Tony Woodlief | Author

The Bath

So we decided last night to bathe the two urchins at the same time. Caleb, who will soon be three, sometimes gets a bath based not on his grubbiness, but on our need for some short-term containment.


“I tackled you on your stomach, daddy!”

“Actually it was a little lower, son.”

“Let’s tackle again!”

“Time for a bath!”

Caleb likes bubbles in his bath, and assorted plastic boats and creatures (and really, who doesn’t?). The bath is a ritual. First, I get the temperature right (Caleb prefers that I do this, as his mother — being a woman — is under the impression that all baths with a temperature less than 400 degrees are “just a bit chilly”). While I do this, Caleb struggles to undress himself, which frequently involves panicked yelping once he gets his shirt stuck halfway over his head, or a Homer Simpsonesque “Doh!” when he bends over while pulling off his pants and whacks his forehead on the side of the tub.

The amount of bubbles is very important, and he always watches closely as I squeeze the purple plastic bottle of bubble juice at the tumbling stream of water.

“It needs more bubbles.”

“Just give it a minute.”

“It needs more. More daddy. More bubbles.”

“Fine. More bubblas.” (Caleb used to call them “bubblas.” In some homes children learn from their parents to mispronounce words. In our home the parents learn it from their children.)

“Buuubbblles.” Hurried scramble to strip off underwear and socks. Thump. “Doh!”

I used to pick him up and lower him into the tub, but now he likes to climb aboard himself. In the winter this is a delicate process, because the side of that tub is cold. Only a three-foot tall boy, you understand, can appreciate just how cold.

Last night we negotiated the ritual, and once Caleb was in the tub he happily chattered to his plastic teapot as he repeatedly filled it with water and emptied it. This, of course, led him to announce that he needed to tinkle, so I had to lift him, dripping warm bubbles, from the tub and place him on his potty for some quick relief. I returned him to the tub.

Then I had my brainstorm. Eli, you see, was still smelling like the Indian food we’d had the night before. The boy eats anything, even though he’s only a year old. Wednesday night it had been spinach babagasomethingorother, and, frankly, the boy was beginning to smell like something you find hanging at a Bangladeshi meat market. “Hey,” I said to the wife, “let’s put Eli in the tub with Caleb.”

She warily agreed, and so I brought Eli to the bathroom entrance and begin to peel off his layers of clothes. He quickly discerned what was in store, which made my job much harder, because he began to wiggle and strain to get to the bathtub. (Apparently the boy’s smell had begun to offend even him.) The undressing became a moveable affair, as I alternately pinned him down and used his determined forward motion to assist in the clothes-peeling process.

He finally made it to the side of the tub, buck-naked, and squealed at his brother in triumph. Caleb was only too happy to share his big warm bubbly tub, and so I deposited Eli next to his big brother.

Eli likes to express his love for water by splashing it. Slap slap slap. Splash splash splash. He is undeterred by the fact that he is inevitably the greatest victim of this mayhem. Caleb joined in, but Caleb has water-in-the-eyes issues, so he held a washcloth in one hand, to dab at his eyes, while he splashed along with the other.

I had to restore order, as my socks were quickly becoming like two sponges left in the bottom of the sink. Eli decided to be an otter, slipping back and forth on his smooth narrow behind, nearly dunking himself several times. The wife watched as I managed all this, alternately laughing and exclaiming, “Oh, honey, don’t let him go under!”

Apparently, babies do better above water. This, men, is why we need wives, to remind us not to drown the baby, or to let him stick his brother’s fork in his eye, or to put hard liquor in his juice cup.

Eli was determined, however, to get a closer look at a toy underneath the water, and so he leaned forward and stuck his face beneath the surface. This did not last long, because my son is no idiot. He came up sputtering, and then gave me a big, bubbly-faced grin. One day, son, you’ll have a sweet wife to remind you not to do that. Until then, you have us.

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