X and I were at a christening recently and, just as the water was poured onto the baby’s head, she said, in her clear-bell voice:' I want to kiss your bottom'. Everyone turned to look. I don't know what made her say it but I do know what caused it.
Bathtime fun and games have been a big part of my daughter and I bonding together. In fact the very first time my daughter- to -be came to her- home- to- be was the very first time we bathed together. X was nearly a year old. It was a special day – it’d taken me six years to get to be approved and then finally matched for adoption with X. I’d known her for three whole days and – ok, I admit it- getting naked with her was a bit like consummating our relationship, I don’t deny it.
I was still very much on trial to see if I could cope with X. It had been arranged that I’d give her supper and a bath, put her in her night-things (eek, so many holes and buttons and poppers) and then drive her back to her foster parents to go to sleep.
I was terrified of her- convinced that I’d kill her by mistake somehow, and then have to go back and explain what had happened. I rehearsed conversations to the court in my head: 'I was just putting her in the bath and she slipped, m'lud'. She looked as pale as an effigy to me and when she fell asleep I shook her awake because I thought she might have fallen into a coma. She was as physically alien as,well, an alien. So far the whole meeting her thing had been absolutely nightmarish, if I’m honest. A three day assault course in parenting and proving that I could look after a baby that I still couldn’t even get to sleep in her own house let alone mine- I mean, ours.
I probably wouldn't have thought about jumping into the bath with this baby that I didn’t even know yet if it hadn’t been for the foster mother telling me that foster parents aren’t allowed to have baths with their foster children whereas, of course, real parents can get in too- any time at all that they feel like marinading in strawberry bubbles or sitting on a plastic fish.
So, after I’d carefully undressed her (eek, so tiny, so pale, but maybe not quite as fragile as I had thought) I looked at her sitting there in the water gazing up at me and I thought, ‘sod it,’ and stripped off and got in with her. It suddenly seemed deliciously naughty and -after six years of proving myself earnestly worthy to adopt - fun.
Which was great bonding because I could see where she was coming from. I feel like crying too when I see my body these days. Not so much yummy mummy as multi- tummy mummy.
I’d like to say that this was a big change in our relationship but it wasn’t really. Afterwards she wouldn’t fall asleep -until, of course, the moment her foster mother took her from me. Then the foster mother asked, looking up at me from under her lashes: ’did you get in too?’. Feeling a tincy-wincy bit as if I was admitting I’d snogged her son behind the bike sheds, I admitted that I had.
‘Knew you would,’ she said, ‘I was thinking about it while I made the tea.’
It was a bittersweet moment. I felt for her, she who was losing X, had loved X like her own children but had never been allowed to get in too. She was nice enough to say that she thought that attachment parenting was the best way and that sleeping and bathing together was a good idea. I didn’t tell her that X cried when I took my things off, though.
One has one's pride.
The next few months were challenging for X. Some days everything was alright, other days nothing was right; at least, I couldn’t make anything right. She grizzled, she cried, she whined, she snuffled, she moaned. She didn’t so much go to sleep as sometimes lapse into exhausted semi-consciousness. Even when she was asleep she didn’t relax. She twitched and kicked like a dreaming dog. But, once in a while in the warm bathwater, (not every time, mind you), she’d slither across my soapy skin and rest her head on my shoulder, her blue eyes gazing up at me. Sometimes she’d stay there, moored in the crook of my arm and let the warm water gently sway her close.
Those were our bonding moments, I think.
Illicit moments. She was still in the care of the council until I legally adopted her six months later. So, strictly speaking, I should have maintained my physical distance from her just as the foster mother was expected to. But X's social worker was very nice about things like that and even turned a deaf ear to the fact I called her cot a cage and had her in with me. Well,we all maintained the fiction that she started the night in the cage - I mean - cot. Gradually, washing and sleeping together, we got a bit less scared of each other and relaxed.
She's certainly not shy of me now when we bathe. Yanking my pubes is a favourite game, as is chasing me all over the bedrooms trying to plant a kiss on my cellulite. But now I’ve changed the rules of the game:‘ Not: ' I want to kiss your bottom'- 'I want to kiss your cheek!’
Which, I suppose, is the kind of duplicity that masks much less innocent games, but it saves me getting in hot water in church.