What’s unusual about this ritual isn’t that we concoct adventures of four superhero robots and their fearless preschool leader (Benjamin himself), but that each tale is told while Benjamin sits on the potty.
Before you all get grossed out about the venue, let me posit this question: Besides the kitchen, where do you spend a lot of undistracted face-time with your kids? Four out of five of you will say the bathroom. The fifth parent is lying.
When my first son entered the world, I felt out-of-the-loop in the feeding department (my wife breastfed). So I claimed bath-giving as my exclusive duty. For the first washup, I prepped like a surgeon with the sponge mat, a bowl of tepid water and hospital-issue soap. Then, I almost relieved myself of all fatherly privileges when I let Benjamin roll off the counter before catching him between my knees and the sink cabinet.
It wasn’t the last time someone cried in the bathroom. (Do our children care how much knee and back pain is caused by leaning over the tub?) But, for the most part, the tile-and-porcelain environment has become a refuge from the stress of the day and an oasis of parenting rituals.
Good, Clean Fun
When Benjamin graduated from the sink to the baby-tub, I made a habit of singing the themes from Bonanza and The Odd Couple, and more Raffi than this U2 and Miles Davis fan ever imagined. The songs got monotonous after a while, but they became a soundtrack for Benjamin once he learned to splash water by kicking his legs and flailing his arms like a Russian folk dancer. Of course, I didn’t mind getting drenched. A water-mark was just one of the many badges of parenting honor, along with spit-up and strained-carrot handprints.
As Benjamin grew, I engineered new ways to connect. On nights when Benjamin screamed bloody murder about getting into the tub, there was just one way to inspire his compliance – hauling my fat tush into the suds with him. He always thought this was funny, but not nearly as hysterical as letting him pour water on my head (so he’d later let me wash his hair) or teaching him how to make bubbles in the water (no, not those kind of bubbles!).
My 22-month-old, Jacob, loves the rituals of the bath so much that he’s been known to jump into the water with his clothes still on. But when it comes to pouring water, he has a habit of dumping it outside the tub, rather than on me. True to his mischievous nature, he laughs harder with each “no!” until I distract him with the Noah’s Ark Tuppertoy or a ridiculous round of Tub Tea.
Tub Tea started with Benjamin in one of my fits of utter immaturity. I noticed him (circa age 2) chugging the bathwater with the hair-washing bowl. Wincing at the thought of all those “no more tears” chemicals pouring into his body, I came up with an alternative – spitting. Actually, it was more refined than that as I faked a British accent and requested a cup of Tub Tea. Benjamin would scoop soapy water into the bowl and I would take a gulp, then spit it out with the exclamation, “Yucky, yucky, Tub Tea!” Benjamin would go ape with laughter and I, after countless high tub teas, weaned him off the bathwater. We stopped doing it a year ago, but now Jacob takes part in the show .
Memories in the Making
Having so much benign mayhem in the bath leads to that ironic question: Why do kids who hate getting in the tub give us such a hard time pulling them out? When Benjamin’s watery inertia became an issue, I reached beyond all humility to create (cue “Mighty Mouse” music) Towel Man! We had this hooded towel that, once on my head, transformed me into an out-of-shape terry-cloth superhero who lifted Benjamin from the bath and ran around the house, bouncing into walls, looking for pajamas and a big-boy bed. Benjamin laughed hardest when I would feign injury and fall on my back. Why do our children think it’s funny when they think we’re in horrible pain? Whatever the reason, it effectively transitioned him – and now Jacob – to bed.
But of all the bathroom rituals I enjoy, telling “Black Robot” stories might just top the list. The tales always center on Benjamin and guest-star his best friends of the moment. I try to make them interactive, allowing him to choose the kind of monster who carries off the robots’ house or the wizard who makes all the neighborhood dogs meow and cats bark.
Often, I’m a little too wiped at the end of the day to be creative, but the rewards of spinning a yarn for him are enough to knit a blanket for
While you still might judge the bathroom’s family benefits as all wet, this is one father who’s using it to make memories that are warm and dry.