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Sunday, January 07, 2007


So come along now. Humour me for a moment. How many times do you change your clothes in any 24 hour period? Yes, I know that there might be a few variables in there. Depends upon which day you’re talking about because Wednesday is gym day. [translation = attend ‘work –out’ place] On Thursdays you go to see a film. On Friday you might meet a few pals in the evening. Perhaps, if it’s Winter, you forget your umbrella. You might experience a downpour. Life is full of little unexpecteds, as well as plans, that mean a change of clothes may be needed.

Laundry occupies more of my life than I anticipated. It's hard not to notice, as it's stacked in heaps all over the house. I have a tendency to complain about this job a good deal. I am very good at it, complaining that is, not laundry. When it comes to moaning, I have a head start on my contemporaries, because Brits are of a pessimistic nature. Where your American glass is half full, ours is definitely half empty. Indeed somebody probably stole the contents. Furthermore, when we find out who that somebody was, we’ll remove their outer clothing, put itching powder in their underwear, and tie them to a lamppost. I suspect this kind of behaviour hasn’t spread to America, due to a shortage of lampposts, as itching powder is freely available. I’ve checked. When it comes to prioritizing appropriate punishments, then public humiliation comes pretty high on the list. But I digress.

One average family can produce quite a lot of laundry. If you ignore the matter of wet beds, mop up towels, bath towels and the big stuff, you're still left with considerable quantities of clothing. This is especially so, in Winter where more clothes are worn. Not only more clothes but they bigger ones, ones with a greater surface area due to long sleeves and legs. Socks become a necessity rather than an optional extra. Outer wear, in the form of jackets, coats, gloves and hats, also feature. All these items become dirty.

If they remained on people’s bodies for longer than a nano second, it is just conceivable that they might become dirty on the inside. Fortunately for us, such an occurrence is rare. Instead they become dirty on the outside, often.

This is not because they are particularly naughty, they are only averagely naughty. Indeed it is quite often when they are trying especially hard to be ‘good,’ that they make the most dirt. We have reached the stage of development where occasionally, if I’m very lucky, someone might be persuaded to ‘help.’ Helping is a messy business, mainly due to the inefficiency of physically moving parts of the body, such as arms, legs and hands. On the whole these body parts refuse to act in concert, instead they prefer to work independently from one another, causing no end of chaos, angst and dirt.

Since teaching ‘competence,’ is also an ongoing campaign, the net result is of course, more laundry. This household is an ecological disaster area. If the environmentalists ever discover how much water and soap we use, we’re likely to be deported to some remote island. There again, a remote island might not be too fussy about nudity. I could kill two birds with one cake of soap. Pass me a map somebody.

ABA and aversions

A few years back junior had a strong aversion to water. This was odd for someone who also had a compulsion to be squeaky clean. I might describe it as an aversion to being wet, but that would not be accurate. If a droplet of water fell on his clothing, he would not be ‘wet,’ but he would be naked in a nano second. Taking your clothes off regardless of your whereabouts, might be mildly amusing if you are very small, a toddler say. It is less funny, depending upon which continent you are on, when you are bigger, in a public forum and in a cold season.

When we moved to this house, junior had yet to be born. The one thing I wanted in a home was a big kitchen. The one thing I did not want was a swimming pool. At home only millionaires and movie stars have pools. My hormone filled, pregnant brain knew that a pool was a bad idea. How would I clean it? What if it leaked? What if somebody drowned?

Two or three summers ago we discovered that the pool was ‘safe’ for junior. He wouldn’t go near it. This was consistent with his aversion to water. By chance, midway into the season, he discovered that when the water reached 98 degrees, the pool was fun. It was not the water itself, but the temperature that he objected to. This was confirmed when September came and the temperature dipped below the critical 98 degrees. That was it, he reverted to type and nothing would persuade him to put so much as a toe in it. During this time, swimming sessions were combined with a shower to clean off on completion. Dressing thereafter was pretty optional. All my children were extremely clean for several months.
At the end of the first week of September, it occurred to me, that junior hadn’t been near a shower or bath for 7 days. He would not use the shower in the house and had forgotten that once upon a time, he enjoyed baths. By the end of the second week I was getting worried. He was getting smelly. I asked spouse to help, that perhaps they could have a shower together, as slippery small people require super human strength. It was not a successful exercise for anyone. After the ‘shower’ he did have a few damp bits but this merely served to redistribute the dirt and add a considerable quantity of snot to his person as he howled in rage and frustration.
At that time he was only at ‘school’ for two and a half hours a day, which gave me lots of time to strategize. We adopted a different approach. A very, very slow approach. This might be more accurately described as ‘de-sensitization.’ He was still ‘Thomas’ obsessed at the time. We made the unprecedented step of playing with Thomas upstairs, on the landing for 20 minute periods. Gradually we edged closer to the bathroom. Once in the bathroom at the furthest distance from the bath itself, we tip toed closer. When the other’s were bathing, we would play with Thomas close by on the carpet, which meant that he observed the ‘fun’ they were having, and was occasionally splashed. Day after day, week after week.
We played Thomas in the empty bath, touched the taps, rolled the wheels along the side. We had other preferred activities in the bath; snacks, reading and drawing with markers. It took forever. Each progressive step caused meltdowns and genuine angst for everyone. He was so filthy you could have chipped off a crust of dirt with a chisel. By Christmas, we got there, toe by toe, inch by inch.

What did I learn from this experience? That I left it too long to start. I should have recognized the problem immediately, not let things lag for a week or two hoping that it would go away. My lack of action merely made the aversion become truly entrenched. Even now I need to remind myself that even though ‘water’ is part of the problem, it is coupled with the ‘temperature problem.’ I know that they do not have a ‘will of iron,’ instead they have an ‘aversion.’

Aversions cannot be tricked, they are real. I also know that whilst we are in steady state as far as bathing is concerned at the moment, that the whole exercise is likely to be repeated, when we next experience change, although hopefully the transition will be swifter. That’s why it’s really called ABA; from A to B, and then back to A again six months later, or sooner if you’re very unlucky or careless like me.

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