Thursday, October 01, 2015

"If You Eat This Food You Can Have Some Ice Cream"

The two-year-old said to me, "If you eat this food you can have some ice cream." She placed a plate in front of me on which she had positioned a glob of purple play dough. 

I said, "What is it?"

"It's healthy food."

"What kind of healthy food."

"You just have to eat it."

"I'll need a fork."

"I'll get one for you, Teacher Tom." She dug around on the shelf until she found a plastic one. "Here's your fork, now eat your food."

I pretended to take a bite. Sometimes when kids want me to taste their imaginary food, I make a comical face and say, "It's yucky" or "It's too hot!" but this time I said, "That is so good! I'm going to eat it all!" I stabbed the play dough with my fork pretending to shove the whole thing in my mouth, then hid it on my lap while mimicking chewing and swallowing. "Now I'm ready for my ice cream."

The "ice cream" was more play dough she held in a container. For a moment I thought she was going to serve it to me, but then she said, "First you have to take your bath, then you can have some ice cream."

"I don't want to take a bath."

"You have to take a bath if want to have some ice cream."

"I'll need a wash cloth."

"I'll get one for you, Teacher Tom." She found a small blanket in our cradle of baby dolls. "Here's your wash cloth."

I mimed bathing, then said, "All clean and fresh, now I'm ready for that ice cream."

"No, first you have to put on your jammies."

"I don't want to put on my jammies."

"You have to put on your jammies, then you can have some ice cream."

It went a couple more rounds like this. It was clear that I wasn't going to get any ice cream.

It was all pretend. The food wasn't real, the bath wasn't real, the pajamas weren't real. Even the ice cream wasn't real. Nothing about this was real, it was all a child's game, yet as she dangled that reward always just out of reach, I found a thread of growing annoyance and helplessness underneath my play. I felt manipulated and controlled. I'd jumped through her hoops, yet there was always another placed before me. The game was pretend, but the emotions it evoked were real.

Just think how much stronger those emotions would be were I the child, she the adult, and it was not a game, but rather a part of my day-to-day reality. 

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Hat'n'coat said...

DO you not think she was recreating something that amy have been reality for her?

Teacher Tom said...

No, I think she was recreating how it FEELS to her and other children when we use punishments and rewards to manipulate them. I know her family well and can assure you that they don't do this to her, although they probably, like most of us, consider dessert to be something that comes after dinner. I reckon she was experimenting with what it's like to be on the other side of the dynamic.

Lisa M said...

I love that you can see her working through those feelings through play... showing you how she feels, but also experimenting with the power of being on the other side of the transaction.

Lauren said...

Mine is not as insightful, but I, too, have had some power held over my head by the young ones: ;)

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