There’s an old joke: ‘What do you call a gorilla with a machine gun?’ Answer: ‘Sir.’ Maybe negotiating with a two year old can be seen like this. You know, ‘OK, whatever you want then, sir.’ Gack is two and a half. He hasn’t yet got the hang of the letter J, hence he’s ‘Gack.’ I’m forty two and a half. Today, Gack and I stood in the spitting rain, as the big black cloud lumbered up on us, negotiating on the finer points of the ‘Going to the Park Accord’.
Gack wanted to take the pedal car. ‘OK,’ I said, ‘but you drive it.’ He stood and shook his head. ‘No. Gol carry it.’ I’m Gol. I’m a playworker. I don’t want to be doing the whole ‘pulling adult rank’ thing on him. However, negotiations with two year olds can quickly come to resemble Escher drawings of infinitely looped staircases: ‘No. Gol carry it’; ‘You want the car, why don’t you drive it?’; ‘No. Gol carry it’; ‘I’m not carrying it, but why don’t you drive?’; ‘Gol carry it.’; and so on, and on.
It was around about this point that this discussion wasn’t really a negotiation at all: it was a digging in, mano-a-mano; boy against man; man against man; winner takes it all. I knew I shouldn’t be doing the whole ‘adult pulling rank’ thing, and I wasn’t – consciously. However, from somewhere deep down I began to realise that, actually, yes I was. It was a case of: I’m dug in now. So, I snapped myself out of that, thinking: maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, just maybe, Gack will actually play with the pedal car instead of me carrying it all the way to the park just so he can ignore it and then me carrying it all the way back again.
‘OK, Gack. I’ll carry it for a bit and you drive it for a bit.’
‘No. Gol carry it.’
Hmm. Two many words in a sentence for a two year old to comprehend, perhaps? I drew up my offer again: ‘You drive it. I’ll carry it’; ‘No. Gol carry it.’ I didn’t know if this was a case of cognitive developmental milestones not yet being reached, or if it was a case of Gack being a much more hardline, zero tolerance negotiator than me.
There’s a quote often attributed to Thelonious Monk: ‘Writing about jazz is like dancing about architecture.’ Well, negotiating with a two year old is like dancing about architecture. Sort of. It’s not that it’s impossible, it is possible but you have to let that adult ego go. I’m a playworker (ego?): let it be. Live in the moment. Zen it out. Questions for self: Why did I first feel the need to say that he should drive it himself? Why didn’t I just pick it up and go?
Earlier in the morning, before his mum had left the house, she’d asked Gack: ‘What will you do today?’ Gack said: ‘Playing’, which I thought to be interesting in itself. Playing, not play, as if this was a continuous state. Of course, a two year old isn’t going to be making such distinctions in language use. Maybe. As I sit and write, I think how Gack was playing me during the course of our discussions.
‘Are we going to the park?’ I asked him. ‘Park,’ he agreed. We ended up not taking the pedal car. All was fine for a hundred yards, until: ‘Car. Gol carry it.’ I’d picked him up as part of the play of the moment. I put him down. We stood there under the tree that dripped from the previous shower, and the negotiation loop started again. There’s no point in showing frustration in times like these: there’s nothing that can be gained from it. ‘Are we going to the park?’ (I was all ready to walk back to the house and get the pedal car). Gack thought about it. ‘Park.’
Fifteen minutes later (after taking the two year old’s route in and out of people’s front gardens, stopping to smell the bushes, looking at bugs on leaves too low down for me to see straight off), we got to the park. Five minutes on and we were on our way back again!
Near the shops, Gack had a sudden need to visit the bakery. ‘Cake, Gol?’; ‘I’ve got no money on me, Gack’; ‘Cake?’; ‘Really, Gack, I have no money – when we get home I’ll show you my pockets’; ‘But cake, Gol . . .’
Negotiation loop, round two.