I texted G the other afternoon:
I have no idea what has just happened. Leila is naked. There is ribena and carrot cake everywhere. The two things may be related
Between accidentally-on-purpose spilling her ribena and then helpfully tearing her carrot cake up to feed to the baby (who by the way, had his own carrot cake, and no OF COURSE I don’t feed my kids too much sugar, what are you implying, that the crazy behaviour I am about to describe may be in any way linked to too much sugar? How dare you, there was carrot in that cake, and that is a vegetable, ok?), Leila had managed to get both wet and crumb-coated, which meant that she must immediately shed all of her clothes.
This happened in the very small snack window I had allotted, in between Asher waking for his nap and us leaving to go to the park. It was vital that we left promptly, in order to return in time to give the kids tea before the Red Mist of Tired and Hungry Small People descended.
So I was keen to leave the house quickly. But in true three-year-old style, Leila could sense my weakness in wanting to leave the house quickly (note: to do something that was almost entirely for her benefit), and so, obviously, refused to get dressed.
My girl has a whole range of ways in which to refuse to do things. She’s like the wind. From the upbeat yet obstinate- ‘I won’t!'; to the evasive- ‘I’m just a bit busy putting my animals to bed/dragging my brother around by his neck/spraying the entire bathroom with water'; to the maddening- simply ignoring me with a vague, glassy-eyed expression, as I crouch two inches from her face going ‘come and sit at the table please, come and sit at the table please, come and sit at the table please’ like a malfunctioning robot, before collapsing onto the floor twitching and mumbling ‘table…. table’ from time to time.
So I decided to call her bluff. ‘Okay!’, I trilled in the faux jolly tones of a mother slightly on the edge, ‘you can go to the park naked!’
‘Okay!’ she mirrored, and we began to edge towards the door, double-bluffing each other as went. I put on my shoes, she remained naked. I packed the changing bag. She remained naked. Put on my jacket. Still naked. Opened the door. Naked as the day she was born.
We were in the porch, with the front door open, Asher in his buggy already in the front yard, and me thinking I was actually going to have to walk through the streets with a starkers child on the buggy board, and wondering whether I should at least insist on shoes, when she finally caved in and yelped ‘NoIdon’twanttogototheparknaked!’, before getting dressed faster than I have seen before.
So it occurred to me that in order to master the iron will of a contrary preschooler, reverse psychology is what’s needed. How many times have I bleated ‘come on Leila, come on Leila’ when we’re in a hurry, with the resulting change in pace making it evident that what she is hearing is ‘hang back, slow down, in fact, stop and analyse each piece of gravel!’. Clearly I just need to flip it and reverse it.
With this new approach in mind, our day could look something like this:
Morning: ‘Leila, it’s 5am, wakey wakey, time to get up! Sleep is for the weak! Down with lie-ins! Let’s go!’
Getting dressed: ‘you know what I think we should do? Wear our pyjamas ALL DAY. Let’s absolutely not get dressed.’
Breakfast: ‘I’d really advise you to only eat two mouthfuls of your cereal before getting down from the table. Strictly no more than that’
And so it would continue, and maybe, just maybe, she’d be bluffed into doing the opposite of what I said, and hence exactly what I wanted her to do.
But even as I type I know that it would be futile. Her powers are stronger than that. Three-year-olds (or maybe it’s just my three-year-old, but I strongly suspect not), are wiser than any parent fool. They are not just contrary, they invented contrary. It is a spidey sense to them; they are the Ninjas of Contrary.
She’d know I was bluffing, and bluff me back. We’d end up with a day that was even more mad and topsy-turvy than our days are already. So for now I’ll just accept that my role is to repeat requests/orders ad nauseum, and rejoice in the rare occasion when she does what I ask, when I ask it.