Snake on a Plane / Notes on Mental Processes

The plane was coming down, on our last flight of the day. Your dad buckled you in. You wanted your seatbelt off, and you started to shout and fight against it. So I told your dad, pass me the rainbow snake! And I snapped it like a collar on my own neck, “Oh no! Get it off me, get it off!” You couldn’t quite reach the snake with your seatbelt on, but your dad helped rescue me. Then snake curled around your own leg and you took it off and on. Disaster-uh-verted.

One of my friends said that you’re a lot easier to redirect than her kid was at that age. I remembered that on the plane and decided it must be true. But if it is true, what business do I have being the one to redirect you, playing the heroic mom who rescues the dad? Wouldn’t it be better for him to solve it himself?

But Ted wouldn’t know it had to be the snake. Now, I couldn’t say why it had to be the snake–not a new toy, not a favorite toy–but it seemed to me that the snake would work, and none of your other toys would. I often feel that way when I’m redirecting you, and who can say if it’s true? Maybe I just surprised you by putting down my book and starting to play, and it was such a surprise and change of tone that you forgot all about the seatbelt.

Then yesterday afternoon I was reading Playful Parenting and eating chocolate cake, when I realized something: Having a snake around one’s neck is a lot like wearing a seatbelt. Get it off, get it off! Where you’d been powerless about getting buckled in, now I was powerless to the snake, and it was up to you and dad to rescue me. Even if you were stuck with your seatbelt, you could take the snake off and on, and that’s just what you did. That was why it had to be the snake.

It’s a good thing I’m so smart, eh? When I’m with you, sometimes I speak the language of dreams, but half the time I couldn’t tell you what I’m saying. It bothers me that much of what seems to make my parenting style work is invisible to Dad and me. I haven’t seen any experts list analogical thinking or ritualization as important skills for parents to cultivate, either, and I doubt that wrapping a snake around my neck looks particularly smart from the outside. When these communicative feats poke into the waking world, I’ve been naming them maternal charisma or toddler redirectability, but I suppose those factors are the tip of things unseen.

NB: For my later thoughts about the same situation and advice on how to do similar tricks, look here.