We read a lot these days about the best ways for parents to set appropriate boundaries for their kids without resorting to the cattle prod (those were the days), but little attention has been devoted to the myriad ways in which our kids set boundaries for us. In this post, I am hoping to begin to redress this imbalance.
Now, I’m not talking here about the subtle balance of carrot (smiling, laughing, babbling and puppydog-style head tilting etc etc ) and stick (screaming…and…screaming) that babies use in order to push us just far enough to get all needs met, but not so far that we end up putting them in the bin (which is lucky, because I can’t find out on our council website which of the three bins you are supposed to put babies in. They are clearly not green waste, but can they be recycled? The information is just not available.)
What I am intending to explore instead is the somewhat more surreal boundary setting of the threenager. One of our favourite past times is to ask the parents of Tilly’s three-year-old friends about the nutty rules and superstitions of their children, and my hope is that this post will prompt you, my dear readers, to share some more with me (and just so you know, the children in question don’t need to be threenagers).
Let me give you an example. Tilly has two ‘friends’. Their names are ‘Keke’ and ‘Beddy’ (pictured below – and, before you ask, Beddy and Keke are both prone to mosquito bites, with the photo of Beddy being taken after a particularly vicious attack.)
The rules I want to explain to you relates to an interesting fact about Beddy and Keke, and that is that Beddy likes to be warm, and Keke likes to be cold. As a result, we are often asked to put Keke in the freezer in the lead up to bedtime, so he can be cold enough to cope with the warmth of blankets.
We also get in big trouble (and this is where the surreal boundary setting really comes in) if we ever neglect to carry Keke by his ears. You see, if you carry him by his body, this warms him up to a degree that causes him great distress (it’s obvious if you think about it). So successful has been Tilly’s conditioning of my behaviour in this regard, that I now only ever pick up Keke by the ears – even if Tilly isn’t there to supervise.
Our bedtime rituals with Tilly have also been shaped by Tilly, as much by her as by us in fact. After the standard bath (optional), toilet, teeth and stories routine, when Tilly is finally in bed, she demands that I ‘sit’ (which means sitting in the big red chair in her room for a few minutes) and then Susie has to bring her in some water and stroke her face for a few minutes. If we ever suggest that perhaps ‘mama can sit tonight, and papa stroke your face’ Tilly flatly refuses to even consider it.
Up until recently Susie also had the responsibility each night of bringing in a Bandaid (aka sticking plaster) to treat the mosquito bites of either Beddy or Keke, but we managed to convince Tilly that the constant application and removal of Bandaids would eventually be the death of her friends, and so they are now treated with a liberal dose of ‘pretend cream’ instead.
My last example relates to what Tilly refers to affectionately as ‘the Cow Song’. A couple of years ago we got a Putumayo kids CD with songs from all around the world, and soon decided that it would be a perfect CD to play in the car since we liked the music almost as much as Tilly did. For the first few weeks things went pretty well. Tilly was happy to listen to the CD from beginning to end, and showed no particular preference for any one song. After a while though, she started asking for particular songs to be played over and over again. This was a touch trying, but we comforted ourselves with the fact that her song of choice would change from trip to trip, or at least from week to week. Eventually though, she decided that there was, in fact, only one song that she really wanted to listen to, and that was a German song about milk (my two years of high school German enabled me to determine that much at least). I’m not sure how it came to be called ‘the Cow Song’, but that was certainly what Tilly came to call it as she demanded to listen to it over and over again. It is a testament to how vulnerable you are to your own children that we allowed this to go on so long, but we did.
Eventually, of course, the ‘The Cow Song’ became ‘sick’, and so we couldn’t play it any more – the relentless repetition had taken it’s toll (there is a clever bit of bilingual wordplay there for speakers of German). And that would have been the end of it…if I’d been able to keep my big mouth shut. You see, after a while some of the other more favoured songs started to go the way of ‘The Cow Song’, and the CD became an ordeal to listen to, what with the constant skipping. That, combined with Tilly regularly asking for ‘The Cow Song’ and then saying, with genuine grief in her voice, ‘Oh, that’s right. It’s sick, isn’t it papa?’, caused me to buckle, and, in a moment of weakness, I admitted that we could perhaps burn a new copy of the CD. ‘The Cow Song’ was back, with a vengeance.
And just so that you can share my pain, here it is in all it’s glory for your listening and viewing pleasure. While you are listening, perhaps you can think of an example of a bizarre kiddy rule to share with me. That’d be mighty neighbourly/neighborly of you!
ps Tilly doesn’t know that this clip exists, and (for my sanity) she must never know, so mum’s the word.