I thought that my years of teaching inner city high school kids had honed my abilities to give directions that left very little room for interpretation. But high school students are not nearly as creative as toddlers. I guess the responsibilities that come with negotiating drug deals in the bathrooms don't leave as much time for system gaming as I had originally thought. To a three year old, "Go wash your hands and face" sounds like "Please climb into the washing machine and try to turn it on. It would be extra helpful if you could take your little sister with you." I have learned that the proper way to give that instruction is "Go into the bathroom. Stand on the stool and use soap to wash your hands in the sink." I don't usually have to specify when to turn the water on and off. I've also learned that when I ask the kids to keep the sand inside the sandbox it's important to specify that I mean the sandbox in our backyard. The instructions to get ready for bed include close to a dozen steps.
It makes me giggle a little bit when my kids talk to me the same way I talk to them. On our most recent trip to the grocery store my little girl told me, "Mama, first you have to find my brother's shoes. Then you pick him up. Then you put socks on him. Then you put his shoes on. Then you take him outside and open the van door. Then you put him in his seat. Then you buckle his top buckles. Then his bottom buckles. Then you do your buckles. Then we can go shopping."
I'm still pretty new to the parenting game. So while I do find the antics somewhat aggravating, there is still a part of me that is curious to see what they will come up with next. A few days ago while I was washing my hands in the sink with soap (but not standing on the stool), I heard the unmistakable clatter of something large falling down the stairs. My initial panic that the day might include a trip to the emergency room subsided when the noise was followed by hysterical laughter. The kids came running in to tell me that the diaper boxes were sleds and the stairs were snow. I thought this sounded awesome, and my heart broke a little bit when I had to tell them to stop. Especially since we live in Texas and that's as close to sledding as it gets around here. But my desire to avoid a medical emergency won the day, and we put the boxes away.
Sometimes I give intentionally vague instructions to see what happens. When it's time to read stories I tell them, "In two minutes I'm going to come upstairs and read the stories that are on the rocking chair, so if you want stories go pick them now." So far they have not yet figured out that I have not limited them to one story each. I'm waiting for the day when they decide to unload their entire bookshelf onto the rocking chair. And if they ever do, I will sit there for as long as it takes and read every story.