From the Archives

From the Archives: Baths and Bedtime with Grandpa Tom

We never really talked about how long my dad was going to stay, but weeks turned into months, and there he continued to be. After dinner in the evenings, we cleaned up and then we all went upstairs to get ready for bed. It had always been my routine with the kids and my dad joined me without comment immediately after Shawn died and we were home together. Most nights, my dad bathed Tommy and I supervised showers with the older kids.

“Only three toys,” I heard him say one night. I came in to find Tommy deciding which bath toys he was going to bring in the tub, picking up a few and inspecting them for something—fun quality, maybe? 

“Dad, you only let him have three toys?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “otherwise he will bring all of them in and make a huge mess.”

I laughed, but only to myself. I figured if my dad wanted to make rules about something like that, it wasn’t up to me to try and micromanage it. My dad had all sorts of ideas about bath time, something he’d always been in charge of when I was little. I watched them for a minute, Tommy gingerly stepping into the tub and my dad lathering up his hair. When he did it, a bit of the shampoo ran in Tommy’s eyes and my dad said, “close your eyes!” before dumping a bucket of water on his head, just as he always had with me. Tommy spit and sputtered as the water dripped from his eyes and his nose. “All done with hair!” my dad announced. I couldn’t see his face, but his voice was light.

I went to gather all of the laundry, and then I peeked my head back into the bathroom. My dad was washing Tommy’s feet. “Remember,” he said to Tommy, using the same tone he might with an adult, “we have to wash your feet really good or else they will stink.”

Tommy didn’t laugh. He just pushed his feet out of the water and up towards my dad, who took his toes in his hands. “There you go,” my dad said, matter-of-factly as he dropped each foot back into the water.

 Later that night, I found Claire and my dad on the couch. My dad had a book propped on his knee and he was reading out loud. His voice was low. I realized he was reading from one of his medical journals, explaining an internal organ to Claire. She was resting on his chest, her head in the crook of his arm. She smiled slightly at me, her eyes content and a bit sleepy. It wasn’t clear if she was listening to him, but he kept talking, a quickness in his voice that showed his excitement, even with the low volume he was using.

His voice was humming, or at least it felt that way to me. At her age, I had laid on his chest and listened to him read stories from old books, only half-listening. I wanted to mention to my dad something about those books, but I couldn’t remember any of the plots. I simply remembered what it sounded like to feel his chest vibrate as he spoke, a sound that made my eyes droop like Claire’s.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.