Emily & Juanita - the duelling hairdressers
When you adopt a child you accept that there are going to be unknowns ahead. I guess, actually, it must be the same with your own birth child. Who knows how they are going to turn out?
What I mean is that although we had an extraordinarily comprehensive range of information about our son's past, his experiences and his temperament there were still situations that came out of left field for us.
One of these for our then three year old son was bath time. It shouldn't have been traumatic, indeed we bathed him one evening in the foster carers' home during our transition week.
When we ran our son's bath on the first night he stayed with us we hit our first real trauma with him. He recoiled from the bath, clearly terrified of the water. We couldn't work out why and it took a little time to calm him enough to obtain an explanation.
He was frightened of the temperature. At some point he clearly had been put in a very hot bath, which whilst not scalding him had frightened him enormously. It took some weeks of gentle conversation and careful questioning to work out that this had happened not with his birth parents but with a former foster carer, one from whom he had been moved because their relationship had broken down.
So our bath routine became one which, for some considerable time, included ensuring he was present to see the water poured into the bath and had a cup of water into which he could put his finger to test the temperature before he got in the bath itself.
It almost became ritualistic, we'd run the bath under his scrutiny. We'd then fill a cup full of water from the bath, which our son could then test and request more hot or, much more often, cold water be added. Indeed, some of the early baths were much colder than I would have wished to have sat in.
As time progressed and trust built the ritual became less and less important. Finally, after about six months, I was called away one evening from running the bath to a phone call. I returned to find our son sitting in the bath playing, and from that point we never looked back.
Showers never held quite the same fear for our son. He would happily get into a shower having tested the water temperature with his hand. Washing his hair was another matter entirely however.
Again, at some point, his hair had been washed roughly which had resulted in soap getting into his eyes. Getting him to allow shampoo on his hair was therefore a huge struggle.
Funnily enough it was easier in the bath where he was more in control of what was happening. He could put some shampoo on himself and then lower his head backwards into the water to wash it off. In the shower it was harder, the flow of water almost immediately running shampoo over his face even if we had shielded it with a flannel.
I decided therefore to take a different approach. Reason and kindness wasn't going to work so well with this one, we simply didn't have the time for that to work. So I tried humour.
Once our son was holding the ubiquitous flannel over his face I put on my best 'girlie' voice - no dissimilar to Brian's mother in Monty Python's 'Life of Brian'
"Hellooo, my name's Emily, I'm your hairdresser."
Three year old son was clearly slightly taken aback: "Daddy?"
"Daddy's popped out. What's your name?"
Son was beginning to get this game now: "It's *name*"
"Hello, 'it's *name*'. Do you come here often? Been on holiday this year? Going anywhere nice? Did you watch tv last night?"
Very quickly we developed a banter. Our son, the rude customer, would think of ever sillier names to call himself and/or rude things to say to Emily, the easily affronted hairdresser.
Once he gets out of the shower I hang the towel over his head, rub fast but gently and say in my best Emily voice: "Oooohh, what's that LUMPY bit?" Thereby ending officially the banter for the morning.
The problem of course was how to handle this when J had to wash our son's hair. Now J's not that great with accents. Indeed, he normally starts out Welsh, passes through Brummie and ends up in Pakistan, and that's when he's trying to sound Scottish!
J decided to create an alter-ego with his only vaguely consistent accent. Thus 'Juanita' was born. She sounds sort of Puerto Rican, just much more guttural and her voice breaks with monotonous regularity. She is Emily's nemesis and now both children play the two 'hairdressers' off against one another.
Emily hates Juanita; "She's a trollop!" Juanita has little time for Emily; "She no good hairdresser, only fit for washing the dog!"
So, for the last five years, our son has played the game with us, joined more recently by his sister who picked it all up quite quickly. We've hardly ever had a squeak from either of them as a result when hair washing.
No doubt the day will come soon when our son won't want Emily's help any longer. That'll be quite a sad day I think. But a good one too.