Last week, when my little four-year-old friend, N. came for her weekly visit, she forgot to bring the memory game we were going to play, so I improvised. I took an old cookie sheet and put ten items on it: a knife, a pen, a watering can, a cookie cutter, a little green man, an apple, a candle, a measuring cup, an iPod, and a pig. I asked N. to study the items, then had her turn around while I removed one item.
When she turned around, I asked her to tell me which item was missing. She studied the tray, but she couldn’t remember what item was not on it. I showed her the knife that I had hidden behind my back. I put the knife back and told her to study the tray again before I took something away.
“Take the pig away,” she said. I explained to her that the purpose of the game was to remember, and if I took the pig away, she would know what was missing and wouldn’t have to remember, defeating the purpose of the game. She stared at me as if I didn’t know what I was talking about. “Take the pig away,” she repeated. I told her I wouldn’t do that and had her turn around again. I took the measuring cup away. When she turned around, she was clearly puzzled because the pig was still there, and she couldn’t guess what was missing. I showed her the measuring cup. “Now take the pig away,” she said in the tone of voice that let me know I was not playing by her rules, the only ones that mattered. Next round, I took the pig away. She was delighted when she got the right answer this time, as if it had been in doubt.
I like N’s approach to life. If you can’t win by the given rules, make your own rules. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were that easy for us adults? I would make the rule that children could not live farther than fifty miles from their parents.