When our children were very young, my husband
bathed them every night in a pint-sized assembly line, one or two
at a time. He strummed his guitar and sang lullabies, folk songs,
goofy Woody Guthrie and Jerry Garcia tunes.
Now our children bathe independently. If they have had the
grimy, backyard kind of day they love we have to empty the tub and
start over with fresh water three times. The days we consider our
best end with clean, sleeping kids and dirty footprints in the
There usually is a ring of grime at the water's edge.
Foliage floats to the bottom sometimes; remnants of slide-tackles,
stolen bases, hide-and-go-seek and mud puddles. The residue in the
tub reminds us that the kids played outside, unsupervised games
that did not involve electronics or the Internet.
One of the trendiest words for parents is "grit." For
bathroom parents like us, it's a mighty useful word. Children
acquire grit in wide-open fields, campgrounds, neighborhoods and
baseball diamonds. They also can find it in those rare families and
classrooms where there still are expectations, chores, limits and a
The term is new, but the quality of character it hints at
is not. Grit is commonsensical, a trait generally admired, one so
essential it's hard to imagine success of any kind without it. So
much of modern parenting involves meticulously protecting children
from discomfort and unhappiness, grit seems like a new discovery.
It's not. Frustration and failure always have been a part of the
human experience. Stamina always has been essential.
The problem for bathtub parents is that we find ourselves
distracted by a niggling sense that our children are falling
behind. Though we decided not to enter the Rug Rat Race, we end up
hurrying to keep up with parents who are aiming for a different
goal. Thinking of grit gets us back on track.
These days my husband and I are trying harder to be the
type of parents we admire. We suffer through the consequences of
our children's bad plays, bad decisions, missed shots and mistakes,
but we try not to interfere in the ordinary course of discomfort.
Some days we forget, some days we wimp out, but we stay the
Most parents didn't set out to act like helicopters or
tigers or marshmallows. Parents dedicated and thoughtful enough to
read and reflect on their interactions with their children do not
need another reminder that we are screwing things up. We appreciate
an earthy word like grit to give us traction and renew our
When our children enter the tub looking, in their proud
grandma's words, "filthy dirty!" we consider it a good sign.
We did the best we could that day, hoping that our backyard brew of
dirt, skinned knees and elbow grease produces the grit they will
need as they move on to broader fields and tubs of their
Jennifer Rogers is a Northbrook mom.
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