Now that my son, Eddie, goes to daycare every morning, and we have to be somewhere at a certain time, we’ve developed a routine. I hand him his bottle while he’s still in his crib, I go into the bathroom and run his bath, I run down to the kitchen and fill a pot with salted water for his oatmeal, and I run back upstairs to pick out an outfit for the day and make sure I have it waiting on the little bench in the bathroom so that when I take him out of the tub, I can put him right into it. At this point, he’s finished his bottle and wants to get out of his crib, so I change him and drop him into the bath.
It usually runs smoothly, but this morning, he’s started to do something new: he sits right down in the tub when I put him in there, and he won’t stand up briefly so that I can wash him. I find it easier to wash his genitals and bottom when he’s in a standing position than when he’s sitting. Of all his body parts, I want to make sure these are clean, given that he routinely goes to the bathroom all over them and then sits in it. To that end, I picked Eddie up under the arms to stand him up, but he let his legs buckle underneath him, and he slid back into the bath. I tried to lift him to a standing position again, but again he let his legs buckle beneath him. When I lifted one more time, he made his arms go limp, like jelly, so I couldn’t hold him up – a kid’s move not so affectionately known as going “boneless.”
“Eddie, please stand up,” I said. “If you keep doing that, I’m going to wind up hurting my back.” When I bent over the tub trying to lift him, unsuccessfully, he felt like dead weight.
I tried lifting him once more. Again, he buckled.
“Eddie, stand up!” I snapped. He just sat there. I could remember having almost the exact tug-o-war with him two months ago except then I was saying, “Eddie, sit!” because I would place him in the bathtub, and instead of sitting down in it he would remain standing.
“Eddie, mommy needs you to stand up,” I said.
He ignored me.
“Look at me.” He looked over.
“Now stand up, please.” He sat there.
I picked him up out of the tub and stood him on the bathroom floor. He looked at me, his mouth formed that little “O” that precedes a cry, and he began to wail. I felt so bad, I pulled his wet body toward me and hugged him and kept saying, “Buddy, you’re a good boy. You’re a good boy. Mommy’s just trying to do something.”
I put him back in the bathtub and washed him. I never did get him to stand up. At the end of the bath, when I removed him from the tub and wrapped him in towels, I explained to him what I was trying to do.
“I’m sorry I yelled, but I need you to stand up sometimes so I can wash you. It’s just easier that way. I was just trying to get you to stand up,” I said.
I have no idea whether he understood what I was saying. I think he got the gist of it by my tone: that is, mommy’s a pushover, and if I cry, she’ll feel bad and leave me alone. The bottom line is, I go to great lengths not to damage my child, and if I go anywhere near that line, I back off, because I want him to be a happy, well-rounded individual who will feel good about himself, make friends easily and enjoy all of life’s riches. And that’s what I was thinking when I dropped him off at daycare.
When I picked him up three hours later, he seemed happy but a little tentative. I thought he might be tired. We came home, and I put him down for his afternoon nap. When he woke up, I pulled him out of his crib and my friend, Doris, and I played with him in his room. Suddenly, he turned to Doris and scrunched his face up like he’d eaten a lemon. His eyes got all squinty and his mouth made like an “O.” He then reached his arms out toward her for a hug. I knew immediately what he was doing. There’s a little boy in his class who’s always crying. He’s crying when I drop Eddie off in the morning, and he’s crying when I pick Eddie up. The other day, I saw the teacher turn to him and say, “Jack, do you need a hug?” And Jack walked over to her to receive his hug. I think Eddie was making believe he was crying so he could get a hug. The day before, he came home from daycare with a new word, which he was using all night: Mine. It was then that I realized that no matter how perfect a parent I am, no matter how hard I try, my kid is still hanging around with the children of other parents – good parents, bad parents, very bad parents – and like a virus, those children will infect my perfect child with their bad habits.