When things change gradually, sometimes it’s hard to notice the shift.
Stump was terrified of the bath for about three weeks. He had pooped in the bath a handful of times over the past few months, and each time I’d simply pull him from the bath, scoop out the poop with my bare hands, drain, rinse, and start over. Okay, it might have been a bit more frantic than that, and I’m pretty sure that Stump and I cried “poop!” back and forth throughout the whole ordeal, but Stump had never seem truly rattled about any of it. Apparently, though, there was something about the most recent incident that set him off, because for days whenever I put him in the bath he cried “poop!” and immediately tried to scramble out. For weeks, bathing him was like bathing a cat. I’d try to lower him in the tub, and he’d splay his legs and push against the sides with all his strength. I could not get him in. I resorted to sponge baths. He was winning.
Last week I stumbled on my answer, which is so obvious it hurts: bubbles. He was willing to take a bubble bath, and by the time the bubbles popped he had grown reaccustomed to the water. He slid his body back and forth like a little baby swimmer.
And thus, I reinstated the evening ritual of shared baths: Stump and Smoke together again. And because it had been nearly a month since they bathed together, a shift in their relationship was clear.
Ever since Stump could sit up on his own, he’s been sharing a bath with his brother, and the problem has consistently been that they have too much fun. They get too loud, water goes everywhere, they make a game of harassing each other. About a year ago, Smoke made a habit of filling a funnel with bathwater, plugging it with his finger and crying “Drink, my baby friend!” Stump happily ignored my protests and drank bathwater from the funnel every time.
But this most recent bath time was strangely…silent. Each brother quietly played with his own plastic cup. And as I noticed this, it occurred to me that over the last few months, Smoke has seemed less and less interested in his brother. So I asked him about it.
Me: It seems like you used to play with Stump a lot more than you do now.
Smoke: Yeah. That was before he started to annoy me.
Me: Oh, ok. But you still love him, right? (I know! I shouldn’t ask that! I can’t help myself sometimes!)
Smoke: Yeah. And I still think that he’s the cutest baby in the world, and the funniest.
Me: Do you think you’ll want to play with him again someday?
Smoke: I’ll play with him when he knows what he’s doing.
Given that this evening Stump beat him with a bottle brush until he was legitimately sobbing, I’d say Smoke’s assessment is fair.