The Water Monster

It was mid-afternoon and the weather was hot. My daughters and I, having drunk at least a gallon of water on the way to the store, made a bee-line for the Costco restroom. Soon after, the three of us ladies stood at the sinks washing our hands, my three year old playing with the bubbles.
Inadvertently, some water splashed on her t-shirt and within mere seconds, she was bawling crocodile tears and begging for me to change her shirt. This little gal is terrified of the “water-monster,” a fictional character she crafted in her own mind. She absolutely has a panic attack if any water is on her clothing. When she was a mere tiny tot, I obliged in changing her clothing every time. This day was different, however, because a) she is no longer a “tiny tot” and b) I did not have any extra clothing with me.
When my initial response of trying to pretend it didn’t happen and just move on didn’t work, my little girl’s rage quickly escalated, and soon I found myself pulled into a control issue. While my older daughter stood mouth gaping in astonishment at her screaming sister, and I’m sure thinking that her little sis was going to really “get it,” I went into empathy mode and tried to remember the C—control that’s shared of the C.O.O.L. formula. “Oh, wow, what a bummer, honey. Yes, I see that your sleeve is wet. That’s too bad. What can you do about it?”

My little one wouldn’t buy my empathy. She wanted me to take charge, to take control, and to solve the problem HER way. She grew more emphatic and ripped off her damp shirt. She now stood half-naked in front of me. “You change me! Get me a fresh shirt!”

Progressing to the O—ownership of the C.O.O.L. formula, I said “Sweetheart, this is so sad. You know, I’d love for you to have a dry comfortable shirt right now, but we are not at home. We are at Costco and at Costco they have a very important rule. If you want to buy hotdogs, you have to wear your clothes.” (Since we never eat hotdogs at home, when we are at Costco, my daughter’s favorite treat is to have a hot dog for lunch. This particular day we had already discussed that we would dine on hot dogs for lunch before we ever arrived at the store.)

Although I had eloquently explained Costco’s policy for service, my strong-willed daughter continued to scream, not caring about Costco’s “clothing rule” or anything else at that moment. So, I did what needed to be done, and coincidentally allowed my little one to both take ownership of her problem, and to have an opportunity to think and make a decision, the second O in the C.O.O.L. formula.

Come on sweetie, let’s go to the car. You can keep your shirt off, but now we have to go home. Costco will not let us be in their store if we don’t wear our clothes. Guess we’ll just have peanut butter sandwiches for lunch at home today.”
My older daughter who continued to remain quiet while she watched in earnest, grasped my hand and we began to exit the bathroom. My three year old did not move, but her wailing ceased, and as though a light bulb suddenly flickered on in her head, she cried out, “No, wait, mama! I want to eat hotdogs. Will Costco let me have hot dogs if I wear my shirt?”
I smiled and nodded that yes, if she was wearing her shirt, then Costco would allow her to stay in the store and eat a hot dog for lunch. She was suddenly happy to oblige, “Okay, I’ll wear my shirt.”
As an added bonus for me, when I tried to assist her in pulling the damp shirt over her head, she quickly reprimanded me and said, “No, I’m a big girl. I can get dressed all by myself!” So there it was, my L. moment from the C.O.O.L. formula; when both empathy and consequences facilitated the teaching for me.
A woman, sitting in a stall nearby while this drama played out, opened the door and went to wash her hands. As she exited the bathroom, her companion approached asking what took her so long. I heard the woman say in a hushed tone, Wow! She is good! You’ll never believe what she just did,” as she pointed in my direction. I just chuckled inside.

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