Thursday, 10 May 2012

Bathtimes of Despair

All the books and articles you read about parenthood tell you that you should treasure every moment because it will pass so quickly. Or they describe with glum pleasure the horrors of sleep deprivation and having no social life. Neither of these views is realistic of course. Most people find it to be a generally agreeable experience with interludes of hilarious delight or utter despair.

Me, I'm prone to despair. I have a depressive streak running through me like the writing in a stick of rock. If you snapped me in half - something, on occasions, I might beg you to do - it would read, "kill me quick." I try, however, be a good, funny, attentive and kind Dad but on occasions my alter ego - a character I like to refer to as Flashpoint Charlie emerges, raging. Bedtime is one of the occasions that he appears.

Tired children, at the end of a long day, just need to be fed, bathed and poured into bed. 


Well actually, no. For inexplicable reasons the feeding and bathing seems to revive them to a state so far past awake that you couldn't see awake if you looked at where it used to be through the Hubble space telescope. A state akin to passing a low electric current through a box of bees. It is when they are in this state - when, conversely, I am very tired and grumpy - that they like to hide. 

Let's get something straight: they're shit at hiding. Mostly they hide under the bed covers...or the bed itself and then giggle loudly and uncontrollably. As I write this it all sounds rather sweet and endearing. But it's not. all I want to do is to have calm children who will consent to have their teeth brushed and then settle down to have some stories read to them. What I get is a squirming, uncooperative mess of girl limbs that is incapable of doing what it's told. 

The blue touchpaper is lit for me by hearing them whisper, "Hide!" conspiratorially to each other. Sometimes they try to hide when they are in the bath. Mind you I once overheard them playing hide and seek together whilst in the bath so, for them, anything is possible. 

This is often the point at which Flashpoint Charlie emerges incoherent with exasperation. His hallmark parenting technique is a sort of passive/aggressive rage that teaches the kids nothing except that it's OK to shout and that their Dad's a prat. 

However, on most occasions I try to keep Charlie in check. I do this by a following a series of rituals that I have evolved over several years. 

The first is making them jump. 

By a happy accident our house is constructed in such a way that the bathroom comes off a small landing just at the top of the stairs. This gives it a higher ceiling than all the other upstairs rooms so that the cold water tank can be accommodated. It also means that you can climb the stairs without being seen and then, if you lie down on your stomach on the landing you can wriggle into the bathroom undetected by the person or persons in the bath. This enables you to either spring up like a jack-in-the-box or pretend to have climbed up as though the bath were perched atop a high pinnacle...and to fall down again.

Once in the bathroom we can engage in a game of "Buttons, Butterflies or Bees" in which I adopt the persona of a homely Lancastrian woman who is uncommonly interested in their preferences from the short and bizarre series of choices she offers them. "So, loveys, which do you like best: hay, straw...or fish? Hands, feet...or spam?"

Finally, it's time to get out of the bath. They hate this and will do almost anything to prolong bathtime. Even when the water has gone cold. For months this was a major flashpoint that would end in tantrums and hysterics on their part and shouting on mine. 

Once, with an utterly appalling lack of judgment and at a point of deep despair I said to them, "If you don't get out of the bath right now.....I'll die!" It felt to me as though it would be a blessed relief - at least I'd get to lie down somewhere quiet. To her great credit Lulu retorted, in a tone that was terrifyingly reminiscent of her mother, " Don't be ridiculous. You're not going to die if we don't get out of the bath!" I was forced to concede that it was ridiculous and, thankfully, normal service was restored.

Shortly after that I hit on a discovery. If I could get them to stand up I could simply lift them out of the bath, wrap them in their towels and no fuss would be made. I tried a variety of means to trick them onto their feet until I found one that worked. It required a bit of training and some occasional elaboration but it still serves nearly 18 months after I invented it. 

What I do is this. Whilst they are in the bath I usually sit on the toilet lid and chat to them. When I think they've been in for long enough, I spring to my feet and shout, " I AM SPARTACUS!" Whereupon they spring to their feet and shout, "NO! I'M SPARTACUS!" and I lift them out of the bath. 


Of course what wasn't simple was explaining slavery and the slave revolt to a four year old and a six year old. But that's for another time.


  1. Aha! For some reason I too have been explaining slavery to a 6yo this week...