The Wet Towel

A poem written out of the disappointment and shortsightedness by the parent of losing her temper.

The Wet Towel
by Deborah Hage

Through the house the words rang as they had rung hundreds of times before,
No anger, no edge, no tension, just,
“Come into the bathroom, kids.
Hang up your wet towels.
They’ll never dry on the floor.
And so the children come,
pick up their towels,
so they’ll dry.
No problems, no fuss,
just grasp it with both hands and hang it over the hook.
Yet one child seems to cower in his room.
Facing me in the bathroom with a wet towel at my feet is too much for him.
I call again, knowing whose towel it is that is left.
Stiff with fear,
his bony thinness evident through his pajamas,
he slowly approaches the bathroom.
Standing in the doorway, his eyes watch my every muscle,
trying to discern the first twitch indicating impending violence.
None comes.
He enters, steps above the towel so that it lies between our feet.
I try to say, gently, again, “Hang up your towel”.
But five minutes after a 30 second task should have been done leaves an edge of impatience
in my voice.
He stands, unable to pick up the towel for fear of losing sight of me.
For fear of bending his head and not seeing the blow that is sure to come.
What do I do now?
My mind races over the possibilities.
Do I pick up the towel for him and relieve him of his fears?
Do I master my voice and say again as kindly, as softly as possible, “Honey, you need to hang up your towel.
Do I stand quietly, waiting for the trust that will allow him to bend over and pick up
the towel?
Do I give him a hug and suggest that together we pick up the towel so he can still see
me every second?
Do I leave and let him pick it up alone?
I am not used to watching my few relaxing evening moments evaporate while a child wallows in fear
over the seemingly simple matter of hanging up a wet towel.
There is accusation in his eyes.
Accusing me of inflicting pain,
bearing the accusation for those who did.
My patience ebbs away.
The ebbing he had been waiting for.
The ebbing he knew would come.
The ebbing which would prove his fears were justified.
I abandon the reasonable options my mind has outlined and enter the world he has imagined for me.
Harsh words bark out!
“Pick up this towel immediately!”
In an instant he has grabbed up the towel,
wadded it into a ball,
thrust it onto the top of the hook,
no more able to dry than it had been on the floor.
His eyes have never left me.
The new position of the towel is worse than the old.
I am angry.
To wait so long and see such a mess made of it.
I grab his hands,
force him to take the towel down,
shake it out,
rehang it properly.
His stiffness is alarming.
His eyes try to veil the well of tears,
the sense of rejection and failure.
He flees to his room.

I go from room to room and bed to bed,
kissing each cheek,
settling everyone in for the night,
sharing evening blessings and small talk of the day.
One small body huddles against the wall,
refusing my touch,
rejecting my feeble efforts at reconciliation.
He stiffens against my embrace,
still I pick him up in my arms and try to hug his straight arms and body.

We are both crying.
Six months of patient effort to bring him out of his tomb of fear.

Lost because of a tired mom,
and a wet towel,
on a bathroom floor.