Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hygiene? What hygiene?

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children's personal care choices.

As my regular readers know, I was homeschooled until fourth grade. Then, in fifth grade, I found myself facing that impossible question: "How often do you shower?" Being, at that age, absolutely incapable of lying, and also well aware that this was a question intended to obtain more fodder to tease me with, I prevaricated a bit, but it was impossible for me to conceal the basic truth: I did not shower every day.

That's just not something you can get away with in modern America. Laura Ingalls Wilder bathed once a week. Queen Elizabeth bathed once a month. But Americans in the 21st century must shower every day.

Back in fifth grade, I took a shower every other day. My mom thought that was completely sufficient, since I wasn't all that stinky. When I was in boarding school, we all showered twice daily. Two showers a day for sixty girls means a lot of time and hot water -- so we were supposed to keep our showers to five minutes, preferably three. This put me off showers for quite a long time. I took a shower daily for years because "that's just what you do," but I hated it. Finally I started experimenting. Depending on the season, I discovered I could get away with bathing a couple of times a week, and washing my hair once a week. With fewer showers to take, I started taking my time and enjoying showers again.

What a relief that was. I smell fine, and if I feel sweaty, I can take a shower. But I don't have to take a shower every day. I just have to keep my personal hygiene a secret.

Until this moment. Now I just told the whole internet my dirty (haha) secret. One long, luxurious shower each weekend, and a bath or two with the toddler during the week. And I'm pretty sure I don't stink.

Anyway, it seems I'm raising my kid with the same hygiene habits as I have. He gets a bath when I notice he's dirty, or when he's having a bad day and I think he could use some bonding time with Rubber Ducky. So, a couple of times a week? When he was a baby, he got a bath every night because he loved them so much. And then we got out of the habit, and he got a bath every week because he really wasn't stinky or dirty. Once he started solid foods, we took a lot of baths just to get the avocado off. And now that he's a toddler, he tends to get baths when he's been playing in the dirt in the backyard.

Sometimes, though? *whispers* He plays in the dirt, gets all dirty, and doesn't take a bath. I notice when I'm putting his dirty feet into his pj's. Sometimes I get a wet rag and clean them off. Sometimes I just say, "Huh, guess we should make time for a bath tomorrow, kiddo." I mean, it's just dirt. I don't mind it.

Some people have asked, "How do you get a toddler to cooperate with getting his hair washed?" I always have to answer with a question -- how dirty is it, anyway? Just regular wear and tear? Then I don't bother. If it's got actual food in it or something (and it sometimes does) I might wipe it a bit with a washcloth. Sometimes he actually asks me to dump water on his head, so long as I'm careful to avoid getting any in his face (I have him look up at the shower head so the water will flow away from his face). But more often than not, Marko goes no 'poo ... and not only no 'poo but no water, either. (His hair smells lovely and is soft and silky.)

(On this subject, I don't usually use any soap on him. Little kids' skin is so sensitive, and water alone seems to get him squeaky clean if he marinates in it long enough ... and since he has stayed in the bath for an hour and a half without wanting to get out, there's no fear that he won't soak long enough.)

Toothbrushing? Oh, yeah, we do that. When I remember. When he cooperates. When I can find the cute little toothbrush and the fluoride-free toothpaste. I know I should do better about this. I'm a dental hygiene fanatic -- I have had enough cavities, braces, root canals, bridgework, and gum surgeries to last me the rest of my life, so I'm quite careful that I don't get any more of my own fault, anyway. And I know oral hygiene is especially important for kids. I don't give him sweets, I try to limit starches, and I make sure he gets plenty of calcium. It's just that brushing a kid's teeth is not such an easy job. It's taken months of effort to get him to cooperate at all!

To brush his teeth, I need a cute, tiny toothbrush. He would not accept the big ones, and if he got my electric toothbrush, he loved to play with it, but not put in his mouth. So I had to go to the store and buy a tiny toothbrush ... which he gave to the dog and which ended up a shredded mess, so I had to do it again. This time I got a four-pack. I also need the baby toothpaste. I got a kind with no fluoride and with xylitol, which I hear is good. And I need the Song. There's a certain song about brushing teeth which seems to be about someone with OCD who is compelled to get up in the middle of the night and brush their teeth, every hour on the hour. Anyway Marko loves it. So we have a deal: when I am actively brushing his teeth, I sing the song. When he pushes the toothbrush out, grabs it from me, or clamps down his jaws, the music cuts out until I can start brushing again. It works pretty well. I wouldn't say we do a full two minutes. But I do get every tooth at least a little.

That's about all the hygiene that ever happens around here. Hope I am not completely embarrassing myself by revealing this. But my hope is that a few other people might admit to the same transgressions, and maybe even chime in, "You know, there really IS no reason to shower every day!" Either that, or that you all agree to still be friends with me, on the grounds that, since it's the internet, you're never going to have to smell me.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon April 10 with all the carnival links.)


mamapoekie said...

showering twice a day??? seriously? When I was in boarding school (I am Belgian), we were lucky if we got to shower every other day.
When we're in Africa, we try to bathe every day, but sometimes there's just no time, or worse yet, o water. In Belgium, it's more like every other day or every three days... which doesn't mean we can't wash up at the sink.
This obsession with hygiene is so silly... it's not even healthy!

aNonyMous said...

Showering every day?! Wow, that must be an American thing. In the UK no one really cares unless you stink. Being from a working-class family, we couldn't afford a shower and my mum certainly wasn't going to put the water heater on daily! We all had a bath three times a week, sharing the same bath water (my mum got in first cos she likes to bathe in lava, and I'd get in last cos I hate hot water on my skin!), and I'd wash my hair once a week.
As a mum now, I bathe my toddler every few days, whenever she's getting a bit grotty. And I rarely use soap. Just plain old water, wiping her hair with a flannel. And that's actually recognised as the right thing to do in the health service now. They advise new parents to avoid soap and just use plain water on their babies and toddlers.
Great post by the way! :)

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Even though we are pretty laid back with hygiene (well, barring tooth brushing, which we are more stringent about but don't get a whole lot of resistance to, thankfully), reading the posts in this carnival are helping me realize that we could even be *more* laid back. i.e., hair washing can be a real struggle - even though Kieran bathes less than once/week on a normal basis. But I think I'll try just doing the water treatment (ha) and seeing whether his hair *really* needs the shampoo. And I'll proudly admit to not bathing every day - nor do I wear deodorant ;)

Unknown said...

I don't shower nor do I wash my hair every day (unless I get extra sweaty while exercising) . . . and though my kiddos do get a "bath" every night together, it doesn't necessarily mean they get scrubbed every night. We wash the necessary areas (face, hands, fingernails, privates, feet. . . ) with Aveeno, but my daughter (3.5) and son (12 mo) rarely actually have their hair washed with shampoo more than twice per week.

Bathtime every night is more for teaching good habits about bodily integrity and as a part of our bed time routine than actually about cleanliness being godliness :)

desfenton said...

I laughed so hard when I read this - out loud to my husband, who also laughed because this is so us. We actually will go until we feel dirty or remind each other that the other could use a bath. I just don't see the point in bathing everyday. Since we both (and all of our kids) have extremely dry and sensitive that that is prone to eczema, it's actually harmful for us to bathe more often than is completely necessary.
My teenage boys, thankfully, have been showering everyday before school. I don't make them, its something they just started doing to keep the acne in check with their crazy puberty hormones and all.
Thanks for the read! You know, I bet a lit of people are more laid back about showering than they're willing to admit!

Lauren Wayne said...

Ha! Well, I'm right there with you. I don't think I stink, either, and I shower a couple times a week {whispers: at most}. My kids are probably once-weekly bathers. I will say it was easier to take care of Mikko's hair when he was younger, in that it was finer and I guess just stayed cleaner naturally. Now if it doesn't get washed pretty thoroughly at least every other week or so, he gets a lot of gross (to me) dead skin on his scalp. I don't know, maybe that's just my hangup, but I've worked him through getting used to being washed, and we get it out of the way so then he can just play in the tub and enjoy himself the rest of the time. We still don't intentionally use soap on the kids, though sometimes they end up soaking in it since Mikko loves bubbles.

As for toothbrushing, I thought we did a pretty good job, but not obsessive … and now Mikko's had one baby tooth pulled, another slated for extraction, and several fillings. :( Oh, well, I'm more obsessive about it now! And that song? Oh, my goodness, they both love that song. I sing it every night.

Dirty people, unite! :)

Amy Phoenix said...

Sheila, I laughed at the everyday shower comment in the 21st century. I used to think that, too. Now we live in the country and I am quite sure that the majority of people (especially the kids) do not shower daily. Maybe it's more of a cultural, subcultural thing. And here we are, in our own little subculture of *not* showering daily! LOL

Anyhow, I appreciate your relaxed approach and we are very similar in our family. We know when we're dirty and we know how and where we can get clean. And we do. :)

Jaye Anne Gallagher said...

Well thank goodness there are all these stinky people out there! This describes our family to a T! Thank you for admitting to your hygiene so I don't have to feel like my kids are weird. I especially loved the part about putting dirty feet into pajamas! I am loving the counterculture to the germophobia culture! :-)

young single mom said...

I'm the same way. I shower when I feel like it, or really need it. It's often every day because I love showers, I use soap maybe once a month and shampoo only occasionally. Same with my kid, except no soap or shampoo unless there is stickyness going on.

I love when people act like that means we're stinky. Funny, guys tell me I smell good all the time! Not scrubbing away my natural pheromones has it's advantages! Ha!

Seonaid said...

Here's my "confession": I didn't even know that most people showered every day until sometime in the last couple of years. I knew *some* people did, but I always thought it was only for particularly oily skin or very stinky people. I don't know how I missed that one. (I guess it's something that people do in their houses when we're not looking.)

Ursula Ciller said...

The western world's obsession with hygiene and sterility has led to superbugs resistant to all antibiotics - oh, and dry ichy skin too!) Still, I'm an otter and can't stay out of water long even if soap isn't on my every shopping list :) Thus when it rains, water beads and runs off my skin like a well polished car, ha ha!

The Sojourner said...

My parents (growing up in the 1960s and 70s) showered once a week like Laura Ingalls. When I was a kid (and I'm a few years younger than you are) I showered every other day; my sister showered the days I didn't. We started taking daily showers as teens. Then in college I stopped taking daily showers because who has time for that and it turns out the hygiene gods didn't smite me down. When it's warm I'll still usually shower daily because I don't like it when my hair is greasy, but when it's cooler out I might shower every 2 or 3 days. I wash my hair every time I shower because it gets dirty faster than the rest of me. I'm weird like that.

My 5-year-old sister bathes pretty much daily, not because she gets that dirty but because it's pretty much the only time she'll sit still for half an hour. Or *gasp* a whole hour at a time! It's like magic. The adults will just sometimes ask each other, "Did you use soap yesterday? No? Maybe I should use some today."

Anonymous said...

FYI. Child protective services look for signs of neglect-this can include a child that merely appears dirty( dirty fingernails, feet, unkept hair etc) this might be something to keep in mind when thinking twice about a bath.
Here in the US we are given a wealth of goods ( far beyond what Queen E and Laura I. Wilder had in their day) cleanliness and personal hygiene are ways in which we elevate ourselves and our standard of living.
Soap is cheap. Running water not very difficult to come by- and good hygiene encourages healthy habits and is a courtesy to those around you.

Loves to bathe :)

Sheila said...

I'm sure CPS knows that toddlers get dirty. If I can't tell the difference between "bathed an hour ago but been outside since" and "bathed last week," I don't see why they could. And I can't live my life in fear of CPS someday knocking on my door and ask when our next bath was!

No worries about courtesy to others -- when we stink, we shower. No question, because who wants to be stinky? It's just an odd cultural thing we have here in the US (or some parts of it) to bathe daily, regardless of how dirty you got that day.

'Akaterina said...


This reminds me of summers spent with my family in Greece. We might 'rinse off' everyday in a little shower outside (I loved that shower! A small open-roofed shower stall with basically a hose hanging over the top of the wall. :) ), but full bathing was reserved for Saturday night/ Sunday morning as we prepared for Church.

As for my kids, I agree, I was told my by pediatrician to try and limit baths to only 3 times a week, unless really messy. Otherwise, just use a damp cloth to wipe them down after meals/playtime. This is because both of my kids have very sensitive skin. During the winter, we all generally cut back because of dry skin.

As for CPS, they can "get" any parent on just about anything. I think if they saw my dining room most days I would be "in trouble," but hey, I have kids to watch, and unfortunately my maid ran out on me. ;-) But my kids are healthy, happy, well fed, groomed, and dressed. What more could they want?

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