Friday, March 10, 2006

The Little Mermaid

When Finn was a baby and I was still getting used to the almost incomprehensible difference between childless life and life as a parent, I would regularly compare notes with friends who were going through the same process. This was how I learned that many of us were having similar experiences--that they, too, also missed adult conversation, having the time to read magazines and books, and wearing clothes that stayed clean throughout the day; that I wasn't the only one to rely on coffee and chocolate as a daily crutch; that sleep deprivation affected almost every aspect of our lives and could be so impairing as to compromise our ability to drive, let alone care for another human; and that we all cherished those rare, quiet moments when baby would nuzzle into our shoulder and let us rock him/her to sleep.

I was always so grateful for these regular maternal noteswapping sessions because they showed me that, although parenting brings many of the same challenges and rewards for moms and dads, every kid is vastly different. Comparing children is inherently problematic, as it repeatedly boils down to the old apples-to-oranges paradigm. Some of the things that were hard for Finn, for example (sleeping through the night and coming out of his shell in social situations), were much easier for other kids. Other things (learning to speak and communicate his needs) were easier for him, while other kids struggled in speechless frustration.

Certain things, though, like bath time, I simply took for granted as being neutral: not hard, not easy, just there. Finn never really complained at bath time, nor did he ever really seem to relish it. It was more of a mechanical stop on the route between dinnertime and bedtime, one that didn't usually elicit very much of a response. Rarely a fight, but rarely a party. I was sometimes even a little disappointed that Finn didn't act like one of those babies on the Johnson & Johnson commercials who, while being bathed in a sink full of bubbles, splashed and squealed and smiled as every pore filled with sheer, slippery joy. He acted more like he was in a jacuzzi and it was time to unwind after a long day of negotiating plea bargains. Maybe he'd push a toy boat around the tub or chew on a plastic lobster, but if there were no toys there were no complaints.

It wasn't until I heard from a couple of friends how vehemently their kids hated their daily baths--some with such intensity that their screaming and often violent protests suggested they were being rinsed with molten lava instead of warm bathwater--that I realized that I had dodged the bath bullet. But now that I have a second child--a very different child from the first, mind you--I'm reminded about the old comparison trap as I've discovered that the bath-hater bullet comes in an inverse--and, I'd argue, as challenging--form: the zealous bath lover.

(If you're reading this at home and are about to run a bath, by the way, I feel compelled to warn you to first make sure the bathroom door is fully closed before you read any further because the second the water hits the bottom of the empty tub, suggesting with its splash that it's about to fill it up, baby Shea will come crawling towards it at full speed from whatever crib, car seat or high chair she may be sleeping or sitting in.)

The girl's just loca-crazy-nutsy for baths.

And it's not a girly, Esther Williams/Doris Day bath love, either--nothing like the Go Go's Beauty and the Beat album cover; she's not luxuriating in a pampering pool of Calgon bubbles. The girl's there to throw down; to splash and squeal; to hurl herself at toys at the other end of the tub that must be played with immediately; to stand up and sit back down 23 times each minute; to dunk her face, accidentally, while reaching for toys, choke on the water intake, cough it off, and then do it again a minute later; and to scream, writhe, arch and howl in protest when we inevitably have to take her out of the tub. (By which time, of course, whoever's bathing her is drenched from head to toe and exhausted from trying to keep her from inadvertently knocking herself unconscious from her indefatigable bathtime play.)

The flip side of this, of course, means that she barely notices when I pour ENTIRE VATS of water over her head to rinse the shampoo from her hair. I babysat on a pretty regular basis during my adolescence and have given plenty of children baths in my lifetime, but I've never seen so much of a waterbug at such an early age. She loves it so much so that, even if she's had a bath in the morning and I'm getting ready to give Finn his evening bath, she'll hurl charges of favoritism at me and try to crawl her way into the tub with her brother to even the apparently unjust score.

Usually, I indulge her. But lately bathing both kids at the same time has been like wrestling a pig in a mudbath while giving a lecture on phonics. (Finn, as you might be able to detect in these photos, adores his foam alphabet and spells his favorite names and words with them on the tile wall during his baths these days. Sometimes, we'll spell slang words or even turn the "Z" on its side to pretend it's a second "N" so he can spell his name. Yeah, that's about how crazy he gets in the bath.)

And so it goes: At least in the bathtub, my little apple and my little orange couldn't be more different.


Anonymous said...

What a fun post, K. Clearly the sleep deprivation and caffeine poisoning have done little to dull your writing flair :-)The theme reminds me of Step into Liquid, which I finally saw this weekend. Looks like you've got a surfer chick on your hands - look out Rochelle Ballard...?
M. in Ottawa, where Spring is indeed fixin' to assess its options for a potential return.

christine said...

I love her butt, it's like a little old lady's!

Anonymous said...

TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES here we come. Karin, you and I can have margaritas and watch from the shore.

What a great post!... again.