Geekyboy used to be a true water baby. He didn't object to his bathtub even in the earliest days, and as he grew older he positively delighted in the water. One of his earliest phrases was "water 'plash 'plash", and whenever we walk back from one of our local hilltop parks, he sees the bay in the distance and says "Ocean, water, splash!" He would play happily in any body of water. Including on one occasion in a puddle of dog urine, though that is perhaps left unmentioned.
But last week he developed a sudden fear of the bath. I know this is the classic age for fears to set in (Geekyboy is 22 months old at the moment), so it was bound to be something, but I was surprised at the swift about turn in his attitude to water. In retrospect I think I started it. Last week he had a mild tummy bug. I noticed the ominous note at daycare "Your child may have been exposed to viral gastroenteritis", and the massive washing of toys that the poor teachers had to do on top of their usual tasks. Sure enough, when I went to check on the kids before going to bed one night last week, I found my sweet boy face down in a mess of regurgitated hot dogs and cheese chunks. He must have been sick in his sleep, always a scary prospect, but after a flash of fear, I could see he was breathing deeply and seemed not to notice the smell and mess he was lying in. I noted while cleaning up that he doesn't seem to chew his food, as it looked much like it had on his plate at dinner time!
I had to wake the poor boy, and plunge him into the tub to shower him off. It being almost midnight, and hosing down vomitty kids not being one of my favourite tasks, I was maybe not as gentle as I could have been. After that abrupt and soggy awakening his water fear arose. Geekydaddy bathed him the next night, and made the mistake of turning on the handheld shower to make extra bubbles. Thinking he was going to be sprayed down again, a slippery, soapy geekyboy leapt from the tub like a greased piglet, Geekydaddy just grabbed him in time, he almost fell headfirst from the tub onto the tiled floor. I had no idea he was even able to get out of the tub of his own volition, but I guess fear is a powerful motivator.
The next evening I announced as I usually do "five minutes until tubtime", and Geekyboy, instead of coming to help me turn the taps on and add the bubbles, stood stock still with the saddest, most scared look on his little face. Geekyboy has wonderfully expressive features, and his downturned mouth is almost comical in its cartoonlike depiction of sadness. "NO Tub. Tub 'cary". he announced. I tried to placate him but he was emphatic in his denial.
When the tub was ready I called the kids again, and Geekyboy slunk in, like a lamb to the slaughter, face the picture of misery. I have started to realize, that unlike his sister who is the very definition of oppositional, Geekboy likes to oblige us. I was touched that even though his every bone was crying out not to be put in that tub, he did as he was asked. "Ready tub", he said, in a sad resigned tone I would not have thought that a child of his young age was capable of, steeling himself for the inevitable. I popped him in gently, where he knelt, holding on to the side, rigid with fear, and gave him a quick lick and polish, then pulled him out into his fluffy towel. His sister, avoiding the potential for a screaming tub companion, decided to wait until he was out before taking her own bath.
By the end of a week of this I needed to enlist her help. Bathtime, after all, used to be one of the most fun parts of the evening. Also, while the kids splash and play, I read the editorials in the New York Times while simultaneously singing songs about ducks and frogs and bubbles, and I had missed out on all the past weeks news analysis. I asked Geekygirl to join her brother. She distracted him by giving him bubbly epaulets and blowing them off his shoulders. She helped him bath his duckies, and made bubble soup for them both to eat. And lo and behold Geekyboy started to get into it. Soon he was splashing, playing and eating bubbles just like he used to! I think our bout of hydrophobia has passed. At least until I have to wash his hair again!