Do I Have To Take A Bath?

I gave M her very first bath. In the hospital. Before a group of new moms. The nurse was going to give us a lesson on bathing newborns. She needed two volunteers. Mother and baby. I volunteered myself and M. Because unlike the other new moms, I was going to be on my own when I got home. No mother or mother-in-law waiting to show me the ropes.

A table stood in the center of the room. On it was a baby bath tub. Half-filled with warm water. The lesson began. Pick up little naked M. Hold her over the tub with your left hand. Wash her head with your right hand. Use a tiny bit of soap. No water on her face. Use a washcloth on her body. Make sure you clean her bottom. Do not take too long. Dry her gently.

My hands were very stable. Looked like bathing newborns was my hobby. And M. She just looked straight into my face. Not a whimper. Looked like she had baths in the womb.

Taking a bath was a ritual for M and me. In the beginning, in the small apartment in Chiba, I would clear the diningtable to give M a bath. In a few months, she became too long for the table. I rented a bath chair, and gave M showers.

In Lagos, the showers continued. It was too hot for a Japanese bath. Besides, when the tub was filled with water, the water was always brown. It was easier on the mind to take showers.

New York City was great for baths. Manhattan apartments were well-heated, and we had long leisurely baths in the winter. M’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. Whitelaw, shared a little secret with her. Bubble baths. With scented candles. And chocolate truffles. We led such decadent lives. In the bathroom.

Back to Tokyo. Back to the real world. The very real world of government employee housing. A small apartment in a forty-year-old building. With concrete walls covered with thin wood panels that came off regularly. I simply glued them back on. But it was good to be back in Japan. To enjoy a Japanese bath. To be able to sit in a tub that had hot water coming up to your shoulders.

And M and I crowded into the tub in the winter, and just sat there talking. About feeding Patchy, the class pet, a guinea pig. She loved green lettuce. About the fuzzygrams. Those little cheery notes that Ms. Crane’s students sent to each other. About her Halloween costume. She was Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree.

We planned her Halloween costume in the bath. M in cardboard paper painted brown.

Carrying an umbrella covered with green crepe paper leaves that had small plastic apples hanging from the edges. And just to make sure everyone knew what she was, we made a sign that said, “The Giving Tree,” and stuck it to the trunk.

M’s costume was a hit, specially with the little kids. They kept trying to pick the apples.

I could not sew for the life of me. And mothers who cannot sew have to be creative, and learn to use a stapler as a sewing machine.

Bath time was fun time. Until that one very cold winter day.

M: Do I have to take a bath?

Mommy: Yes.

M: Everyday?

Mommy: Yes.

M: Why?

Mommy: Because you need to be clean.

M: But I am not dirty.

Mommy: You don’t want to smell.

M: I am not smelly.

M gives me a hug. And she is right. She is not smelly.

Mommy: Well, we talk when we take a bath.

M: We talk all the time.

And she is right again. We talk in the car, on the way to and from school. We talk when she has her snack after school. We talk during dinner. We talk before falling asleep. We talk all the time.

I decided to start asking the questions.

Mommy: Why don’t you want to take a bath?

M: Because I am not dirty.

Mommy: And?

M: Because I am not smelly.

Mommy: And?

M: Because I don’t want to stop playing pretend.

Mommy: But you can still play pretend after taking a bath.

M: But I want more time to play pretend.

It was getting late. The six o’clock news had started. The onions were waiting to be chopped…the carrots peeled…pork stew for dinner. I wanted to scream.

“Just get undressed!”

But with a calmness that I did not think I was capable of, I said,

“OK. You do not have to take a bath today.”


M went without a bath that night. But she did wash her face, and brush her teeth before bed. I sighed with relief. She was not a slob.

The next day.

Mommy: Time for bath, M.

M: I am not dirty.

Mommy: Really?

M: My hands are clean. See.

All I could see was the long struggle ahead of me.

Mommy: OK.

Two days without a bath. It is not going to kill her. I console myself.

The third day.

Mommy: M, sweetie, would you like to take a bath today?

M: No. I did not go out to play today. I am not dirty.

M was scratching her head.

Mommy: OK.

Three nights without a bath.

I was having great difficulty with my temper.

The fourth day. M was scratching her head. A lot. She was also itching. A lot.

Mommy: You have to stop scratching, M.

M: But I am itchy.

Mommy: I wonder why. There are no mosquitoes in the winter.

M wanted to play pretend, her favorite game, but she was too itchy.

M: Mommy, I am so itchy.

Mommy: Well, you have not taken a bath for three days. But I don’t think you’re dirty.

M: But my head is so itchy.

Mommy: Your hair has been unwashed for three days. But I don’t think you’re dirty.

M was a perceptive child. She knew exactly what I was doing.

M: I want to take a bath.

Mommy: But you’re not dirty.

M: I really want to take a bath.

Mommy: Are you sure?

M: Can I please take a bath?

Mommy: Well, if you so insist…

We still take baths together. And I thank my lucky stars that she never asked,

Do I have to brush my teeth?


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. haha
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 19:58:40

    How many days will you allow your child not to bathe?


  2. DN
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 03:47:47

    Hi, Thank you for letting me into your world with M. I cherished every word that you wrote. As a full time worker and a mother of 3 beautiful girls, I envy the opportunity you got growing up with M. Reading your experiences has only increased my overwhelming desire to stop work and spend more time with them. I know this is not possible if but you have inspired me to be more creative with my time with them.

    Thank you
    Mother to 3 girls aged 3.5, 6 & 10 years


    • haha
      Jan 14, 2011 @ 22:13:43

      Hi, DN.

      Thank you for reading my blog, and leaving a comment.

      I never imagined myself as a stay-at-home mom, and while I have absolutely no regrets in choosing to stay home, I strongly urge you to find a balance between being motherhood and working.

      Rejoining the work force is not easy, and I often feel like I am being punished for opting to stay home. Raising a wonderful child is not something I can put on my resume. : )

      Good Chinese Mother


    • Fiona
      Jan 20, 2011 @ 02:29:04

      Unfortunately I cannot make you feel any better about not being able to spend time with your kids for your own sake.

      But from the perspective of a girl brought up by two hard working full time parents I can say the time my parents did have with me were valued. I have always felt loved, wanted and cared for.

      My sister and I are now in our late 20’s, we’re smart, funny, educated women and we have a great relationship with our parents.

      Give them what you can and they’ll be fine.


  3. Gerald
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 06:51:48

    Teeheehee. I love your writing. You really make me look forward to having a daughter some day!


    • haha
      Jan 14, 2011 @ 22:18:27

      Hi, Gerald.

      I would have loved a son just as much, but I doubt a son would have agreed to be “The Giving Tree” for Halloween.


      Good Chinese Mother


  4. Bricia Bartlett
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 20:35:14

    I love reading this story, it reminded me of my first born’s inquisit and fearless little mind. These are 2 of the moments this memory of yours reminded me of.
    When I told my son to not touch something because “it can break” he wanted to know what “break” meant. So I gathered different things to experiment whether they break or not. Cheap fake porcelain figures, a wooden block, a lightbulb, a plastic toy, and a couple of other things that I can’t remember right now. Anyhow, we went out to the back patio and I let him throw each item on the ground. Whatever shattered, I would say: “that breaks, it’s made of glass…” or if it didn’t break, I would tell him what it was made of. He was so happy afterward and never asked me why he wasn’t allowed to touch something that “breaks” after that.
    He thought he was Invisible (he really meant Invincible) and when I told him not to touch a stove burner that was hot because it would burn him and hurt, he told me he wouldn’t hurt because he was invisible
    So I watched him as he looked at me with daring eyes and tried to touch it anyway. I told him that if he touched it, it would hurt really bad and he would probably cry. He touched it anyway. I let him. He inmediately withdrew his little finger and as tears started gushing, I said to him, “That’s what burning feel like sweetie” and I walked him over to the sink and let the running water cool his tiny burn skin. As I hugged him, he sobbed quietly and said, “ok”
    He listened to me the next time I told him not to touch something hot.
    Life lessons are sometimes fun, and many times they hurt. As long as we are there to support our little ones, they will know that they can count on us for support on whatever choices they make in life.


    • haha
      Jan 31, 2011 @ 21:20:00

      Dear Bricia,

      What a lovely, lovely way of teaching the meaning of “to break” something! Now, I am really glad I started this blog! Theg young moms who are reading this can learn from you.

      I am definitely going to use this “trick” on my grandchildren…

      In another ten years?



  5. pandamom
    Feb 07, 2011 @ 11:34:52

    I thought I’d read all of your essays, and then this one caught my eye. What parent hasn’t faced this situation? I enjoyed reading about how you handled it – stealth rather than confrontation has served me well on many occasions too. How lucky you and your daughter have been to share such wonderful moments.


    • haha
      Feb 08, 2011 @ 00:44:38

      Hello, pandamom.

      Looks like we have much in common. I do envy you for still having the kids at home. Nothing like using all our wits to “encourage” them.

      BTW, I read that Amy Chua is now in London promoting her book.



      • pandamom
        Feb 10, 2011 @ 00:15:24

        Hi there GCM

        My eldest is actually at his first choice of college now, having got there through his own determination and hard work. I must also give credit to excellent teachers, and a supportive network of family and friends who have been positive role models throughout his childhood. My role? Much like you, just being there to guide and encourage. One thing I do think is important – my children’s friends are made to feel welcome in our home, and enjoy being here – it avoids many arguments about not being home on time, or what they are doing with whom, especially once they hit the teenage years! Amy Chua has caused less of a stir in the UK, and my Chinese friends and I don’t take ‘tiger mom’ too seriously.

        We would much prefer to read more of YOUR writing.


      • haha
        Feb 10, 2011 @ 03:34:32


        M and her friends from fifth grade recently saw each other, and I was quite surprised to hear that all of them remembered me. They all agreed that I was most frightening, but somehow, they all wanted to be around me because I was the rare adult who took them very seriously.

        As an adult, it was really tough to discuss for hours on end which dresses they were going to wear to their first class party, but I treated the issue like a matter of national interest! After all, it was the most important thing in their lives then!

        It was fun though. And I miss those days.


  6. Sarah
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 22:58:26

    Dear GCM,
    I just found your site, and I am really enjoying your essays. When my son was born last year, I made the decision to stay at home with him, leaving a career that I had trained 12 years to achieve. Your writing both encourages me and affirms that decision, and I look forward to making memories like these with my own child. Thank you!


    • haha
      Feb 12, 2011 @ 17:33:56

      Dear Sarah,

      I do not regret being a stay-at-home mom, but even while I was having the time of my life, there were times when I wondered if I had done the right thing for myself, if I was being fair to myself.

      I am not sure what kind of training you have, but as someone who has travelled the path ahead of you, I would like to suggest that you continue to keep some connection to that training to make returning to work easier.

      Thank you for reading my blog.



  7. The Sleeping Dragon
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 13:51:26

    You have the patience of a saint! This one and along with your “Why do I have to go to bed now” essay are certainly great tips for when my daughter gets older!


    • haha
      Sep 23, 2011 @ 23:59:07

      Me? The patience of a saint? M will vehemently disagree with you.

      Yes, it would have been easier to scream at M, but I would have had to do it everyday, and I just did not have the energy.



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