Bathing 101: Explain, Rinse, Repeat

Quite some time ago when my husband had the clever idea of letting the kids bathe themselves, I thought it was one more task we could scratch off our parental chore list. It seemed easy enough. Our kids sat on the receiving end of countless scrubdowns in the tub and shower, and it seemed logical that they would know what to do with a bar of soap and a squirt of shampoo.

But when our daughter emerged from the shower with a half-dry head of hair or our son stood covered in bubbles waiting for a towel, it became increasingly clear that Bathing 101 was in order.

Some nights we had to remind them to wash specific parts and show them how. One kid would admit to not having washed his face in a week, promptly sending me in a flurry for a washcloth, soap, and warm water. “We’re washing it now.” For every shower since, I yell into the steam, “Did you wash your face?”

A small rubber duck bathing.

If a bubble touches you, you're clean, right? (Image via Wikipedia)

Each shower brought a new lesson that we hadn’t thought of. Sadly, it was evident that we had to spell it out for our kids in a way they would understand: “Wash your body from head to toe, with soap, between all your parts, every crack. Understand?”

I don’t think they got it. After my son’s shower one night, I sat down to trim the claws growing from his toes. He seemed set on using them to climb trees in the back yard. I feared he’d permanently snag them in his leather shoes. Overcome with harsh vinegary foot odor, tears filled my eyes and I gasped for bits of fresh air. “Did you wash your feet?” I asked between choking sobs.

“No,” he said. They smelled like he’d worn sneakers in the jungle for a year with no socks.

“They reek. You need to wash your feet. I can’t believe you just got out of the shower and they smell so bad,” I said through the hand covering my nose and mouth.

“I never do,” he admitted. “I just let the bubbles on the floor get my feet when I rinse.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake. “You need to rub soap all over them. Your armpits too. All the smelly areas. Your whole body!”

I can imagine his third-grade classroom and the odors of freshly bathed children wafting through the air. No wonder teachers sit near the windows.

Next I’ll discover my kids just run their toothbrushes under the water and don’t actually brush them.

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23 Comments

Filed under Everyday Life

23 responses to “Bathing 101: Explain, Rinse, Repeat

  1. K. Eley

    Sounds just like bath time at my house. I even have the same issue with one who insists she washes her feet. It is impossible for feet to smell that bad after a good washing. I wonder if this will last until the teen years when some boy or girl catches their eye.

  2. Oh Dear. I thought Logan was ready to be set free…I’m thinking twice about that now.

  3. I swear I just had this battle with my sons!!! It is amazing how they think that: 1. you won’t notice their hair is dry or wet only where the shower cannot miss
    2. that clean bodies smell different from dirty ones (scented soap my friends is evidence A)

    Don’t worry you are not the only mom who feels like if you do not give exact details it is not completed!

  4. Oh my! I am not brave enough to let my boys be responsible for their own bodily hygiene yet. I give them washcloths when they are in the bath and explain about washing all parts of their bodies and when I return the shower walls are covered with bubbles and they are happily scrubbing away at the tile walls. I let them clean themselves (if you can call it clean) and then I clean them again.
    Although I must admit with shame that am with your son on his theory of “if a bubble touches you then you are clean” on nights when I am very tired. On those nights I let the bubble bath do all the work while I drink a glass of wine…

    • I think if they are sitting in a tub of bubbles, it counts for something. But my kids shower and a bubble touching you does not make you clean. Odor is the evidence. Smelly feet got him caught. Yowza!

  5. Ha! Love this post… I’ve had my fair share of bath-time woes around here…and yes, I’ve caught them running the water and just wetting their toothbrush claiming the teeth were “brushed”. lol!

  6. As a guy, I can sympathize with your son on the foot washing. It’s possible to be that lazy and still get the job done. You just need to angle your feet the right way to catch the soap bubbles. I’m sure his father can demonstrate.

    • I think there needs to be soaking and splashing in those bubbles, something to absorb the offending odor. Whatever he’s doing is not cutting it. And from a mother’s perspective, it often takes just as much work to avoid a job than to just do it and get it over with. How much angling are we talking about?

  7. Mairi King

    This is fabulous! I thought I was the only one that had to direct them to wash, and where! My grade-1 boy hasn’t figured out just to wet his toothbrush so I think he brushed…yet. Might be a while until they care how they smell. Great story.

    • No, I’m learning that I’m not alone either. The more specific I am, the more I find out what they don’t wash. We’re getting there! Makes me wonder what they’ve been doing all this time.

  8. Really too funny! I have 5 kids and so far the 4oldest are getting the important parts. I still have to monitor what they are doing. They 3 girls were in together last night and the youngest decided the floor needed a bath as well. Phew! Lucky we caught it in time or my sewing table in the basement would have received an unnecessary shower too! ❤

    • It’s funny the difference in what parts we think are important and what they think is important. You can wash that elbow if you want, but it’s the least of my concerns right now.

  9. Hilarious! I went through similar conversations with Dimples. How did she not pick up on all of these things the first 7 years we bathed her?!!!!!

  10. Ooo…don’t know how I missed this post. So funny! Thank goodness for my Monday email delivery system. My kids always stink the next day, no matter how clean they really are after bath time. Oh well.

    No showers (conserves water if it’s an adult, wastes water if it’s a kid). They bathe in gender pairs, even though the boys are probably too old to (though I think they have fun doing it) and the girls make a huge mess and routinely empty the shampoo bottle into the tub (I have learned to ration what they get though).

    I’ve tweaked my version of “clean.” I’m happy if they just have a long enough soak with some soap in the tub that the dirt and stink magically melts off of them. I don’t pay too much attention to anything but faces and teeth these days. When booties start to itch, I always retort, “Then wash better.”

    I love the 15-20 minutes of quiet time I get (and them not destroying the rest of the house as I straighten up) to visit with my husband, sip my beer and not be hounded. I can always clean up the mess later.

  11. Interesting (to me) that your son’s feet smelled vinegary rather than, say, ammoniacal or of some amine. My mother’s feet used to smell like what I now think was lactic acid. Skin produces protective acids such as the anti-fungal undecylenic acid, which was for a long time the active ingredient of Desenex foot powder, and the odor of undecylenic acid is described in the Merck index as sweat-like. So Desenex probably made feet smell more footy. Most of these acids aren’t volatile, but they probably release lower molecular weight breakdown products that can be smelled.

    What brings me here with such an observ’n? Years ago I invented a non-irritating bath foam for a friend’s children, and since then I’ve kept up research on related topics, so a search brought me to your blog.

    Contra another commenter, I don’t think soaking in foamy bath water is any better than plain water at cleaning skin. Skin is harder to clean than hard surfaces like dishes that might be cleaned in a sink “bubble bath” of dilute soap or other detergent water. I found that even a washcloth in bubble bath water made with my mixture (unscented) wasn’t enough when my armpits were stinky. For that you need the more concentrated lather you’d make by putting such a product, or of course regular soap, directly on a wet washcloth or skin. However, soaking even in plain water does clean under fingernails effectively, because skin swells as it waterlogs, and pushes dirt out.

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