Recently the little ones have been engaged in more equal struggles. Child Three has suddenly got verbal, and therefore is better able to defend his position, and express his desires to his sister, who used to just issue decrees about what he was going to play with, and what she was going to do (not that she’s stopped with the fiats, just that he now offers more resistance). He is also deeply at the ‘mini-me’ stage of wanting to do exactly whatever she is doing, whenever she is doing it. So they play with – say – the dolls, and fight – in a rolling cycle – over who gets the doll du jour, who gets to push the pushchair, who wears my shoes and now also who gets to be the mummy. The middle one – the puppydog-eyed -pintsize tyrannical one – will declare herself to be the mummy, and he will immediately chime in that he wants to be the mummy too, and is now as likely as anyone to burst into tears if told he can’t be. I try to leave them to sort out their own turf wars, but if the noise levels get too high (we went to the zoo once, and heard ruff-tailed lemurs screeching at each other, and they sound exactly like that), or if a bloodbath appears imminent, I might sweep in and make them take turns, or if I can get them to settle for it, both be mummies.
This actually rarely satisfies them, and I’m really beginning to think the whole point is to squabble over the limited resource. It’s not that they don’t get on – they do, and frequently play and giggle very nicely together for, ooh, several minutes at a time, rushing from one end of the house to the other, screaming with pleasure and working themselves into paroxysms of silliness. It’s also not that they don’t have plenty of toys and books, because it goes without saying that they do. The strategy of semi-identical items has been tried, on occasion, but I’m not a big fan of it. I think it misses the point. Why have two of anything, when they’ll both want the same one anyway?
A case study, then, to illustrate the point. We have in our possession a certain cushion with a giraffe pattern on it (known to posterity as the “‘raffe cushion” and, it is worth pointing out, rejected as a less-desired-object of two when first introduced to the Commission for Juvenile Fickleness) which has made its way into the car (no, I don’t know how, either. There used to be nothing in the car, except people and maps, but that was a while ago). It is primally fought over, “bagsied” and negotiated around endlessly. In an effort to quell the disputes engendered by the ‘raffe cushion, shoals of other things have followed it into the car, including (but not limited to) a train, several animals, a wooden Miffy book, a doll or two and another cushion (donated by Child One), strategically introduced to pander to the One Each party among the parentforce. Paff. One each. As. If. In the interests of a fair experiment, the other cushion was made as enticing as possible. It is an object of prior and proven covetedness, having been out of bounds on Child One’s bed throughout all of known history*. It is a breathtakingly lurid, Disney-merchandising hideousness of the first water, representing Snow White (I think) complete with the added attraction of a detachable bird on a string. Normally, they would definitely go for it ahead of the rather beige ‘raffe†. I’d stake my life on it. But naturally, in the context of the car, where the ‘raffe cushion is the Designated Object of Desire, the Disney Craptacular is Poison. Untouchable, shrink-from-it, shriek-inducing poison. Personally, I’m inclined to agree, but once again, this is not the point. Eventually, when I could endure no more, I decided to end the experiment early (before they reached the age of eighteen) and take everything else out of the car, leaving only the ‘raffe cushion and enforce strict turn-taking until such time as one or both of them stop caring about it (however, when I went on my trip to Nottingham, I artfully circumvented the issue by bringing one rag-doll, a special favorite of Child Two, for her, and induced her to relinquish her turns with the ‘raffe cushion “because I can let you have it, but you’d have to let him borrow Wollipops”. Hee, hee. They don’t call me Mammachiavelli for nothing.)
Exept for exceptional cases (like the time we bought them each a fireman’s hat at the firestation charity carwash), when near-death toy-rage is a racing certainty, I really don’t go with the One Each principle because I don’t think it teaches the crucial life-skill of negotiation (aside from the crucial life-lesson that Mummy and Daddy have limited resources), which is a skill I do see them gradually learning. They are much better now at sharing custody of the ‘raffe – and it turns out, quite simply, that communication – both being able to talk – is the real key to it. And I think that half the reason that they go for the same thing in the first place is because they are actively seeking out situations where the can learn how to manage the complexities of negotiation and conflict-resolution, which is knowledge we all need, and that being given One Each, or having the Security Council step in is bad for their development, because it deprives them of the opportunity to learn in a context where we still call it ‘turn-taking’ and not ‘warfare’ and where the costs of failure are still low. At its simplest expression, they may occasionally try to beat the crap out of each other now, but I’m hoping it’s their way of preparing for a lifetime of getting along (including a lifetime of sharing the limited resource of their parents’ time and energy).
*a period akin to, but much longer than the statutory “previously sold for” price shops display on their sale tags, next to a tiny asterisk admitting that this was for not less than ten minutes in one special, overpricing stalking-horse store no-body has ever frequented and actually the owners use it as a dummy operation in order to legally justify their “sale” prices. But I digress, slightly.
†At the risk of digressing even further, and more dangerously, I can’t help thinking that the back of my car is some elaborate divine analogy for the Middle East: we have our our own mini-Palestine, once spurned and unattractive, now capable of triggering armaggedon. But hey, now they’re talking, so there’s hope.
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