In the Alt.House at the moment, The Annoying Thing is a small four legged wooden stool. Reminiscent of a miniaturised school science lab stool, it stands about 12 inches tall, and mainly serves as a pain in the proverbial. It gets in the way, constantly under foot, never put back where it is supposed to live, a permanent trip hazard in a house already plenty hazardous enough. Alt.Father has on more than one occasion threatened to reduce it to firewood having tripped over it for the 59,785th time in the same day, but somehow we've managed to keep it.
In itself, the stool (or "the Standing") as Alt.D1 refers to it, is perfectly innocuous. It was bought from Ikea as a helpful aide for the short people (she and I!) in this house to Reach Things. And therein lies the problem. Alt.D1 can reach things. Lots of things, that she probably ought not be able to reach. The location of the Standing at any one moment in time is a clue to what might have been going on.
Example of case in point:
I am trapped, breastfeeding Alt.D2 on the sofa, out of line of sight of the kitchen. I hear the Standing being taken from its hiding place. My ears prick up. I hear a cupboard door, the clink of glasses and the thud of the fridge being opened and closed.
"Alt.D1..." I say, tentatively, "what are you doing?" (of course I know full well what she's doing, but still). The response comes:
"I'm making a drink, Mummy"
Now, I'm quite happy for her to have a drink any time, but in order to pretend I have some kind of control, or minimise chaos at the very least, I'd like her to get permission.
"Really you should ask me first, you know?" I call back. A little face appears at the door, eyes wide.
"I'm sorry, Mummy," she says, seriously, "would you like a drink, too?"
Of course this made me chuckle to myself, but I said "yes please" and was presented very carefully a few moments later with half a glass of apple juice. Just what I needed!
I was incredibly proud of her for being so thoughtful, but realised at that point that the Standing had the potential to unleash all kinds of trouble and mischief! Since then, she's used it to make herself a sandwich (yes, really, bread, marmite, a butter knife and a plate) and to hang keys on the key rack. It's been used "to check how many eggs were in there!" (not quite so successful, that one!) and latterly, as part of some kind of energy saving drive, to switch the fridge off at the mains.
Whilst I was not quite so appreciative of the broken egg or the notion that I was going to have to shell out (no pun intended there!) for a new fridge, the role of the Standing, AKA the Annoying Thing, has got me thinking about independence.
Alt.D1 is 3 years old, and it seems the only thing that is currently holding her back is her tiny stature (and she is quite small for her age). Should we also be holding her back? Hovering over her, telling her it's not safe for her to do this or that? There's a school of thought which says that if we tell children that something will happen to them, then it will. For example, "get down or you'll fall off!" is inevitably followed by that parental gem "see, what did I tell you?" whilst said child is being scraped up off the floor.
Alt.D1 knows that some knives are sharp. I've told her, and shown her. She knows to choose a flat, blunt butter knife to make her sandwich. If she's doing it while I am otherwise occupied with the baby (and man small kids are quick!) there is every chance she'll be successful and come through it unscathed. Should I be taking away that learning opportunity for the sake of safety? Somehow I don't think so. (I've moved the sharp knives, though, just in case!).
So the Standing is helping my daughter to grow, if not in actual height, but in independence. Long may it continue to do so, unless of course it ends up as firewood!