The other day, The Lovely Marianne and I hosted our son Andrew and his three children, Luke (5), Nora (3) and Brita (1). (That’s Nora on the right in the banner picture.) They had come for dinner, but it wasn’t quite ready when they arrived so Luke and Nora set about playing with some of the toys we keep on hand for such occasions. On this occasion, Luke and Nora wanted to play with Legos so they hauled the bin out from under a guest bed and went to work. At one point, Nora had added some Legos to a couple of containers and brought them down the hall from the bedroom where Luke was playing and in which the Lego bin was located.
Dinner was soon ready and Andrew asked Nora to put the Legos in the containers back into the Lego bin. This required Nora to move the containers from the piano room and down the hall.
“No,” Nora said. Well, she’s three and more than a little headstrong, so this was not an unexpected response. At this point this was merely a routine refusal to do as she was asked. Andrew repeated his request a number of times. On Nora’s fourth refusal, Andrew introduced a consequence. “No desert if you don’t take them back to the bin.”
With desert on the line, Nora clearly was sorely tempted to do as she was asked. But, remember the part about her being headstrong? She had already put down her marker and she wasn’t going to abase herself. She’s also smart and saw a way to have desert and still save face.
“I can’t carry both of them,” Nora said. That was plainly not true as she had transported both containers originally from the bedroom. “You take one.” And there it was. A compromise was on the table. But Andrew is strong willed as well.
“No.” Andrew was calm, but unyielding. “Please take them both back or no desert.”
This upset Nora because she thought she had offered a reasonable resolution and couldn’t understand why her Dad wasn’t cooperating. Andrew came back to the table. With Nora seemingly inconsolable, lamenting her loss, I stepped in to try to help. I coaxed Nora to transport both containers half way down the hall by asking her to move the containers in stages. But halfway down the hall she realized what I was trying to do. There she stopped and wouldn’t budge.
“You take one!” she insisted when I tried to entice her to the Legos bin, just a few steps away. I ignored her and asked her to take one of the containers to the bin which she promptly did because that had been her offer all along.
“Now take the other one, please.” I had thought that by asking her to take them one at a time, she might comply and now that she was half way there, I was reasonably confident of success. But she recognized my subterfuge.
“No, you take it!”
I reiterated my request.
“No,” she repeated. “You take it.”
I tried two more times, but was met with the same refusal. At that point I gave up. “Okay, I guess you won’t have desert.”
Thinking about that incident, I wondered what was going on her head. Here she was half her task complete and the rest within a few steps of completion. Pick up the last container, walk ten feet down the hall and sweet, sweet desert was hers. But she refused. Well, she’s three and who knows what’s happening in her head. It’s a foreign land where adults are strangers. Or is it?
It didn’t take me too long to recall instances when I had exhibited the same stubborn refusal to do what I knew I should do. Something easy that would bring its own reward. So, what was I thinking in that moment? Stubborn, pig headed refusal is what I was thinking. I really haven’t learned much from when I was in Nora’s shoes. Maybe I understand Nora better than I’d thought.
Well, the Nora situation was soon resolved when TLM took up the challenge. She asked Nora to transport the remaining container to the Lego box. Nora immediately recognized the opportunity. Desert was within reach and she didn’t have to humiliate herself by giving in to someone whom she had previously refused to obey. Dignity thus preserved, she promptly picked up the container and trotted down the hall to the Lego bin and desert was hers.
But she made me pay. With a world class scowl she pointed at me. “I don’t like Grandpa. I’m sitting by Grandma not Dad or Grandpa.”
“Next time,” I told TLM, “I get to be the good cop.”