Did you know invisible piglets live in your bath water and are making your children sick? Neither did I. But that’s the sort of nonsense I find myself teaching my two-year-old daughter on a regular basis. Full transcript below.
Picture the scene. It’s bathtime in the Burton Household and I’m in charge. Mia is playing in the main bathtub, repeatedly filling and emptying her toy cup with water. And then the inevitable happens.
Mia eyes up the soapy water in the cup, and before I have any chance to intervene, takes a long, satisfying swig. Autopilot kicks in.
“Mia, don’t drink the bath water.”
Cue the piercing stare from Mia demanding an explanation, coupled with the threat of a second gulp if I don’t comply immediately. Her refilled cup is already teetering close to her bottom lip.
I’ve been here before. I know the drill. Choose my words carefully or expect extreme non-compliance.
I pause briefly to select what I think is the best phraseology for a two-year-old girl. And then I go for it.
“There are tiny animals in the bath water called ‘germs’. These germs are so small you can’t even see them. And if you swallow these germs, they will go into your tummy and make you sick. Which means you won’t be able to go outside and play with your friends.”
I nod with conviction, pleased with the simplicity and sound logic behind my explanation. Mia’s probing stare, however, tells me she wants more. So I go in for Round 2.
“Right Mia, if you drink the bath water, the invisible ‘germs’ in the water will go into your tummy and make you sick. Which means you can’t go outside and play with your friends.”
Mia pauses pensively. My hands start to clam-up a bit and I feel myself getting increasingly nervous.
But hold on, it’s looking good. Mia looks up at me with a wide smile of contentedness, and I’m in the ‘all clear’.
I pause for a moment, delighting in my natural ability to break down complex microbiology into digestible, toddler-sized chunks (no pun intended). I was clearly born to do this. So it’s now my turn to smile. A smirk of fatherly cockiness radiates from my smug face.
But then it comes. And when it does, I remind myself, yet again, I should have known better.
“Ooooh, baby piglets.”
I’m obviously baffled. But there’s no sign of confusion on Mia’s part. She’s back to playing with her toy cup, perfectly happy with my explanation. So, as Mia’s dutiful father, I have no option but to enquire further.
“What do you mean by ‘baby piglets’?”
Mia has no need to look up at me. The answer is obvious.
“Little animals in the water. Little baby piglets.”
My brain needs five seconds catch up. Then it clicks.
“Oh, I see. Yes, germs are sort of like ‘baby piglets’. But not really. ‘Germs’ are much smaller than baby piglets. They’re so small you can’t even see them.
“Oh, and you don’t get baby piglets. Baby pigs are piglets. So you can either say ‘baby pig’ or you can say ‘piglets’. But they’re the same thing. It doesn’t make sense to say ‘baby piglets’. Understand?”
What am I doing? This is no time to sidetrack Mia into a lesson in animal-based grammar. I refocus, and repeat my headline message.
“The little germs in the water will make you poorly if you drink them.”
I surely can’t get clearer than that.
But Mia is still missing the point.
“Yes. Baby piglets”
My brain is starting to hurt. How do I recover? Just stick to the original explanation. ‘Cognitive reinforcement’ and all that. Did I just invent another piece of parenting jargon?
“Okay. So, germs are similar to piglets, but they are much much smaller. So tiny, you can’t even see them. And if you drink these germs, you will get sick.”
Mia makes a retching sound, pretending to be sick.
Bingo. We’re in the home straight now.
“Baby piglets. Make me sick.”
Hmmm. Surely I can recover.
“Yes, you will get sick. But they are called ‘germs’. Not baby piglets.”
But it’s all too late in the game. Mia’s mindset won’t be faltered.
“Baby piglets. Make me sick”
Mia and I bat this ball of confusion around the bathroom for the next few minutes, until I have to finally admit (yet again) that I am incapable of explaining the simplest biological concepts to a two-year-old. I know there is only one way out now. So, with regret, I conclude our conversation.
“Yes Mia, invisible baby piglets live in the bath water, and if you drink them, they will make you sick.”
Mia is more than satisfied and continues playing happily in the bath. I sit there, trying to fight off the wave of shame that washes over me, quietly hoping that my continual miseducation of Mia doesn’t cause too much developmental damage.
The only comfort I can take from this bizarre bathtime experience, is the fact that Mia won’t ever drink the bath water again, because she’s scared of the damage that a miniature Miss Piggy and Porky Pig will do to her stomach lining.