Now go back in time to say 20 or 30 years. You’re a child again. Do you remember baths? And the ceremonial head wiping afterwards?
My mother had a technique. She used to position our heads under her chin, locking us into place and give us a thorough wipe. I wasn’t much of a rebel so I used to stand still, enjoying the sensation of the towel on my hair, and that slightly hypnotizing rhythmic back and fro motion of my head as she went about her task.
I would circle my arms around her and breathe in her Mummy scent. She would say something in mock reproach, her hands not pausing for a minute. She had other things to do, so sit up straight please.
Tough love, they called it. I craved those small moments of intimacy with her. When she wiped my head, when she felt my forehead during a fever, the reassuring squeeze hug before a big exam. She wasn’t the tuck you into bed, and ask about your day Mom, she was the no frills mother of a past generation.
Today, I think about this as I bathe Steve. Since Ryan is at school longer, Steve and I have more ‘our little moments’ these days. Sadly baths aren’t one of the good moments. He’s fighting as always. He enjoys the water. But hates the agony of a head wipe. He says his head hurts. He says I pull his hair on purpose. The world is cruel to him those few minutes. I am paranoid, determined to physically squeeze out all the water from each hair root. It’s a battle of wills.
I am reminded of my mother’s technique. Like a half forgotten drill, I take up my position, except now I am the one who rests my chin on Steve’s small head. I hold his head against my chest. Everything fits perfectly. Just as it should be.
I begin wiping. His whining decreases. Then silence. Two small arms begin to encircle me. I place my cheek on his cool, damp hair and the world is still and perfect. For a minute. Before he asks me smartly are we done? Could he head off for another cartoon marathon please? Thank you very much.
The Magic breaks. But I have enough Magic to get me through the rest of the day.
After all these years, today I realise there’s a thousand ways to dry a child’s hair. But my mother needed that chin-rest more than I did back then.
Motherhood, where you realise the bigger picture much later.