This evening, in an attempt to foster flexibility and overcome crippling anxiety, our behavior consultant and I focused with laser-like intensity on car washes.
Jack isn’t afraid of the car wash. He thinks a visit there is pretty cool, particularly if it includes feeding quarters into the high-powered vacuum with the really long hose.
Charlie, on the other hand, if terrified of it.
We discovered this early last December as we finished a Family Night excursion to view Christmas lights, capping the evening with a quick stop at the car wash to rinse away the salt. The next four minutes were like the prom scene from the movie Carrie, minus the pig’s blood, but with equally horrifying vehement screaming from our four-year-old.
Charlie’s shrieking didn’t telepathically slam and lock the doors of our van, but it did compel the baby to join in and scream with gusto, while Jack (ironically) laughed loudly and Henry groaned at the theatrics. When we made it home that dark December night, our car was clean and we were shell-shocked.
Fast-forward a few weeks to tonight, where I prepped my preschooler for our outing by washing a Hot Wheels car in the kitchen sink. Charlie watched and screamed in horror at this tutorial. He tried to run and hide half a dozen times when we told him it was time to go for a ride to the gas station, but ultimately I prevailed.
The first car wash we visited was closed due to the extreme cold temperatures which have settled over the surrounding valleys, but we found another and waited for eight long minutes while an Audi in front of us, and an SUV in front of it finished their washes. All the while, Charlie was the very definition of the word hysterical.
During a few brief moments of calm, I talked him through the mechanics of car washing so he would know what to expect. Lacey talked me through different options for handling his reactions with her cool third-party perspective.
At last, it was our turn. In a strange and kind of wonderful turn of events, when the water and bubbles pelted the windows, Charlie curled up on the floor of the car and quietly, calmly watched.
He coped. He was brave despite being scared. He got to choose a Bug Juice from the gas station (blue, obviously). I chose a nice tall Coca-Cola for myself.
It was an eventful outing–weirdly therapeutic in a shrill sort of way. It wasn’t about washing the car; it was about facing a fear and learning to be flexible and open to something new. And we frigging did it.