I am not a fan of the bath. I mean, I have nothing against it as a bathroom fixture, it’s just the whole having a bath thing. All that wallowing in your own skin cells, all that squeaking of skin against plastic, all that contorting to wash your hair. Give me a shower any day of the week. Or every day, in fact.
And, it turns out, I am not that much more of a fan of giving other people baths, either. Bath night for the boys in our house rolls around far too frequently, every other day. I am sure when I was a kid, we had a bath just every Sunday, but like parental smoking in a car with the windows up, or Angel Delight, or bikes without helmets, weekly bathing seems not to be the done thing anymore. Shame. I seemed to remember I quite liked Angel Delight.
The Books – and I refer to parenting books as such, in one great mass… a condescension of parenting books, perhaps – talk of bath times as a great way to relax your child, to send out cues to them that it is time to wind down and prepare for bed. Or, if you have a bath in our house, to wind them up into a frenzy of excitement, to scream and laugh as manically as possible and to create water-based chaos the likes of which haven’t been seen since those poor sods slid down the deck of the Titanic.
Now, without wishing to go all Delia on you, here’s a recipe: Take two boys, one four and one fourteen months. Add a load of water, some cups, a load of bath toys and stir. What’s this a recipe for? Sodding disaster, that’s what.
B is obsessed with splashing. As soon as he gets in the bath, his arms are off, like the Duracell bunny, flailing at the water repeatedly, faster and faster as he gets more excited, squealing with joy. E cowers at the tap end, shouting for him to stop, often deploying a flannel to shield him from the worst. It is mildly amusing for three seconds to witness this, until I realise that I am also getting soaked. Water drips from my face. I have bath water in my eyes: my pathetic attempt to stay dry by hiding behind my hands is really not having the desired effect. Inevitably, E surrenders, and joins in the splashing too, soon laughing hysterically. Super. This bath time has been in full flow for all of about four minutes and I am already soaked to the bra.
I have to hand B a constant flow of bath toys to avert him from his splashing. He takes one in each hand, inspecting, tasting, biting. The bath water stills, the noise level drops, and my blood pressure does too. He loses interest in the purple fish, and mid wash of his back, I have to quickly grab the fishing rod and put that in his left hand. This causes him to drop the nail brush in his right, and I scramble to find a replacement. B is already waving his free arm up and down, slapping the water’s surface, gleeful that his hand is now unencumbered. I shove a fisherman toward his right palm, and he grabs it. Phew. Another soaking averted. I manage to get him washed before he releases the fishing rod, and I give him whatever I can reach in the morass of bubbles, pink limbs, fishing boats, flannels, a yellow fish with botox lips, dinghies and plastic sea creatures: a plastic cup. This, it turns out, is what is called in parenting terms, a right fucking mistake. Because his arm is still going in and out of the water, except now, on the up-stroke, he is carrying a full cup of water, which releases its contents at the apex of the flail and a large arc of bath water sails out of the bath and onto the floor. Repeatedly.
“Stop!” I scream, leaning in to confiscate the cup and getting a faceful of water for my efforts. E is in the throes of hysterical laughter, and B is so pleased with himself I shouldn’t wonder if he isn’t actually wetting himself with excitement at this precise point. I splutter back on my haunches, briefly pondering if I should just leave them in there until there is no water left or B’s arm drops off, whilst I go and have a glass of wine. Finally, I manage to grab the cup. You know bath time is not going quite to plan when you realise that there is just as much water outside the bath as in it.
Another bath time irritant, albeit with slightly less collateral damage, is the flannel sucking. I don’t know why the boys insist on doing it, and I have even less clue why I find it so abhorrent, but barely a bath time goes by that I am not asking one of them to take the flannel out of their mouth. Is it that bad to drink the bath water? I have no idea. But seeing there is every likelihood that B has pissed himself laughing in the water, and the flannel is very possibly encrusted with eye gunk or mucus, I certainly would not consider it my drink of choice.
And even when bath time is not traumatic, when I am not soaked to my pants, E has not yanked the flannel out of B’s clenched mouth threatening the existence of the precious few teeth that B actually possesses, or I have managed to wash E’s hair without ten minutes of fervent negotiation, there is the underlying dread of the end of the bath. I have to get E out first, as I have tried it the other way round and it is a disaster. Getting B dried and in his night clothes first sounds harmless, but I did it once, and that was enough. I put him in his sleeping bag-dungaree thing and plop him on the floor so that I can deal with E. What I actually have done is turn him into a half-baby-half-slug, as his legs are now trapped inside the bag and he can’t crawl or stand up. So instead, he half-drags himself around the bathroom, crying with indignation, mopping up the puddles as he goes. It only takes one full change of soaking nightwear to show me the error of my parenting ways.
When I have two dry, clean boys, we all exit the crime scene. The floor is awash with water. Pants lie in the shower tray where E flung them from his toe. Dirty clothes drip from the windowsill, the towel rail, the sink edge. Towels are lying crumpled and damp in the corner. The purple fish lies on the floor tiles, staring unblinking at the ceiling. I wipe my damp face with the back of my hand. I am not sure if it is bath water or sweat. Christ, you know what I need right now? A nice relaxing bath…