Gavin is a sensitive kid: sensitive, as in thoughtful and gentle and kind to others; also, sensitive as in has a heightened emotional response to various scenarios. Case in point: last year at his preschool, a kid put too much toilet paper into the potty and it overflowed before the teachers could plunge it. Gavin was completely traumatized and was terrified to use the potty for, like, months. He was petrified of it overflowing. We’ve finally worked past that.
We’ve now entered the Circle Plugger Monster zone. Instead of being traumatized by a real-life event, Gavin now has a pretend villain that haunts his waking hours. One day a few months ago, out of the blue, Gavin started being scared of the bathtub. All of a sudden, when I would start running the bath water, he would run shrieking from the room and hide in my closet. I would find him in there shaking and sobbing. One day he ran naked out the front door. This fear, it’s legit. But we couldn’t understand why. We just knew that he was afraid that it was “getting bigger.” What happened when it got bigger was anyone’s guess.
One day I took him into the bathroom and explained to him the concept of the overflow drain, that there is a special little hole where water can escape, and I showed him the giant drain in the middle of the floor next to the bathtub (which is in our walk-in shower). Then I said, “See? No matter how big the bathtub gets, it can never, ever overflow into our house, because it will just go right down this drain! Isn’t that cool?” He seemed to appreciate that explanation and for two whole days he had no reaction to the tub.
On day 3, we were back at square one and he ran hiding into my closet, crying and shaking. Finally Bradley asked him if he had a bad dream about the bathtub, and Gavin proceeded to tell us about the Circle Plugger Monster. The Circle Plugger Monster is a creature that you can only talk to when your eyes are closed, and he is very mean and he puts things into the drain to prevent it the water from going out, and the water gets plugged up and it overflows and fills up the entire house with water. I asked if we could close our eyes and talk to the Circle Plugger Monster and ask him very nicely if he could stop plugging our drains because it makes us very scared and upset. Gavin explained that the Circle Plugger is so bad and mean that he won’t listen, he’ll just laugh. At that point, I wasn’t sure what else to do so I just left it at that and we tried to finish up tub-time (which he enjoys immensely once he gets past the “fear of overflowing” phase).
He started making me mark, in crayon, exactly where I was going to fill the tub up to. He would frantically ask, “When I tell you to stop, you’ll stop running the water, right?!” He usually requested that I put in about a quarter inch of water, for two children to bathe it. This was getting bad.
It got so bad that even the THOUGHT of the bathtub was enough to send him into a frenzy. If he would get dirty at the playground, he would look at me fearfully and ask, “I don’t have to take a tub-tub tonight, do I?!” He would ask me several dozen times in a row about the damn tub. (Seriously, this tub was putting me on edge.)
Over the past few months (MONTHS!), we’ve tried every possible angle to help him move past this – I have bribed, cajoled, and hugged. I have begged and pleaded and asked if I could please talk to this Circle Plugger Monster, because I have a few choice words for him. Nothing worked, and usually I just try to surreptitiously fill the tub while he’s distracted with other activities (watching a show, especially, which I turn up really loud to drown out the sound of the water running). Finally I told him that if he is scared of the tub, he can just have a shower, because either way, he has to wash his body (I figure he’ll naturally grow out of this fear – hopefully by the time he’s in college at least).
So tonight I secretly ran a tub for Emory Scout while they watched a show, and then told Gavin he could shower instead. He showered (mostly just played in the water, marveling as it went down the drain, just as I had previously described) and then came out of the bathroom announcing he was done. I decided to push my luck and said, “That is so great. Would you mind going in and checking on Emory Scout? I know you don’t have to take a tub tonight, but if you could just get in and help her I would really appreciate it.” He looked at me quizzically and then said, “OK,” and tramped back off to the bathroom. Five minutes later, he happily announces, “Mom! I’m not scared of the tub anymore!” . . . . . . after a minute, I responded, “Cool, Gavin! Why’s that?”
“Because, Mom. I’m a big kid.”
It’s been half an hour. He’s still in the tub playing (his sister is long since running naked around the house). We will see what tomorrow brings.
Is it 5:00 yet? I think this mama needs a drink.