Putting things into categories often helps us get what we want. I generally consider this tendency to be more of an adult habit than a childhood habit. After all, it just makes sense to me that we would have to have superior mental capacities in order to compartmentalize skillfully.
On the contrary, in the past couple of days, I have been reminded of two great stories that contradict my previous belief, and I incorporate them here in order to demonstrate how early and how humorously we begin to categorize and compartmentalize our actions.
By the time Ben was three-ish, he had discovered the adrenaline rush of testing boundaries and was becoming more adept at it by the hour. While visiting Papa’s house one evening for Christmas, I believe, Ben decided to do some exploring. Unfortunately, Papa’s pristinely-perfect piano found itself in the path of his ventures. Holding a juice cup in one hand, Ben reached toward the clean ivory keys with his other greasy hand. Mom saw and gave him a clear, unequivocal instruction: “Ben, No! Do not touch the piano.” Ben clearly understood because he looked back at her, hesitated only slightly, and yes, played a fistful of discordant notes.
Mom grew more insistent, saying, “Ben, I told you not to touch the piano!” and started to move toward him to follow up on her instructions, when Ben rushed to explain how he could not possibly be disobeying at that moment. His rationale: “I’m not touching the it, Mommy. My hand is touching it.”
True, his hand may have committed the crime, but I am pretty sure that it was his behind that took the punishment.
To this day, John is not a super huge fan of vegetables, although he does make a valiant effort. A younger John tried to avoid eating veggies at all costs, and this sometimes meant that he did not finish his dinner completely. In his house, the rule was the same as in most others – No Dessert for Children Who Do Not Finish Their Dinner.
One evening, John just could not bring himself to finish off the rest of his vegetables and declared himself to be full. His parents were fine with that – they simply removed the plate and informed him that he would not get any dessert that evening.
This was a problem. While John had difficulty stomaching veggies, his capacity for dessert was quite high. He exclaimed, “No, no – I still want dessert.” Robin expressed shock and awe that he could possibly have room for dessert if he was full just three seconds ago.
John was happy to explain: “You see, my vegetable compartment is very full, but my dessert compartment is completely empty!”