Ralph Gardner Jr.: Why are bath toys only for babies?

GHENT, N.Y. — Pamela Salisbury, owner of the eponymous Pamela Salisbury Gallery in Hudson, N.Y., was showing my wife and me a short video of her delightful grandson, Theo, at bath time.

While Pamela had reason to be proud — Theo seemed a happy and highly engaged baby — what struck me, enviously, were all the bath toys sharing the tub with him. The floaties included stars, rings, a sippy cup, assorted gewgaws and a rubber ducky or two.

Why, I asked myself, must bath toys be limited to the very young? As autumn rolls around again, I enjoy my baths no less than I did as a child, even if my baby baths remain something of a blur. Who decided that rubber duckies and their ilk are age-limited?

I’m fully aware of that passage from 1 Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put aside childish things.” But, just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t make it so, or impervious to revision. Also, while my knowledge of the Bible is embarrassingly modest, I don’t recall it including any mention of bath toys.

On a recent visit to Maine, I purchased, at the Maine State Prison showroom in Thomaston, a wooden model of a lobster boat, complete with lobster trap and colorful lobster buoy. The woodworking program is intended to teach inmates marketable job skills.

I wondered, childlike, as I always do whenever I purchase a toy boat, admittedly not as frequently as I’d like, whether or not it floats. It’s only because of societal pressure that I haven’t yet put my new lobster boat to the test in the tub. There’s no reason to believe that an adult shouldn’t be just as charmed by a floating toy as a toddler is.

Now, I regret not buying a plastic toy British Columbia ferry boat at the onboard store when we visited our daughter in Canada’s Gulf Islands last week. I was so impressed with the splendor of the province’s ferry boat system that I wanted to purchase a memento of the multiple ferry rides we took.

Frankly, I was hunting for merch like a T-shirt or a baseball cap emblazoned with the ferry service’s logo. But, BC Ferries isn’t big on blowing its own horn. If I’d been willing to think slightly outside the box, a miniature British Columbia ferry could have been floating amid the bubbles in my bathtub this very evening.

Ralph Gardner Jr.: Why are bath toys only for babies?

What all this regret has done, as well as witnessing, if only on Pamela Salisbury’s cellphone, the fun-loving young Theo in his bath, is to pique my curiosity about what else is out there tub toy-wise. It’s been awhile since I’ve bought a floatie for myself or even for my daughters, both of whom are old enough to have children of their own.

As one might have predicted, there’s lots of great stuff for sale that wasn’t available when I was an infant and my primary floatie was a bar of Ivory soap. Especially enticing is a floating octopus that comes with three hoops to toss onto the cephalopod’s tentacles. That could be fun, and as an adult, I wouldn’t have to be worried about getting carried away and splashing water all over the bathroom floor. Without a mother or babysitter handy, I know I’d be responsible for cleaning up the mess myself.

I’m a little dubious about bath crayons. They’re said to be washable, but how washable are they, really? Also, since I write for a living, marking up the tub might feel too much like work.

One of the suggested uses for bath crayons is practicing spelling and math skills with your preschooler. Really? Come on. Must everything be geared for getting into a selective college? Bath time is sacred. Have today’s parents, or rather toymakers, no shame?

Another bath toy — a little diver that lights up as soon as it hits the water — gave me a brilliant idea. When my daughter got married, she bought a bunch of remote-controlled submersible multicolored LED pool lights for the after-party at our swimming pool. They made a splash at the wedding, no pun intended, but they’ve been sitting in a plastic bag, molding, ever since.

Who says I can’t toss a couple of the devices into the bathtub? Achieving their full effect might require turning off the bathroom lights, making it harder to read in the tub, but the disco effect might be worth it.

Speaking of reading in the tub, I noticed that Theo was poring through a vinyl volume. While I didn’t recognize the work, it seemed to involve a bird skeptical of bath time.

I’m a pretty proficient reader at this point and would probably finish the book in no time flat. But, think of how much better my bath could be if the New York Review of Books or The Berkshire Eagle offered a plastic version. I do my best to keep my reading material dry, but sometimes it’s impossible to prevent these broadsheets from getting soaked.

Finally, there’s that old unimproveable bath toy — the yellow rubber ducky. It has remained the bath toy standard across generations for good reason. It’s buoyant, it’s friendly and it ignites the imagination.

I seem to recall running across one recently, a leftover from my own children’s youths. I’m sure my wife knows where it is, but I’m reluctant to ask her. It will only confirm her worst fears about me.