At the age of two-and-a-half, my daughter has cracked the secret to living a happy life, and caused me to marvel that I have as much to learn from her as she does from me.
When she had her first toilet-training accident yesterday, the easiest thing to do was to strip her soaking clothes off and bung her straight in the bath. I repeated over and over to her what she should have done (ask Mummy for the toilet) while I rinsed her down, but I’d found the whole thing so humourous that I was smiling and chuckling to myself, and she was finding the whole midday-bath thing an exciting adventure. She splashed and giggled and chased bubbles round the tub. I was pleased with myself for staying so jolly with her, despite the huge wet-patch on the carpet.
Today when she had another accident, I wasn’t so pleased, but resolved to take it in my stride. I took her hand and turned toward the bathroom — and she cottoned on immediately and walked bowlegged alongside me, announcing with glee, “I have a shower!” A warning bell went off in my head: I did not want these necessary rinse-downs to become some kind of reward for weeing in her knickers, something she looked forward to and which counteracted all my stern admonishments. I looked at the dark patch running down her leg — it was a lot of wee and there was really no way to clean her up properly without rinsing her down… The only solution was to make this post-accident shower less attractive than her normal fun bathtimes.
So this time, I turned the shower a bit cool. Not cruelly cold, mind you, but just a bit on the less-comfortable side of lukewarm. It was, after all, only going to be a 30-second job. But she is two-and-a-half — drama is her forte — and when the cool water hit her skin, she screamed as if it were fresh out of the Arctic and yelled, “Mama, it’s COOOOOOLD!!!!” I explained that when she does a wee in her knickers, the water just can’t get very warm — as if it were completely out of my hands — and continued to rinse her down quickly while she complained loudly. I lifted her out, toweled her off and hugged her, and put fresh knickers and jeans on her. “There… nice, dry knickers! Doesn’t that feel better?” She ran off to play, none the worse for wear.
I went into the other room to check on the baby — she was happily reading a book to herself. Feeling slightly guilty now, I went back to E1 to play for a few minutes and assuage my maternal guilt. She had an odd look on her face. “Come here,” I said. “Let’s play with your blocks!” She hobbled over, biting her lower lip and holding her knees together. “Oh dear, have you wee’d again?” I checked — she had. I took her hand and we headed for the bathroom.
“No cold!” she demanded loudly and with a touch of panic.
“Yes cold,” I replied. “You wee’d, so the water won’t get very warm.”
There was a pause, and then she said with faltering determination, “I… I be happy in cold water.” What an odd thing to say — I didn’t really know what she meant. But when I put the water on her this time, she had that same look of shock for a moment — but only for a moment — and then quickly switched to a big smile. “I be happy in cold water!” she announced, and proceeded to soap herself up, and giggle and chase bubbles, just as if the water were as warm as yesterday.
I sat back on my heels and stared at her, utterly stunned. She had made the decision to be happy with the situation! She is two-and-a-half years old and she’d realised that it was no good crying about it and she’d be better just making the most of it. That’s something most adults struggle to do — her father struggles with it, I struggle with it. And she’d done it — consciously changed her attitude before my very eyes. She had grasped the thing that — if she held onto it and developed it — could ensure that she finds happiness in her life, no matter what life throws at her. What a gift! I resolved to do everything I could to foster this in her, to help her to keep thinking this same way as she grows up. And, I realised I needed to take a lesson myself from my own two-and-a-half year old daughter.
And then, as she giggled and splashed about in the tub and thoroughly enjoyed this rinsing down, I realised, with disappointment and that same guilt, that I would also have to turn the cool water ever so slightly cooler…