Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reviving Ophelia

In the bath tonight L wanted to be done quickly. She circumvented our routine and began pouring water over her head.

I was impressed, and said so. She poured the water and it ran down her face and trickled across her eyelashes and she brushed it away with a casual turn of her wrist. She could hear her daddy and brother playing in the hallway, and she wanted to be finished and out there with them.

There are so many ways in which I'm automatically cautious with L because of how her sister would react in a similar situation, and I often don't even notice them. But L is a different creature and in this past year she's made that readily apparent. She didn't flinch at water on her face and she'll taste new foods and when E needed to hyperventilate for ten minutes before agreeing to get the nasal injection of the flu vaccine, L stepped up to the nurse and snorted.

E has decided she doesn't like crusts on her bread. L says to E, If you see a piece of crust, show me and I'll eat it for you. She says to us, You don't have to cut off her crusts. I'll eat them for her so she doesn't have to be sad.

L models fearlessness for her older sister. Sometimes the result is a little violent. Sometimes it's just the boost of confidence (or jealousy) that E needs to overcome an inhibition.

Often, I think the greatest gift we've ever given E is that of her younger sister.

L's shampoo quickly washed away and in just a minute, she was gone. E sat, thinking. I don't know if the true impetus was the realization that L survived the water, or the jealousy over my casual praise, or her fierce sense of competition. Suddenly, she was pouring water over her own head and letting it trickle down her face.

She didn't like it and reached often for a washcloth with which to blot her eyes. But she continued until her hair was wet, and under my gentle encouragement, she even cleared the toys and practiced a little floating.

All summer long I waited to write a post that never developed an ending. All summer I dragged E to swim lessons. Her beloved babysitter was the instructor. She was in safe, trusted hands. She couldn't overcome her fear of getting her face wet. At the end of the summer she accomplished an expertise only in bubble blowing and dog paddling.

Portrait of a beautiful summer day and a freaked-out E in the arms of her swim instructor.

It was frustrating but we tried to display only patience. Only her own inhibitions were in her way. Next year, we told her. Maybe next year you'll be more ready. She quickly agreed, relieved to be done with the ordeal.

And then tonight she lay in the water, hair swirling around her head, cautiously letting the surface creep up her face. I was reminded of the Millais painting, but of course this Ophelia didn't drown.

Instead she popped up and giggled with pride at this small but mighty accomplishment. She reached for her towel, asked me to wrap her like a burrito, and bounded off to play with the rest of her family.
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