So I’m sitting in front of Declan’s high chair, watching him scrunch a piece of peanut butter toast between his fingers–cringing a bit at the thought of the gooey butter getting under his fingernails and in between the webs of his fingers–and then up walks the dog to the edge of the high chair–prime begging/crumb-snatching position– and this is what happens:
Declan: (looking at me, then at the dog, then back at me) Gaaaa.
Me: Yes, dog.
Declan: (shaking his head in a “no” motion)
Me: You’re right. We don’t feed the dog right now. (Pointing to the bread) That’s for you. That’s Declan’s.
Watson: (inching closer to the tray)
Declan: (looking at the dog, looking back at me, shaking his head “no”)
Me: Very good. No feeding the dog. You eat it.
Declan: (starts to put bread in mouth, takes it out, holds it out over the edge of the tray toward Watson)
Watson: (licking lips)
Me: Declan, don’t do that. You eat it. That’s Declan’s.
Declan: (dropping bread over the edge where Watson takes approximately 1.6 seconds to scarf it and then spends the next 10 minutes making disconcerting lip-smacking noises and coughing)
Me: Declan, no. Don’t feed the dog.
Declan: Uh-uh. Uh-oh!
Freeze it here. Back when I was working in Albuquerque, a few of us got into the habit of responding to obvious lies or misinformation–or even differing opinion–in the newsroom by acting as if we were drawing a playing card out of a deck, slamming it onto the desk in front of us, and yelling “Bullshit!” It was the bullshit card. And yes, we were forced to play it a lot. This is what I think of each morning when the above scenario unfolds.
Uh-oh, in my mind, indicates something that happens by chance, without intention. An accident. This…is something different. An intentional uh-oh. A deliberate uh-oh. A pressing of limits. Declan is looking for a reaction. He understands, I think, that he is not supposed to feed the dog. But he does it anyway. Why? To see what I’ll do. This is where we establish rules and build trust. If I’m consistent in my reaction, I figure, he’ll learn.
Back to the peanut butter scene. Watson is still smacking his lips, still interested in the boy behind the tray. Declan is holding another piece of toast over the edge.
Me: You eat it. I made it for you.
Declan: (putting bread into mouth, chewing it)
Me: Good. That’s Declan’s toast.
Declan: (taking soggy, spitty bread out of mouth, holding it over tray, placing it directly into the mouth of the dog, who gently takes the bread then licks the remaining miniature gobs of peanut butter off the baby’s fingers…because, you know, he’s nothing if not thorough)
Me: (wanting to put face in palms) Declan, no. We don’t feed the dog.
Declan: Uh-oh (shaking head “no”)
So yeaaaah, this is going to be a process. But I think it’s worth remembering: he’s starting from zero. He’s not going to know math just because I tell him every morning that 1+1=2. He has to hear it hundreds of times, and then see the concept demonstrated hundreds of times, and then practice that concept for himself and make some mistakes and try out different possible answers. And only then will he know it for himself. So, in the meantime, the dog’s going to get a lot of peanut butter. Oink oink, Watson.