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Mastering The Art Of Distraction

With Cora’s insatiable curiosity and
burning desire to do whatever Maddie does coloring every step she
takes, her big sister Maddie has learned that honey is sweeter than

Maddie constructs elaborate games nearly every day – stories
about Thomas, plays involving every single animal we’ve got
in the Little People Kingdom, an elaborate picnic for her teddy
bears – the variations are endless but with one theme in
common: Maddie, and only Maddie, understands the plot and rules of
the game, and no one else can play. She’ll set up a story in
the morning right after breakfast, and come back to it all day
long. As a rule, we clean up every night before bed, but I allow
Maddie to leave her games overnight if I can tell she’s still
in the midst of an epic.

I’m telling you this so you
understand the fear that strikes Maddie’s heart when the C
Monster ambles over and begins picking toys up and moving them
about. Bless her heart, Cora only wants to be a part of
Maddie’s world, but there simply isn’t room in
Maddie’s universe for an uncomprehending Godzilla of a little
sister who decimates a pretend city with the wave of a bootied

As recently as a few months ago, this would be the point at which
Maddie would lose it and a major fight would break out. “Stop
it, Cora, stop it! You’re RUINING my game!” Maddie
would scream. Not understanding, Cora would continue to (shudder)
move the trains, at which moment Maddie would commence with the
hitting and grabbing. Which is when Cora, alarmed, would start the
screaming and the biting.

It’s not just my household, right?

But Maddie’s been slowly learning to understand Cora’s
intentions, and more importantly, to try to meet Cora’s
desires without messing up her own game.

The first step for Maddie was to not allow Cora’s
interference to totally send her into freak-out mode. This is
easier said than done, but Maddie’s learning to stay calm and
not take it personally. Second, Maddie learned to ask Mommy for
help right away, rather than trying to fix things herself. Grabbing
a Thomas Train and saying loudly, “No, Cora, that’s not
where it goes! Listen to me! LISTEN TO ME!” is not as good as
a Mommy Intervention.

Next, Maddie observed my interventions with Cora – First
I’d ask Cora what she was trying to accomplish, and try to
figure out her intentions and desires. Then I’d explain the
situation with Maddie’s game and find an alternate activity
for Cora that would fulfill her desire. It could be on the
periphery of the game, or a parallel game with different toys, or
something else entirely – helping Mummy with a chore is
always good. And when Maddie saw how I could divert Cora with a
different action or toy, she began incorporating it herself.

Desperately, Maddie would be using her body as a human shield over
her game set-up, waiting for the Mommy Cavalry to arrive. Trying
her hardest not to become angry or hurt Cora, Maddie would search
around mentally and finally land on a Mommy Trick. “Hey,
Cora, how about taking this one zebra over there for me and making
sure it has food, could you do that?” I’d round the
corner just in time to see Maddie’s body go limp with relief
as Cora trotted off, crooning to her new charge.

And now, Maddie’s become so accomplished in the art of
distraction that she anticipates her sister before it even becomes
an incident. Just yesterday morning, Maddie jumped down from the
breakfast table and ran over to the game she’d left
overnight. I’m not sure what was going on, but it involved
three big plastic trains packed side-by-side with Little People
animals standing on every single surface. My guess is that the
circus was coming to town.

When Cora saw Maddie rush to continue her playtime, Cora began
hurrying (for her) her own breakfast and leapt down as fast as she
could. As Cora made a beeline for the makeshift train depot, before
she was even halfway across the room Maddie calmly said, “Hey
Cora, you know what? I could really use some help. Could you come
over here and take these animals over there? They need a nice
set-up for a nap.” Eager to be of service and proud to be
included, Cora’s eyes glowed as she ran over, took the
handful of animals without even so much as a glance at the rest of
the set-up, and sat down a few feet over to get to her assigned
task. Maddie smiled to herself and began humming as she resumed

Maddie needs to learn to share, of course, and to be a part of a
family and compromise, and they do work on that and play many games
together, I promise: for every elaborate set-up I defend, there are
three or four that I insist Maddie find a way to make Cora a part
of. But I also understand the need as the oldest to sometimes be
able to keep a game just for her.

I’m amazed she learned the lesson so well, and can’t
help but wonder- when did my kid get so smart? She’s so dang
observant. There’s also another small part of me that’s
afraid I’m going to be on the receiving end of this
diversionary tactic at some point in the future. I can picture my
teenage Maddie hanging out with her friends in the living room as I
come walking in, eager for a little girl talk with my kiddo’s
friends. Before I even sit down, Maddie will jump up and say,

“Hey, Mom, you know what I could really use? I’d really
love some of your famous cookies to munch on right now. The girls
all love them. Could you do that for me?” And I’d trot
off to the kitchen, eager to be of service and proud to be

And then I’d stand in the kitchen and hear the giggling
commence again and think, Hey, what just happened here?


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