It came out of nowhere. One morning, I was sitting on the lone remaining spot on the couch left unclaimed and uncluttered, trying to guzzle down my first cup of coffee before my 15-month-old son, Macklin, discovered I had something he did not. For unimaginable reasons, his main mission in life right now is to sneak a sip of scalding hot coffee. Me, being the adult in the relationship, consistently denies him the opportunity to experience second-degree burns. I know, how cruel.
As we got into our daily ritual of me standing up in the middle of the room to drink my coffee, keeping a safe distance from his flailing arms of desperation, it happened. He flashed me “the look”. His eyes narrowed slightly, his smile slowly curled up and he made the calculated move to fling himself headfirst off the living room chair… maintaining eye contact throughout.
At 15 months, premeditation had entered his cognitive sphere of manipulation. “The look” made its first appearance, and has since been on regular display from high atop couches, chairs and changing tables. “The look,” if you’re unfamiliar, is the physical manifestation of a child’s internal struggle between pretending to care about others and all-out selfish fulfillment with complete disregard to self or surroundings. To the onlooker, it says “hey there, watch me get exactly what I want in such a way that maximizes your infuriation with me.”
When I force myself to pause and reflect on this new developmental milestone, I’m able to see the benefits. With “the look,” Mack is displaying his childish genius, evil as it often is. He’s starting to understand cause and effect, which shows a capacity for forward thinking and planning. The manipulative part—admittedly, a bit of a double-edged sword—also shows a certain cunning that will most certainly come in useful later in life. The challenge of fostering his new skill of manipulation is drawing the line just short of Patrick Bateman-esque psychopathy. Well short, hopefully.
The funny thing about “the look” is that the results (aftermath might be more appropriate) are always black or white. Either Mack ends up crying because he failed to anticipate the realistic outcome of jumping off the furniture, or he screams with delight and giggles in my arms after I save his life for the 600th time.
I assume I’ll be seeing a lot more of “the look,” as Macklin figures out its myriad applications. For example, he already loves garbage—garbage cans, garbage trucks, actual garbage. I imagine the day is not far off when he’ll flash me that devious look as he picks up a piece of forgotten food off the dining room floor and slowly moves it towards his mouth. Will I allow him to eat it? Obviously, yes. But just the one time. After that, I’ll win the garbage eating battle every time, look or no look.
What I’ve decided is that it all comes down to trust. Mack clearly trusts me not to lose my mind when he puts me to the test, and I most definitely trust his rubbery, flubbery body to bounce nicely off the floor when he does decide to take the leap before I’m in a position to catch him. It’s a fun game (for him) that prevents me from getting too comfortable with my life of playing toddler games and not going to work.