t caught on to something happening without his involvement yet, but by the time Isaac is in the tub, Sam wants to be involved. On good nights, this means he’ll come and take his bath with Isaac, which means he’ll be calmer overall, wanting to put on a good show for his baby brother. On bad nights, this means he’ll be squeezing in between me and our bathroom caddy, dropping who knows what sorts of toys into the tub for Isaac to play with and generally being in the way (but I can’t get mad at him because he’s “helping”).

Eventually, I tell him to go wait in the living room for his turn, and he does for a minute before coming back, usually over the sound of Kyle yelling, “Sam, get back here!”

But then Isaac is done. He gets dried and gets his hair combed and gets his jammies on, and I go back into the bathroom to prepare things for Sam.

Sam doesn’t like baths. At best, he tolerates them, but more often than not, Bath Night for Sam is a time for screaming and crying because he doesn’t like to wash himself. I hope that changes eventually, at least once he’s old enough to have BO, but for now, it’s all I can do to make baths as painless as possible for him.

The first ingredient is water of the right temperature. Sam, for reasons I do not understand, does not like warm baths. Me, I don’t like burning hot baths, but the sensation of sinking into a tub full of genuinely warm water is one that fills my dreams, often. But Sam doesn’t like warm baths. He doesn’t even like lukewarm baths. He prefers his baths to be chilly, which is part of the reason he’s the third bather in the family. After Isaac gets out of the tub, I fill it up a little more because Sam is bigger than the twins, and I always have to resist the temptation to add warm water just to make it feel a little bit less like Sam’s about to get a kidney removed.

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The second ingredient is some sort of Bath Accessory. On the cheap end, this can be bubble bath or some sort of soak that you can buy at the drugstore, and if Sam is feeling good about Bath Night, this does the trick. No further assistance needed, we’re all fine, here, now, thank you. On the more expensive end… well, let’s just say that I’ve been making more frequent trips to LUSH than I have at any other point in my life or would if I didn’t have a child who needed a lot of love at bathtime.

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(I mean. I love me some bath bombs, but our tub is functional at best, definitely not wide enough for me to soak in, and by no means deep enough. I do have an open invitation to use my parents’ soaking tub, but I feel more than a little weird making a 20 minute drive with the kids just to take a bath)

So we add a Bath Accessory. Tonight’s accessory was a sparkly bubble bar that Sam chose over the weekend. It turned the water the color of urine. Healthy urine, at least, but urine. But it smelled good, and it sparkled, and he was appeased for the moment.

The third ingredient is an array of toys. I’m picky about the toys he can bring in, because if he can splash stuff out of the tub, he will splash stuff out of the tub, so I mostly try to stick to things that don’t shoot jets of water or create large wakes. We have foam numbers and letters, we have rubber ducks, we have a submarine. That should do the trick, I figure, but Sam often manages to sneak water cannons in (or, more accurately, water cannons find their way into the bathroom during spats of cleaning and then Sam says, “Hey, I was looking for this!” and brings it into the tub and that’s why Bath Night includes me getting an unwanted bath), and since the bath is already fraught, I choose to fight that battle later.

And the final ingredient is a basin of clean water for rinsing, lukewarm at most, more accurately slightly chilled. When I was sick with pneumonia, Kyle took over bathtime and skipped this step, and you’d think he was pouring boiling acid on Sam from the way he screamed because the water was too warm.

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All ingredients assembled, then, and Sam naked as the day he was born. He asks for help climbing into the tub because he’s got this weird fear of water getting into his butt (blame the use of glycerin suppositories when he was dealing with constipation years ago) and sits with his legs straight in front of him. I begin the negotiations by informing him that I will be washing his hair before he plays.

This doesn’t go over well. He doesn’t mind washing the rest of his body–even the dreaded butt–but washing his hair makes him freak out something fierce. I can’t wholly blame him; I used to hate having my hair touched, and even now, I have to really psyche myself up before going to the hairdresser. That said, the boy’s hair needs to be washed, and he’s not happy about it. I prepare him by saying that I’ll dump water on his head three times, then wash, then rinse three times.

He starts crying after the first dump because water is on his face and he can’t wipe it out with his hands because they are wet. I pause, retrieve a hand towel, and wipe his eyes. We do this twice more, and he whimpers while I scrub his hair with the Suave white grape stuff that I don’t even care what it’s supposed to do except it doesn’t sting your eyes unless you squirt it right in there.

The next step is tricky, because it’s a question of how long I want to put off more screaming. When I’m feeling smart (I was not tonight), I rinse his hair immediately and direct him to wash the rest of his body before he can play. When I’m not feeling smart, I tell him he can wait to have his hair rinsed until after he plays, and as he’s a four-year-old, he usually takes this option, wanting to put off the unpleasant experience of getting his hair rinsed. Either way, though, I direct him to wash the rest of himself, which sometimes actually works but more often means he vaguely rubs his hands on whatever part of his body I point to and I call it good enough because I’m already looking like a drowned cat at this point.

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On smart nights, I rinse his hair next, and we have another round of tears and wailing and hand towels and eye wiping. If he’s not too devastated by having water dumped on his head, he then plays for a little while–either until the timer I set runs out (usually 5-10 minutes) or until he splashes water out of the tub (usually 30 seconds). More typically, having his hair rinsed has turned him off to all types of water, and he wants to get out of the tub.

I help him stand and rinse off the last suds from his body, and then I wrap him in a beach towel. He sniffles and cuddles me, because everyone needs a hug after getting clean, heaven forbid. I drain and rinse the tub, and he and I go out to the living room, where I comb his hair and help him dress in a one piece pajama set.

I hate Bath Night.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the results of Bath Night. I love my kids being all fresh and clean with their hair soft and combed and their skin all rosy and warm. But oh, the drama! Nothing else in our house, not even bedtime or naptime, is quite this dramatic. Two out of three children spend the entire time sobbing as if baths are some sort of medieval torture, and the third seems unaffected more by chance than anything else.

I feel bad because there’s not much else can be done to make Bath Night easier on everyone. Carrie just needs to grow into the idea that sitting on your own is not a form of torture devised to make you sad. Isaac– well, he’s fine. And Sam… the only thing I could do to make him not hate bathtime is not washing his hair, but that is super not happening.

Sigh. I know that once they’re teenagers, the real trick will be getting them to stop bathing for five minutes, guys, you already took three showers today, you’re not even paying the water bill STOP IT. And I know I’ll miss the little sudsy cuddles and the smell of Mustela (despite the name, it smells really good) and the fun with bath bombs.

But I hate Bath Night. And I can never let them know. That would be showing weakness, and that’s all they need to win.

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