Friday, August 8, 2008

Bathtime

When the baby was very new, I didn’t bathe him very often. We didn’t let them bathe him at the hospital, and he was at least a week old when he got his first bath at home, and for the first month or so, once a week was as good as it got. After awhile, though, I started to feel guilty about it, and he started to sort of stink of the warm baby-sweat/sour-milk cocktail that marks out our side of the bed, so I tried to get him in the bath every other day. When I say “bath,” I mean “sink” – I never got around to buying a baby tub, and someone gave me one of those big bath sponges as a baby shower gift, so I would just stick the sponge in the sink and stick the baby on the sponge. I actually really liked using the sink as a bath – it felt thrifty and minimalist and old-fashioned all at once, and it also helped to keep the sink clean. Before each bath, I would sprinkle the sink with baking soda and scrub it down with half a lemon; sometimes the baby waited patiently on the floor or in his chair, sometimes I had him in the sling or wrap, and sometimes I just held him and scrubbed one-handed. My mother calls this baka-chikara – stupid strength. It’s the kind of illogical strength that you muster out of sheer will-power to accomplish things that would seem absolutely ludicrous to an onlooker. Like scrubbing the sink one-handed while holding your baby. Or like setting off by yourself to get on Amtrak with your baby in a front carrier, your laptop and books in a backpack, and a full-sized suitcase that contains not only clothing and baby supplies but also a Cuisinart and an immersion blender, because they don’t have those things where you’re going. Baka-chikara.

Anyway, when the baby was really tiny, he would just lie in the sink and blink in a startled sort of way, and sometimes lick at the water around his mouth. Then, when he got a little older, he would clutch a little plastic stacking cup to his chest and occasionally gnaw on it. After awhile, he got to giggling sometimes when we used the spray attachment, and he would put his hands up to feel the spray. As bathtime got to be fun, it started to happen every day – and now, sometimes, on slow days, twice a day.

Suddenly, though, about two weeks ago, he exploded in growth and motion, and the sink days were over. Now the baby goes in the grownup tub. In the tub, the baby is transported with wonder. He turns over and around from front to back and side to side again and again. He splashes his arms up and down and he chases his stacking cups through the water. He listens to the water run and tries for minutes on end to grasp the trickle from the faucet, his hand passing through it every time. He talks, “Blum blum blum blum blum!” Each time our eyes meet, he breaks into a big, heartbreaking grin and laughs, “Eh-HA!” When I finally take him out of the tub, worried that he will prune, I wrap the towel around his wriggling body and he throws his arms around my neck, “Eh-HA!”

The biggest drawback of these new tub-bath days is that the tub – along with all of the other bathroom surfaces that the baby insists upon patting and licking – is much more work to clean than the kitchen sink is. By some strange alchemy, New York City tubs always look grungy, mysterious dust and grot layers itself onto the toilet bowl and sink minutes after they are wiped down, the inside rim of the toilet seat accumulates odd gray mildew at astonishing speed, and my pretty, bourgie, white Anthropologie bathmat is usually grayish-taupe and matted, like a stray cat. However, now that the baby bathes, it can’t be helped – I must daily summon my baka-chikara and devote myself to vacuuming, spraying, wiping, and scrubbing our (thankfully tiny) bathroom, all while using half of my mental and physical energy to keep the baby focused on his toys rather than the toilet bowl and remembering to avoid stepping on him or spraying him with vinegar, Dr. Bronner’s, or tea tree oil.

It’s hard, sometimes, to hold onto perspective. Grime in the tub or a dingy shower curtain or gross tissue sticking out of the trash can feel like a major tragedy; cleaning it up can feel like nothing short of mucking out the Augean stables; the idea of getting the kid in the bath and then out again can feel more daunting than a ten-mile run (or, for me, any run whatsoever). But really, these are merely little stepping stones of daily life that I will be traversing, predictably, again and again and again in my life as a mother, and I gain nothing from resenting or resisting. My baby is wondrous and joyous and beautiful, and it is a wondrous and joyous and beautiful thing to see him in the grownup tub, enraptured by the magic of water, ecstatic to be sharing his rapture with his mama. To squander these moments being exhausted or resentful is foolish, because one day, they will never come again.

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