Soak Opera

Taking a bath isn’t what it used to be.

Pre-kid, the sight of a bathtub evoked sensations of relaxation and ease. A bath was a place for candles, fragrant bubbles, and a cup of peppermint tea. Bathing happened in limitless time. You forgot to check the clock. You added more hot water. Your biggest problem was how to turn the pages of your New Yorker without getting them wet.

Such notions are long gone. The bathtub, now, is the scene of a nightly battle. Or, at the very least, a manic, demonic screech-dance over which I have scant control. It is a place ruled by my charge–a four-year-old nut job–who views it–and me, when I am bathing her–as little more than an enemy to be foiled.

Bedtime, in general, is the time a parent dreads most. You are tired. Your child is tired. You are grouchy. She is punchy, wily, and petulant. She has lost the ability to regulate herself; you have lost your sense of humor. She is being forced to perform a series of tasks she considers unreasonable and unpleasant. She is determined you will suffer for this. You do. So she does. It is misery for all concerned. OK, not always, but often.

When I look at a bathtub now I immediately hear my own voice, terse and fatigued:

“I need to wash your face. Please give me the washcloth. Stop. Turn your face towards me. No! Take your finger out of your eye. I need to wash your face! It’s past your bedtime! GIVE ME THE WASHCLOTH! I NEED TO WASH YOUR FACE!”

I see the dirty ring on the bottom of the tub I need to clean again. I see the criminally excessive number of used washcloths–my daughter requires at least eight for every bath–draped damply over every surface. I see hairs. I see dirty cat footprints. I see my stress level billowing up like hot steam to a low, cracked ceiling.

But tonight, for some reason, none of that stopped me. MJ was in bed; Mike was working on school stuff. The day had been fine but warm, yard work had been done. I am between addictive TV shows, so nothing called me to the laptop. All phone calls had been returned. I had a moment.

I stepped gingerly into the bathroom. Kneeling, I cleaned the ring. It really only takes a second. Tossing the dirty washcloths into a forlorn heap on the floor, I turned on the water, fetched my book from the bedroom, and bathed.

Guess what? It was nice. Looking up from “House of Mirth” to a row of plastic animals, dinosaurs, and empty play bottles may not be quite as relaxing as reclining in pristine candlelight, but it’s not terrible either. Too bad I had no bubble bath other than–you guessed it–California Baby. But truthfully? It smelled pretty good.

And nobody had to fight me to wash my own face. Bliss.

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