Oh, the screaming.
I shudder to imagine what the neighbors thought was going on at our house. But it was just bath time.
Over the last six months or so, when it came time to wash my kid’s hair, Peeper would disappear and a panicked, sobbing, shrieking beast took her place.
It was torture, apparently, for her, and it was no fun for us parents, either.
But what I ended up learning helped make all the screaming, the crying and the frustration a little more worth the struggle.
Really, really dirty hair
We tried everything to wash my kid’s hair.
We covered her eyes with washcloths, goggles and sunglasses.
We had her pick out a special shampoo. (She chose the Raphael Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one—I was kind of proud she picked it over Elsa.)
We bought ridiculous looking contraptions that promised to keep the water off her face.
I got into the bath with her.
We watched Daniel Tiger episodes about washing your hair. We tried washing her hair at different times of day. We tried logic, threats, bribery and gentle encouragement.
Nothing worked, and the hair-washing tantrums only got worse.
Washing my kid’s hair: It must be done
I didn’t want to completely traumatize Peeper, but that hair was dirty. With the digging and the playing and the throwing sand and the somersaults, a good hair washing was overdue. I could actually see dirt and sand on her scalp.
(Mother of the year!)
So I resolved to do it.
Finally, a hair-washing win
One night, I told Peeper I was going to wash her hair—in the kitchen sink.
I lay a towel on the counter. I had her lie down. And I cued up an episode of Daniel Tiger on my phone.
We were ready to rock.
And, to my surprise, she didn’t fight me—too much. As I held her head over the sink and massaged her scalp with suds, I felt the resistance drain out of her little body. It felt as if I were washing away all the tension from months of power struggles over shampoo.
And get this—she even giggled when I rinsed out the bubbles. “That’s tickly!” she said.
I washed my kid’s hair in the sink again the other day. She was afraid at first, but her hesitancy was short-lived. Next time, maybe, she’ll be ready for her shampoo even more quickly.
Afterwards, I combed Peeper’s fine blond hair. I gently teased out the tangles then parted her hair in the middle. As I braided her hair, I noticed how calm we both were. The scene couldn’t have been more different from the bath time screaming fits when I could feel her heart beating against her rib cage like a hummingbird slamming itself against a wall.
Motherhood is constantly presenting challenges like Peeper’s anti-shampoo stance. In the face of these fights, I try anything and everything I can think of to solve them with all our sanity intact.
In the middle of the hair washing drama, it felt as if I’d never figure out a way to get Peeper’s hair clean—just like I felt I would never get Kiwi to sleep more than 45 minutes in a row, and just like I felt I would never be able to breastfeed without pain.
But, like everything, Peeper’s panic over shampoo was a phase. We finally problem-solved our way past a preschooler’s fury.
I’ll try to remember this win the next time it feels as if some parenting challenge can’t be overcome. Because if I can figure out a way to wash my kid’s hair, I can do anything.