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Lifestyles

January 7, 2012

Bathing children shouldn't have to be this hard

I just hurt my throat while yelling at my children.

As a general rule, I am not one who screams a lot, mostly because I find it counter-productive. I don't respond well to people shouting at me; in fact, it makes me want to do the exact opposite of what's being hollered in my direction just out of spite.

Via the transitive property, I assume that all other people respond the same way I do. Which is also why I never give anyone licorice during the holidays, because everyone finds it vile.

My dad is not a yeller, either. Yet, as a kid, it was always easy to know when he was displeased, mostly because he suddenly would pick his words very carefully and quietly. This was always four times more terrifying than being yelled at.

My mom, however, yelled to get her point across. Once I hit my double-digit years, I stopped responding, which only made the yelling louder. Or I think it did. I wasn't really paying attention.

Like with so many other behaviors my parents had, I get the yelling now.

Sometimes, you have to shout just to relieve the steam. Call this my parent-as-tea-kettle rule.

For me, the most trying time is during bath nights, which happens every-other-day in our house.

When the kids were still babies, it was a daily occurrence, not because they could get themselves especially dirty but because it broke up the monotony of the day. Plus, there is no better smell than the top of a freshly washed baby's head. Nothing.

But now that they are older and hygiene has become more of a chore, bathing happens less frequently.

Yes, my kids take baths, even though they are more than old enough to shower. It's complicated _ but the short version involves a Boy who showers in his swimming goggles and a Girl who will stay in there for hours if we don't shut off the hot water. Not that we would do such a thing.

They don't bathe together anymore, not because they have discovered what makes boys and girls different (that ship has already sailed) but because they are too big to fit in the tub simultaneously, which always leads to a fight over who has more room. And a fight over who deserves more room. And then a subsequent fight over breaking the agreed upon ratio of bath space to age and/or hair length.

Bathing solo doesn't end the arguing. It merely changes the focus.

The routine begins the same each time. I remind whichever child is in the tub to not get water on the floor. Five minutes later, when I come back in, the ceiling in dripping.

I then remind said child that "no water on the floor" is a general request for not getting water anywhere it doesn't belong, like the ceiling or the bathroom walls.

"But you said 'floor.'"

"I didn't think I had to specify all of the places tub water doesn't belong, which would be any part of the bathroom that isn't the tub," I say. "And, while I'm here, now would be a good time to wash your hair. The shampoo is behind you."

Five minutes later, I come back in. The tub is now full of bubbles.

"Shampoo isn't bubble bath," I say. "And why is your head still dry? And why is there water on the floor?"

It's about here that my voice starts to rise. It's also about here when my kids stop hearing much of anything I say. Yes, I am aware that the two states are related.

Five minutes later, whichever kid isn't currently in the tub is standing just beyond the reach of the one in the water and complaining about how long he or she has been waiting.

At which point I grab the first kid, wash his or her hair, monitor as he or she rubs soap on various parts and rinses off.

Then kid two gets in _ and we go through the exact same series one more time. Except, at the end, instead of one kid complaining about the wait, I come to the realization that the better part of my evening has been sucked up with policing baths. It's at that point that I start yelling in earnest, usually about how simple this whole thing is and how old the kids are and how they ought to be able to clean themselves and how frustrating it is to have to go through the same thing every single time.

It's like their bathing ritual isn't complete until I lose it _ and that they go out of their way to ensure that I do.

And, yes, the fault is mine. I am the one responsible for my response. But, seriously, how hard is it to keep the water in the tub? And how many times must you be reminded to wash your hair? And to use soap.

Seriously.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest." Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.

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