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New Dog, Old Tricks

When I was a kid (OK, teenager) one of my little pleasures in life was locking my dad out of the car.  We’d just gotten one of the fancy new cars with the newfangled “power locks”, and I was heady with power.  See, Dad’s old-school manners-wise, and he’d always open the woman’s door first, then walk around to get in on the driver’s side.  I’d sit in my seat, tense with anticipation, as he circled the hood and approached his door.  My hand casually resting on the door’s arm rest, I’d be the picture of innocence.  He’d optimistically reach for the handle, even start to lift it, and CLICK!  My timing was impeccable. 
He grew to regard his door handle with something akin to loathing, as if it were guaranteed to deliver a physical shock when he touched it.  No matter how long he waited, I’d still zing him.  I even, with masterminded brilliance, allowed him to open the door unmolested a few times, lulling him into a false sense of security before zinging him again.  I was merciless.
As they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

We’re trying to help Maddie learn that actions and sounds have “consequences”, or physical associations.  We’re working on teaching her basic hand signs so she can communicate before her verbal skills catch up, and we’re seeing hints that it’s working.  The other day, she acted disinterested in her food mid-lunchtime so I gave her the “finished” signal and started cleaning her up.  She burst into tears.  I made the “More” sign, asking if she wanted more.  She began bouncing up and down in her chair, smiling!  I brought the food back out and she finished everything.  So we know she’s beginning to connect specific actions with specific ideas.
Encouraged by that, we’ve been working on the whole “Hi” and “Bye” thing.  She’s got the open-and-close hand thing for bye bye, but does it to herself and has no clue it means anything.  Her right arm often waves vigorously when she’s excited, especially upon seeing someone, so we’re trying to get that incorporated into a “Hi” thing.
To that end, every time she makes eye contact and waves her arm up and down, we decided to take that as a sort of, “Hi there, pardner!  Come on over here and talk to me!” signal.  So every time she waves, we respond –reward her – by coming over and kissing her on the forehead.  We wanted the signal and impending response to have happy connotations.
We’ve created a monster.
Earlier, she waved at me from the shelter of her dad’s arms.  I crossed over, kissed her, and sat down.  She giggled, smiled, and did it again.  So I crossed over, kissed her, and sat down again.  She laughed happily, gave me a huge grin, and waved again.  So I did my thing again.  She screamed with laughter, and . . .
Let’s cut to the chase.  We did it a good twenty times before she tired of it.  I think she’s got the “action-consequence” thing down.  Of course, Brian was screaming with laughter as well, watching Mommy run back and forth across the floor.
Mommy got her revenge, though.  Maddie remembered the game hours later and thought of a particular refinement when it was Daddy’s turn to play.
Sitting watching the Superbowl, Brian looked up and saw Maddie in her Gamma’s arms.  Father and daughter’s eyes locked, and Maddie waved.  Brian got up, etc. etc.  As soon as he sat down, of course, it was repeated.  After a couple of identical repetitions, though, Brian thought to save the effort of sitting down and stood there, watching and waiting for Maddie’s next wave.  It didn’t come, so he sat down.
You see this coming, right?
For the next ten or so waves, Maddie waited –however long it took – until Brian’s butt was back on the couch.  As soon as it touched down, the arm went off and she screamed happily.  Maddie’s found a new favorite game, and I’m only happy she refined it with Daddy instead of me.
All I can say is: Brian, watch the car door closely.


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