Kevin, my bearded husband, is curled up in Sophia’s toddler bed, thumb in mouth. Sophie is carefully tucking her pink blanket around him and nestling Snakey Pie in the crook of his arm.
“Here’s your Snakey Pie, baby.” She tells him. “It’s time for you to go to sleep now.”
“Okay, Mama,” Kevin says, “good night.”
“No,” Sophie says, slightly annoyed, “you’re me. You’re supposed to say, ‘But what if I have to go to the bathroom?’”
Kevin plays along. “But what if I have to go to the bathroom?” he whines.
“You have your potty and your toilet paper right here.” She instructs in a voice that sounds eerily like my own. “Now say, ‘Remember to turn on the hall light and crack the door,’” she directs.
“Remember to turn on the hall light and crack the door,” Kevin parrots.
“I will, baby. Don’t worry.” Sophie climbs on top of her art table and flips the light switch. “Good night, baby.”
“Good night, Mama.” Kevin replies.
“And now,” says Sophie, as she slips out the door, “I will sing the good-night song entirely as a duck. Quack quack quaaaaaak. Quack quack quaaaaaak,” she sings to the tune of “Lullaby and Goodnight,” her voice fading as she walks away.
A few seconds later she is back in the room, turning on the light, and saying cheerfully, “Time to get up, baby!”
She could play this game for hours. Being me. Controlling her. Who is really a him.
She is at once internalizing me: my rules, my boundaries, my affections and expressing a need to feel autonomous, to gain some control over herself. Through play, she works out her conflicted emotions about who’s in charge. She can at once recognize me as the one that holds the power and identify with me, enjoying some of that power herself. I believe this kind of play is essential for building self control.
It happens a lot now…three to four is the age for it. We can be in the car, driving, when Sophie says quite plainly:
“You be me, and I’ll be you.”
“Okay.” I say. “What should I do?”
“Turn on my music. I’ll start to sing with it. Then you tell me not to.” This is something she does to me, all the time. It’s really annoying. If I’m forced to listen to Music Together for several hours, why can’t I at least be allowed to sing with it?
I turn on her CD and she begins to sing with it, “Oranges, Lemons say the bells of St. Clemens….”
I know my part well. “NO!” I interrupt, “this is NOT singing music. This is LISTENING music.”
“Sophia,” Sophia says to me, “if you can’t be quiet, I am going to turn off your music and put on traffic music.” That’s what she calls anything that I listen to on the radio. NPR. XPN. Actual traffic.
“Noooooooooooo! I don’t want traffic music. I want MY music!”
“Then BE QUIET and LET ME SING!” she resumes singing with the music.
I let her sing, because I love the sound of her sweet little voice. “No mommy,” she tells me, annoyed, “You’re supposed to tell me to stop.”
“But I don’t want you to stop. I like listening to you sing.”
She starts to turn red, “But that’s not the way it goes!” I guess she has internalized my control-freakiness as well.
“I don’t think I want to be you, anymore.” I tell her. I don’t. I don’t like this game of being mean to her, so that she can boss me around. It’s not a dynamic I’m enjoying now, or when the roles are reversed and we are ourselves.
“But I want to be YOU!” Sophie cries.
I know, Sophie. I know.