Some unsophisticated parents inadvertently form causal behavioural links within their children. The bell rings and Pavlov’s dog salivates. The bathwater splashes and my youngest son runs at the speed of light, screaming like a banshee.
Once these associations have been formed, it can be very difficult to unlink them. Repeated exposure in tiny, but ever increasing increments, can eventually be successful.
Even now, his first response is always a protest, but that may just be because the suggestion of a bath is also a transition. He is hard wired to resist transitions.
In this particular instance I have no option. I remove him from the scene of devastation and plop him in a bath of warm water. He's too exhausted to resist. I leave his father in charge of the other two and the clean up operation after junior's spectacular, technical vomit performance. I should like to pull rank and claim that I am the mistress of delegation, but it truth it’s more that he is a better team player than me.
Junior lies in the water semi inert. I park myself on the bidet, the closest point of contact and wait for him to calm down. For many children, an upset stomach is often caused by eating something that has disagreed with them. In this particular child, a neophobic one with a diet of 17 foods, I know that nothing new or dodgy could possibility have entered his system, either deliberately or accidentally. I must mine for details and turn the situation to my advantage.
His silence is entirely predictable as 'ill' usually means that his body has to concentrate on other things, rather than speech. After a while, his feet start to show interest, as toes are so much safer than fingers. He taps the different surfaces, tentatively, especially as he has to ensure that his head remains above the water line, cannot get wet. After a thorough preliminary investigation, it is safe for his fingers. His fingers repeat all the taps that his feet have just made. “Dis is hot, dis is hotter and dis is dah hottest,” he announces with reference to the faucet fitting. His eyes travel back to mine, a ‘check in’ that allows me to bask in a brief moment of joint attention and referencing back. “I like because it is dah smooth too.” For the first time in four years I forgive my spouse for spending a fortune on European bathroom fittings.
“So …….I was thinking.”
“Why are you ill?”
“I dun know.”
“Maybe it's all the licking you've been doing recently?” His open eyes match his open mouth, as he concentrates.
You may be familiar with the oral fixation stage of development in babies. They mouth everything, nothing is safe, everything is covered with drool. Some babies skip this stage completely, or do it later, sometimes much later. Some little people with oral defensiveness, avoid almost all textures and tastes. These are often the same little people that skip the 'mouthing' stage. When such a person begins to lick things, a parent, or at least some feeble minded parents, might be tempted to turn a blind eye. Some feeble minded parents, who secretly delight in this mis-timed development, believe that it may be socially inappropriate but a delayed development is infinitely better than no development at all. It would appear that blind eyes result in tummy upsets.
“Can you remember what you've licked today dear?”
“'No' you haven't licked anything or 'no' you don't remember what you licked?”
“O.k. lets start with when you woke up. What did you lick when you woke up?”
“Dah mirror. I play snailses.”
“Lovely! Good remembering.”
“I licked it until is was cleaned.”
“Great!” I debate what bacteria might be on the surface of double mirrored doors in a bedroom, or at least the first four feet from carpet to tongue height? He sits in the bath water. Each arm extended. He mimicks the diving surfacing motion of a dolphin with each hand until the dolphins’ noses collide in the centre. As they crash he grins with satisfaction. He shares his success with me as his eyes meet mine. He repeats the diving in a ceaseless loop of perfection because OCD tendencies are stronger than other tendencies. If the dolphins mis-time their aquatics he curses, “barnacles! barnacles! barnacles!” and begins again, but the eye contact is more rare and precious than any metal on the planet. Barnacles, can be a difficult swear word to pronounce. Every time he swears incorrectly, he changes to his alternative, “fishpaste! fishpaste! fishpaste!” which of course is also difficult to pronounce. It must be frustrating, not to be able to swear to your own high standards.
“What did you lick next, when you came downstairs perhaps?”
“Er……I be licked dah window.”
“But I stopped.”
“Why did you stop.”
“It be freeze my tongue. I like lick dah warm fings.”
“Ah, lovely. What next?”
“I be finded a warm fing.”
“What warm thing did you find?”
“Oh! You licked your sister?”
“Yes. But then I bited her coz she said 'no lick me!' and she be dah shout and dah loud and she hurted my ears wiv dah noise.”
“She…… be taste nice and……..salty.”
“Well if you eat your sister you won’t be a vegetarian any more,” I tell the child who doesn’t eat vegetables.
“What I am be?”
“You’ll be a canni……er…..um…. a carnivore, or maybe just an omnivore.” Om, om, om.
One step forward, two steps back. I suspect cross contamination shortly.
Post script – after five baths in five hours, after five further incidents of illness, someone submitted to having a wet head. Oddly enough, I now seem to have inadvertently linked ‘baths’ to ‘cure all.’ Baths made him feel better, not well but better, cleaner, more relaxed. So it appears that we have no further need for the medical profession. There again, it is far more time consuming to bathe than to provide a Bandaid, and not quite so portable. Come to think of it, excessive bathing might feed into the OCD cleanliness nightmare. Maybe I should just stop thinking.
I am happy to swim in the wake of at the slowest little life boat in the convoy, doggy paddle of course. Woof!