Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Is That a Loophole I See Before Me?

It seems to me that as soon as a child is old enough to understand the concept of rules, he also discovers the concept of loopholes. Who of us has never played the old trick of waving your arms within millimeters of a sibling’s face while announcing, “I’m not touching you!!!” Or responded to a mother’s command to “Stop punching your brother!” by kicking him instead? I have vivid recollections of my mother warning me as she tucked me in bed, at the age of 3 or so, that I was not to put my feet on the floor until she came to get me in the morning, and then as soon as she left the room, jumping around from bed to desk to toy shelf to lamp to rocking horse for an hour – all without touching my feet to the floor. And of course, when she came back to check out the source of the thuds, I protested innocently that my feet had never touched the floor, just as she said. We discover very young that as long as we obey the letter of the law, we can often disregard the spirit of the law with impunity.

I had assumed that the discovery of loopholes would not happen until the child reached a certain age and developed some degree of vocabulary. However, my son, at the ripe old age of 15 months and with a vocabulary that consists entirely of the words “up” and “bye-bye”, proved to me yesterday that he knows exactly what a loophole is, and he’s not afraid to use it.

His playroom in our basement is basically a large open room on one side of a staircase, with a hallway on the opposite side of the stairs off of which are doors to a closet, a bathroom, a study, and a laundry room. The laundry room door doesn’t latch properly, so although he has yet to master the art of turning a doorknob, he knows he can open that door simply by grabbing the knob and pushing. He also knows that he is not allowed in that room. But yesterday, the temptation to explore was just too strong, and as I sat on the couch on one side of the stairs, I heard the creak of the door swinging open on the other side, so I said sharply, “No!” and he immediately came running around to me with a grin, as if to say, “See? I didn’t go in!” We repeated this several times until I decided I needed to sit in the hallway and keep an eye on him. He walked up to the forbidden door, and with his eye fixed on mine, reached one hand up towards the doorknob. I immediately scolded, “No! No touching!” and he pulled back his hand and shook his head solemnly, “no no no no no”. He thought for a few seconds, then he very deliberately put his hands behind his back, sidled back up to the door…and nudged it open with his belly, all the while grinning in triumph. I made an attempt to scold him again, but since I was literally rolling on the floor and laughing so hard I could barely get the words out, I doubt that the scolding was very effective.

So I suppose that the lesson to be learned here is that I need to be very specific about the way I express the rules to him, and that I need to teach him to obey the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law. The other lesson, of course, is that my kid is already outsmarting me and I should be afraid for my future. Very afraid.

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