Heads up, gen Xers. Get ready to think back to a pop culture childhood moment that hopefully brings a smile to your face and most assuredly a song to your lips. It was 50 years ago that a certain Muppet named Ernie sat in a tub and sang with obvious affection to his Rubber Ducky, expressing all the fun he had sharing a bath with his favorite squeak toy. The song proved so popular on Sesame Street it went on to become a mainstream hit, peaking at #16 on the Billboard 100.
For small children, bath time is about more than getting clean. It's play time and the fun of splashing and discovering how water can be made to move. As children become older and no longer need supervision, baths become boring and inconvenient and children rush through the process all the while trying to convince parents that, yes, they did in fact use soap. Then come the pleas for greater independence and showering instead, causing grown-ups to hold on to the hope that standing under running water for even the briefest of attention spans is accomplishing some sort of cleansing action.
For some, the pendulum in adulthood swings again and many enjoy a return to the tub, espousing the benefits of soaking. They have research to back them up. Baths can help regulate blood pressure, contribute to overall heart health, increase blood flow throughout the body, help limbs feel less sore, increase mental alertness, and help us sleep better.
Last August, a stress survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that the top areas of concern for adults were health care, mass shootings, the upcoming presidential election, immigration, environmental issues and sexual harassment concerns. One of the lead researchers remarked, "There is a lot of uncertainty in our world right now -- from mass shootings to climate change. This year's survey shows us that more Americans are saying these issues are causing them stress."
All of these are indeed large, concerning issues; ones people might feel powerless against and not surprisingly cause feelings of stress. So, what does any of this have to do with a rubber ducky?
One of my favorite children's books is "Five Minutes Peace" by Jill Murphy; the story of Mrs. Large, an elephant who searches for five minutes of peace and quiet away from her boisterous children. Leaving them in the kitchen, she retreats to the bathtub. But just as she is about to relax, her children interrupt by playing the flute, reading to her, and even offering her toys to play with. She gives up, heads back to the kitchen, and not surprisingly, her children follow her there, too, but not before she cherishes a full 3 minutes and 45 seconds of peace before their arrival.
We need quiet time. We need moments when we can step away from the noise that surrounds us almost unceasingly. It's not just that we need a break from activity. We need peace and quiet for our brains to recharge and to give our minds time to be renewed. It is in the quiet that we can take time to think, to re-discover what matters most, and to re-order our priorities. When we take time to be quiet we often find that it is good things that come to mind more easily, and some of what causes feelings of stress get pushed to the periphery—just a bit—even for a short period of time.
There's no question the stresses faced by many can feel overwhelming. That's why it is so important we take time to step back, step out, or maybe even step into a tub and let the water do its job. We can take a cue from that most famous tub toy and allow the soaking time to let us work out the squeaks and reclaim our buoyancy against the stresses we need to face. It won't wash away the worries, but we just might emerge with a smile that could rival even Ernie's rubber ducky. That's my outlook.