Pursuit of Hand Washing

Each time my daughter, who’s four, goes to the sink to wash her hands, she wets them first, then applies soap, then moves her hands back and forth, singing the ABC song, starting with “A-B-C-D-E-F-G …” to “Now I know my ABCs, next time won’t you sing with me.”  That song is long enough to drain the lake.  I wonder how many gallons of water have been dedicated to scrubbing her little hands.

Corrigan learned to sing the song, the equivalent amount of time everyone should scrub hands, while watching a PBS show like Sid the Science Kid.  The rule has stuck.  She’s been washing and singing the ABCs for months now.  She knows about the germs on her hands and wants to do all she can to keep herself healthy.

This system of hand washing is important to her, yet it causes me stress when I want her be flexible, and hurry along, like when we’re in a crowded public bathroom or when we’re at a restaurant and I know our food has just been delivered to the table.  When she gets to “L-M-N-O-P,” I want to say, “Good enough” and get going.  I tell myself to take a breath.  For goodness sake, your child wants to wash her hands. Be happy about that.

Over the winter, her persistence with this ABC rule caused her hands to chap.  She washed her hands so often she got small cracks in her skin that would bleed and make it look like she played with a wild cat.  When lotion would sting, I resorted to lip balm to moisturize her hands so I could apply it around the cuts.

Sometimes, when she’d go upstairs to use the toilet, and after she’d been gone for longer than normal, I’d find her not just washing her hands but her feet, too.  She’d sit with her feet in the sink, lather up, rinse, and repeat.  I told her she had to quit when I noticed her feet were getting chapped, too.  No one should have chapped feet in February—or ever, for that matter.  I have to say, though, that I admire her diligence.

Recently, while Corrigan was washing her hands, she said her friends at preschool want to be moms when they grow up.  “That’s what they told the teachers,” she added.  I assumed, due to the context of our day, this story related to her teachers gathering information for the upcoming program to wrap up the year of preschool.

I handed her a towel to dry her hands.  “Being a mom is all right,” I said.

She said, “I told them I want to be doctor.” She rubbed the towel over each hand.  I waited, saying nothing, but fast forwarded through the years ahead, wondering how many times she’d change her mind before deciding on a profession.  Then, as if she was reading my mind, she said, “And I can’t change that now because they [teachers] have written it down.”

I know she was referring to notes the teachers took at preschool.  Even at four, she understands that something written is permanent.  But I saw the quiet resolve in her face.  I saw the commitment to her decision.  Corrigan first spoke of being a doctor shortly after she discovered our toy stethoscope and long before Doc McStuffins arrived on the Disney channel.  This, too, has been a consistent topic of choice for her.  If she turns out to be as persistent with pursuing medicine as she is with hand washing, she just might surprise us all.

Oh, I know the realities here.  She needs to get through playground politics, peer pressure, braces.  She will be making a lot of decisions before she declares herself pre-med and takes the MCAT.  But right now, I want to celebrate my young kid and all her confidence.


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