I believe my children subscribe to the medieval idea that a good solid layer of filth protects from illness and evil spirits. I agree to some extent, as my kids are remarkedly healthy. Based on some of the behavior I’ve witnessed, however, the protection from evil spirits is up for debate.
On her birthday, my six-year-old said, “Mom, since it’s a special occasion, I deserve a treat. May I take the day off from washing my hands.” In one way, I was pleased that she could be satisfied with such a small indulgence. In another, I thought, “Gee, no wonder I can’t get my kids to do chores if they view the mere act of washing hands as oppressive.
An individual’s bathing rituals follow an arc, as far as I can tell. I’m surprised an educational psychologist or behavior specialist hasn’t created a Theory of Universal Bathing Stages or TUBS. Maybe I’ll be the first, and this theoretical continuum will finally bring me fame and fortune.
First on the continuum is the stage called “Aquatic Docility.” During this peaceful, but depressingly short-lived level, an infant submits quietly, as an enamored parent lovingly washes each tiny finger and toe with expensive organic baby soap. About the only possible disruption to this idyllic stage is an anomaly known as “Untimely Urination,” which, depending on the sex of the child, may or may not cause trauma (for the parent, that is).
The child then transitions to the “LiquidChaos Stage.” Throughout this much longer period, the child exhibits a wide variety of behaviors, ranging from dumping all of the expensive organic baby soap down the drain to experimenting with the effects of gravity on water by pouring plastic cups-full out of the tub repeatedly. Apparently, children need multiple trials with such experiments, and if siblings are present, all research is peer-reviewed. A hallmark behavior of this level of TUBS is running naked through the house, laughing maniacally. “Untimely Urination” may still present.
At some point during the final months of the “Liquid Chaos Stage” the individual transitions from enjoyment of bathing to ambivalence marked by a general aversion to getting into the tub, followed by a general aversion to getting out of the tub. This is known as the “Ambiva-bath Stage.”
Once the middle elementary years approach, “Antibathy” takes over, as the earlier ambivalence falls away to revulsion toward even the most basic hygienic tasks. Two of my three children are currently in this stage, despite a separation in age of six years.
The longest stage in TUBS is the “Hygiene Efficiency Stage.” Throughout the late teen years and much of adulthood, individuals exhibit task-oriented washing behavior. Like many once interesting activities, bathing becomes a mundane chore, though not so much so that most adults regard going without taking a bath as a “treat” for special occasions.
I believe Joel and I are on the cusp of the final stage, “Submergence,” which involves a combination of activities from all of the other stages. Though rarely allowed to regress all the way back to “Aquatic Docility,” I do enjoy a good one-minute-long steaming hot bubble bath from time to time.
Joel exhibited clear traits from the “Liquid Chaos” stage the other day when he tried to get out of the shower, tripped, and pulled the plumbing out of the wall as he went down. He even ran - nearly naked - all the way to the basement to shut of the water supply (the shower curtain was still clinging to his left leg as he ran).
Surprisingly, “Antibathy” reappears during this latter stage. We’ve both been known to fall into bed, muttering something about, “too tired . . . shower . . . later . . . sorry . . .” And certainly, I’ve exhibited “Ambiva-bath Stage” characteristics, but most of the time, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to get out, but that I couldn’t.
It’s crystal clear; I’m onto something, though I’m not sure what purpose this new theory might serve. Listeners can comment on social media at facebook.com/littlespouseontheprairie or on Twitter at SpouseOnThePrairie@ValerieKuchera. Have a squeaky clean week!