Tony Woodlief | Author


I’m the designated bather in our house. Sure, sometimes the wife has to bring it, but on a daily basis, I’m the go-to guy.

Okay, I lied a little. We don’t wash our kids every day. With the onslaught of summer this will have to change. These are some grubby, grimy little babies. I plopped Isaac in the tub last night and immediately had to call an emergency stop to the operation, because brown clouds were forming around his feet. Seems he had snuck outside after dinner without shoes. And then he peed, a fact that seemed to surprise him as he looked down at the gentle yellow fountain springing up from the water.

Empty the tub, scrub the feet, rinse the tub, start again.

The boy loves his baths. When I lead the children upstairs for their scrubbing I usually call it a “bathy-wathy,” as in: “Come on buddies, time for a bathy-wathy.”

Did I mention that I have guns and used to kickbox?

Never mind.

Bathy-wathy is what we call it. And yes, we have other cute names for things. The boys call their toes “tosers,” and their male parts are “weenie-wangers,” much to the chagrin of their mother. We’re not all about conquering and fighting and peeing on things, you know.

Anyway, Isaac can’t say “bathy-wathy.” He says “habby-bappy.” But he gets it all the same, because as soon as I say “bathy-wathy” he races to the bathroom, hooting and clapping, as if he is aware of just how bad he smells. In reality it’s not that at all; he’s just excited about the prospect of being buck-naked and slippery, and really, who among us isn’t?

The boy still hasn’t grasped the fact that he has to get all the way naked before he gets in the tub. I can’t really blame him; we all have to keep an eye on Eli to make sure he doesn’t get in with his socks on, whereas Caleb always forgets to pee first and remembers as soon as he sits down in the warm water.

So I have to strip the little monkey while he squirms to get into the tub. There’s often food tucked somewhere in the folds of his clothes — a bean, perhaps a grain of rice, one time a near-perfect potato chip (which was especially odd, because we didn’t have any potato chips in the house that day). I have to keep him from eating what we find. He is under the impression that man has a moral obligation to eat all food in sight, and that furthermore if it came from inside his onesie then by God it belongs to him.

The bathing is like an assembly line; grab one squirmy little boy, put him in front of me, douse him into relative submission, scrub his mop of hair, use that as the soap reservoir from which to scoop handfuls of suds for the rest of the body. The littlest thinks I am trying to tickle him, which means his neck and underarms are always dubiously clean at best. Then more dousing amidst protests: The water is in my eyes! The water is in my ears! Dad, you are drowning me! Ahhhhh!

This is followed by pleas that I let them play in the tub for awhile, said play consisting of sticking their faces in the same water they were quite sure was going to kill them seconds before. So I usually let them play in the grey pool for a bit, not because I’m especially nice or lenient, but because after washing three boys I need a rest.

Then there is the drying, and the unabashed streaking, and finally, a story, read with one in my lap and one on either side, all smelling sweet and decidedly un-boy-like, three wild little hearts beating through their chests against my tired flesh, which suddenly doesn’t seem so tired any more.

No matter how sad and small and stupid I feel from a day of doing nothing that seemed substantial, in that moment I think I’ve found something I was formed to be good at. All else falls away; there is only their breathing, and my words, and the knitting together of four hearts. I hope it will never be frayed to breaking by our mistakes and sins. I hope it will sustain us. I hope that one day each of them will finally realize, as they hold their own children and recall this moment, how much I have loved them.

On Key

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