It's mundane but priceless.
I hold bathtime in high esteem. Ideally, bathtime provides a reverie from the rest of the day, a time to wash off both the grime on the body and the ugly feelings of the moment. In my younger days, I emerged from the bathtub refreshed, cleaned inside and out.
This was, of course, before marriage and children. For a long time, I tried a shower, but when the little one kept "finding Mommy" and needing a new set of clothes, I switched back to baths. They take only slightly longer and require a change of clothes for me only. Alas, however, they no longer provide the spiritual renewal of my younger days. When Calgon takes us away, it should not permit stowaways.
My children, however, enjoy baths for other reasons. When we lived in Korea, a real bath was a communal event, and they trooped off to the public bathroom with all of the males in our extended family. And they came back after swimming (and sometimes washing) and filling their bellies with cup ramen and banana milk.
For them, bathtime is about bonding. Now, it begins as they race, both to get to the bathroom first and to get their clothes off. The trail leads from the socks in the living room, across the shirts strewn over the couch, up the steps and over the jeans, and past the underpants on the bathroom floor. Two giggling boys straddle the sides of the tub.
"Don't fall into the lava," says one, nudging the other, who sways precariously.
"No!" giggles the other, poking back. "Don't YOU fall!"
The water fills up, and as soon as the toys spill in, so do the boys. They play. They share, kind of. They learn to mediate their problems so that Mommy does not remove them from the tub before they are "shiny enough."
While they are busy playing, Mommy confiscates whatever troublesome toys have been left about the house and retrieves their pajamas. She listens at the door. She tries to ignore such beauties as "That was COOL! Splash the door AGAIN, BJ!", "No, no! Kangaroo Commando can swing from the silver thing like this! (thud)", and "I have a 'dea (idea). A standing up kicking 'dea!"
When I return, they are overflowing with information. I am their captive as they tell me their stories. Perched on the edge of the toilet lid, mopping up the water with my foot, I listen for perhaps one of the few times of the day.
Minutes later, they are are ready to wash, and we begin negotiations over their shampoo, whether they will wet their hair with a bowl sitting up or laying down in the water, which washcloth they will use for their eyes, etc. It is a time of giggling, splashing, giving. When the last soap bubble has been rinsed from their hair, they are ready to lather their little bodies.
Out come the bath puffs and the "namja" (boy) soap (Old Spice fagranced body wash). They giggle. They scrub one another's backs. They splash. They tag each other with soap bubbles. They call out the body parts that they shouldn't forget in English and Korean ("Front butt!" "Back butt!" "Arm pits!" "Knee pits?"). And then it is time to rinse and let the water out. Draining the tub is occasionally accompanied by tears from the little one, who may claim that he is a frog and lives in the water or that his vampire parents never make him come out this soon. The big one, however, is busy learning "real science."
"The water goes down because of gravity, Mom. That's right? If the hole were up higher, the water wouldn't go out. I can slow it down with the washcloth, that's right? But it won't stop the water because it has little holes, that's right? When I put the bowl over the hole, it makes a not-loud, not-cleaning vacuum, that's right? I cracked this bowl because the vacuum was too strong, right, Mom? I have to use a stronger bowl if I want the water stay in, that's right?"
He told me the other day that he needed to take a bath so that they could be "two good scientists."
When they finally emerge from the tub, they are Batmen, draped in towels and fighting evil from atop the toilet lid. I wrestle BJ to get his moisturizer on while AJ smears so much on his belly that it becomes like a clown face and he can scribble his name in it with his finger nail. Occasionally BJ corrects his letters.
Warm and dressed, they brush their teeth while I dry their hair. Then it's downstairs to give Daddy a kiss and blind him with their shiny teeth before bounding back to bed.
Bedtime is another story.
Perhaps it happens in thousands of households with thousands of variations, but it only lasts a short time, a few short years over a life span.
Mundane, but priceless.