We are coming to the end of an era.
For as long as there has been DorkySon, there has been family bath time. It is the most set-in-stone part of our routine.
Regardless of what has happened during the day, we always take a bath before bed. No matter what country we’re in, whose house we’re staying at or how long a flight we’ve just stepped off; it is the family ritual that grounds us. Whatever time zone our brains believe themselves to be in, the sound of a bath filling up means that bedtime is not far away.
DorkyDad does most of the baths with DorkySon. By ‘most’ I mean all. And by ‘does’ I mean he’s right in there, in the water. For a few weeks, we tried to do baby baths the traditional way. We held our wailing newborn boy in a wee plastic tub, three inches of tepid water in the bottom. We sponged and we soaped, we sang soothing lullabies, but DorkySon was having none of it. He knew he was missing out on something better.
And so they moved to the big bath, and they both got in. Warmer water, fluffier bubbles, shiny taps and plugs to play with. DorkySon was still small enough to curl in the curve of his Dad’s elbow, and he lay there, content in that safe little space. Boy time was born, and it quickly became sacred.
Boy time – or bath time – has always been a chance to examine freckles and lengthening limbs, the progress of scratches and dry skin patches. It has allowed a sneaky peek behind the ears, to see if we’ve succumbed to the latest round of nursery nits. Do nails need clipping, or fringes snipping? Bathtime will always tell.
But it has also been a time of reflection. A place for the two DorkyBoys to compare notes and chat about the day’s events. A time for DorkySon to ask the questions that have been keeping him awake at night. Who invented mountains? What’s the oldest age a person can live to be? How many airlines own A380s? How come the angles of a triangle are so pretty and perfect? He and his Dad lie there every night and chat, letting their muscles soak and their worries wash away.
My role has evolved over time. In the earliest days, I would sit on the floor, handing over shampoo or sponges as required. Then for a spell, when I had DorkySon at home by myself full time, I took those ten blissful minutes to sit somewhere else in silence. These days I’m called through to adjudicate in the occasional argument, or to examine a new bruise… but mostly I just hover nearby, looking out clean pyjamas, straightening sheets. I stand ready with a warm towel when it’s needed.
When DorkyDad is away travelling – as he is tonight – I take over bath time duties, and it always surprises me how much has changed. It’s a squeeze now. DorkySon is no longer a soft, round thing. He has pokey knees and sharp elbows. He fidgets, and squirms, and likes to stretch out – his long lion’s mane floating around his face. Somehow we always find a way to make it work.
But there are changes coming now, they are blowing in on the spring breeze. Just in the last few weeks, he has started to ask for time to himself before getting out. He would like a little privacy, please.
I am delighted.
Sometimes he likes to spend that time putting on a show. He sings the songs he has learned at kinder, like Pearly Shells (Aloha!), or Crabs and Seashells. He sings the ones he has heard in the house, like Yellow Submarine, and Octopus’s Garden. The current favourite is Singing in the Rain (“You won’t have heard this one before, Mummy…”). He does all the actions, with gusto.
Sometimes he will don his blue and green goggles, and make me count how long he can hold his breath for underwater. He will show me that he can float on his back, and will happily flood the bathroom, demonstrating how well he can kick.
Other times he likes to be alone, without even a plastic penguin for company. He conducts experiments with empty bottles. He sees what happens when you mix shampoo and conditioner and toothpaste and moisturiser. No wonder that the latest bedtime reading pick is George’s Marvellous Medicine. He turns a Tupperware tub into a submarine. He learns about floating and sinking, about bubbles and waves and volume, about the different noises water can make.
Like so many things – like sleep and socialising and pulling on socks – bath time is starting to become a more solitary activity. A little bit of all of us, and a little bit of just him. DorkySon is telling us in his own quiet way that for now he’s happy to share, but one day he wants to do the whole thing himself.
That is fine. DorkyDad will find some other place for chat. And I’ll be right outside the door, warm towel waiting