My three-year-old niece Rachel came to live with us the on the same day we moved from New York to our new home in Connecticut. Nobody really planned it that way; it just happened.

Ten-year-old Chrissie already had the willys about the move, and eight-year-old Charles didn’t lag far behind in the negative vibe department. Adding a three-year-old to the household took them to the heights of misgiving.

They were prepared to welcome Rachel, but they had no idea how that would work out. And they didn’t know if they’d like their new school. Or their new Sunday School. Or if they’d ever have friends again. I mean, what if the kids in the neighborhood and at school hated them?

And poor Rachel had had very little preparation for this huge change–moving from California to Connecticut to live with somebody she couldn’t remember. Nobody asked her about it, though, so here she came.

Tensions rose well above flood levels. A washout looked possible.

So I decided intervene with a tea party. The kids loved our family tea parties, and a time of quiet enjoyment seemed to be in order.

I set the table with the good china and cloth napkins. I added candles for lighting. A plate of fancy cookies enticed us, and the kids got to drink tea (well mostly milk, but who’s counting?) from bone china cups. They felt very grown-up.

Usually we spent the time in pleasant conversation about what was going on in the kid’s world, their concerns, their hopes.

But not this time. Rachel wanted to know what was up. Clearly, something fishy was going on. She demanded information.

She made it clear that no conversation of any sort would occur until she got to the bottom of things.

I explained the idea of tea parties. No dice.

She got louder (she has a voice like a foghorn) and more insistent.

I explained that when she, Chrissie and Chuckie got older, they’d need to know how to drink and eat from good china, so this was practice.

Who did I think I was kidding? Louder still–and agitated.

So I tried the learning-good-table-manners approach, which immediately went down in flames.

With the only conversation being her loud demands to know what was going on and my explanations all rejected out of hand, I really had nowhere to go.

But the tea party was sinking fast, unhappy faces ringed the table, and the flood of tension appeared about to hit the rapids.

So I told Rachel the real reason we were having a party was because it was the toilet’s birthday.

Finally, a answer she could believe! And about time, too!

Of course, having been reminded of the nearby toilet, she decided she needed to use it.

As I excused her from the table, I told her to remember to sing “Happy Birthday” to the toilet so she didn’t hurt its feelings.

Shooting me a look in intense suspicion, she walked to the bathroom.

After a long pause, as my kids and husband stared at me in wonder, Rachel decided not to take any chances, and we heard a tentative little voice wend its way through “Happy Birthday.” On pitch! Loud and suspicious, perhaps, but talented!

Well, the kids laughed as she sang, but they sobered up by the time she rejoined us. I was proud of their unprompted thoughtfulness.

And somehow or another, that unplanned moment–born of complete frustration–did more to help all three kids’ spirits than anything else I tried. All my efforts, all my “you can do it” speeches paled in comparison to Rachel singing “Happy birthday, dear toilet.”

I wonder if any of them still remember it.

Author's Bio: 

Bette Dowdell grew up in The Salvation Army, the daughter of two ministers. She worked as an IBM Systems Engineer, small company consultant, software company owner and registered mutual fund rep for The Vanguard Group. Through it all, she wrote and spoke. To read about her books, How to be a Christian Without Being Annoying and On We March: A memoir of growing up in The Salvation Army click here And sign up for her original, take-the-hill quotes by clicking on “Subscribe” in the sidebar.