Here’s what you could have won

La Serpiente seems to ignore about half the things I say at the moment. Sometimes this means I have to say the same thing several times to elicit a response, and honestly, when I’ve had a poor night’s sleep, wracked by bad dreams and the child crawling into bed to fidget next to us, I don’t have the capacity to keep repeating myself.

Today, I tried a different approach.

The bus we took to Tiong Bahru has been adapted to accommodate wheelchair passengers. In particular, this means opposite the rear doors on the bus is an area for a wheelchair, along with what looks like a padded bench that can fold down to be used. That seems like an implausible use case; perhaps it’s so people can sit down when there isn’t somebody occupying the wheelchair space.

As we got ready to disembark, La Serpiente began to reach out to fiddle with the bench. "Please don’t pull that" I said to her. And then lo and behold, La Serpiente began pulling it open. It’s like a miracle of synchronicity. I ask her not to do something, she immediately does it. I ask her to do something, she immediately ignored me completely.

So once I’d removed her from the bus and stood her on the pavement next to the bus stop, I asked her why she’d done that. She said she didn’t know. I asked her again. Still, her own actions remained a mystery to her.

So as an experiment, I told her I had been about to buy her a chocolate croissant from the bakery, but because she had done precisely what I’d asked her not to do, I wasn’t going to buy her one after all.

I’m not sure if this was a good thing to do or not. We have to teach her to construct a view of the world which includes consequences, and I’d really like her to pay some attention to us. But it also looks like, in line with economic theory, the loss of utility from being deprived a chocolate croissant exceeds the utility gained from receiving one. And in La Serpiente’s case, she was sad all the way to school.

She tried telling me she was trying to show me what happened if you lowered the bench, but she’d already had two opportunities to supply that reason so that got short shrift. She wheedled, saying that she wanted the croissant to share with me – appealing to my greed and hunger, which works sometimes, but not when I can eat all the croissants I like when I get to work. And she stopped several times to ask to be held, which I’m not going to decline, but a hug doesn’t translate into immediate reinstantiation of croissant privileges.

So, with La Serpiente deposited at school slightly more downbeat than other days, I feel a dilemma: do I let her off the hook for random acts of minor mischief? Should I attempt to preserve her happiness at all cost, or is the croissant sanction better applied differently? And have I just set up her teachers for a slightly tetchy Tissy at school today?

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