Sunday, July 12, 2015

In Defense Of Frequent Bathing For Kids

If your kids are anything like mine, they spend a lot of the summer soaking wet- either from the pool, one of the many lakes we're fortunate enough to be surrounded by, the sprinklers (sorry for my use of the "s" word, Californians), the hose, or whatever water toy is on the clearance rack at Target.

Because of the frequency with which water meets child, it's tempting to skip, or at least reduce the frequency of, the actual bathing of children during the summer months. Many recent articles and experts have weighed in on the case against frequent baths, citing the harmful effects of antibacterial products on children's skin, immune systems, and the environment.

I get it. I really do. And on top of all that, bathing kids is a lot of work. When they're infants, it's downright terrifying. Mere hours after delivering our firstborn, the nurse had us watch a (horror) movie on proper baby bathing techniques and I almost threw up. Just holding that floppy-headed mess of wriggling limbs is scary enough- now you want me to add water? And soap? Over a hard tile floor? Does the phrase "Slippery When Wet" mean nothing?

For the first few weeks of their lives, all of our kids took "baths" on a giant yellow sponge placed on top of our guest room bed...which was layered with a stack of towels...on top of the down comforter...on top of plush carpeting. It just seemed safer. As you can see, the experience was a big hit all around.

But soon, they grew to love the bath, and I grew to let my husband handle it. I realized early on that after a long day of work/home/family activity, I was better suited to washing inanimate objects like the dishes. It was my time to zone out, collect my thoughts, and enjoy that rare commodity known as silence. Meanwhile, my husband for the most part genuinely enjoyed the Category 3 hurricane that blew through our bathroom on a semi-nightly basis in a way that I never least not without an awful lot of Xanax.

So given the scientific reasons for skipping baths, and the inherent dangers and difficulties of bathing children, you might find it odd that I would advocate for MORE of it, but I'm fully in favor of frequent baths for kids, particularly in the summer months.

There's something primordial and borderline magical that happens to children when they are bathed. It has less to do with removing layers of accumulated dirt and much more to do with shedding the grungier parts of the day...and of oneself. I'm guessing that's one of reasons Jesus didn't give his followers a pat down with a damp towel and a sprinkling of talcum powder. Heck, even the prison ladies of Orange Is The New Black understood the transformational, freeing power of a good soak. (Spoiler alert) When they had a shot at freedom, they didn't run for the hills- they took a dunk in the lake.

Our house is certainly not a correctional facility, but with 3 kids and a work-from-home mom all under one roof, summer is a time when emotions seem to run high: both the good and the bad. So I wait for that moment all day, when they emerge from whatever purification ritual takes place in the upstairs bathroom.

I'm not sure how it happens, but I can testify to the fact that most nights three grumpy, tired children ascend the staircase, only to reappear 30 minutes later in a miraculously kinder, gentler state. Baptized in bubbles, anointed in lotion, and clothed new in pajamas, they have somehow managed to wash the weight of the day right down the drain, their memories rinsed as clean as their fingernails. "No more tears" seems like an actual possibility- for all of us.

In the children's book Stellaluna, a newborn baby bat is attacked by an owl and knocked out of her mother's loving embrace. Stellaluna survives but ends up living in a bird's nest, until she is finally reunited with a group of bats. As she recounts the story of her escape from the owl, another bat overhears and rushes over to sniff her fur. One whiff, and she knows- THAT is her baby: her Stellaluna.

Every mother can relate to that story, as we all remember the first time the baby was placed in our arms, and we leaned down to inhale that sweet, intoxicating, unique smell radiating off the top of his or her head. I'm convinced that spot is reactivated by water, because no matter how big my kids get, when they are freshly bathed, one whiff of their heads and I am transported back 8 years, 6 years, 4 years...or perhaps a million years in this ritual that predates all of us.

The evening bath reminds us that every day offers the opportunity to renew the promises we made as we first held those precious babies: to love them unconditionally, protect them from all attacks, and shield them from the mess of life. On some level, in bathing them, we too, are washed clean.

I know that our days of evening bathing are coming to an end. My oldest son now has more hair products than the rest of us combined, and has partially transitioned to morning showers so that he is groomed for the day ahead. My little girl is beginning to understand the concept of bathroom privacy (though not as it relates to her mother and the toilet), and their little brother bathes himself in whatever his siblings are doing. It won't be long before bathroom doors are slammed and pounded and whatever else teenagers use in lieu of actual communication.

So while it's tempting to consider some bubbles and a squirt gun a decent summer substitute for a shampoo and rinse in the tub, I'm going to hold onto these summer baths as long and as often as I can.

Because while THEY might not need them, I certainly do.

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