And NOW They Listen?!

Posted by mwallach on April 14, 2012 in My Kids |

Dear That’s Life,
In the 1890s, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov conducted an experiment. Using dogs, he repeatedly presented the animals with two stimuli which, because of their proximity to each other, were eventually seen by his subjects as one. The ringing of the bell and the presentation of food were initially presented apart, with first a bell being rung and then a little while after food appearing, causing the animals to salivate. However, by shortening the time span in which the two items were offered to the animals, they were eventually seen as one unit. Ultimately, when Pavlov rang the bell the dogs began to salivate even without the presentation of food because the two stimuli had been inextricably linked as one.

This became known as classical conditioning and is exactly what I think of each time our doorbell rings. No matter how many times I tell my children not to run to the door when they hear the bell, they high tail it to the front of the house, as if Ed McMahon himself was waiting on the other side, ready to hand me my Publisher’s Clearinghouse check.

The battle between me and my kids and their love for answering the door had gone on long enough. The most important reason for this steadfast rule is that they were opening the door for our guests before an adult could confirm that the person on the outside was actually welcome inside. I had never found a complete stranger in my kitchen, but it was not beyond the realm of possibility. In addition, with the string of robberies and forced entries in our neighborhood a little while back, this seemed like a prudent measure. As such, we taught our children that only an adult was permitted to answer the door. We have never enjoyed great success with this rule, with the audible scampering of small feet right after the doorbell rings heard throughout the house. That, however, all changed this week – when I got locked in the garage.

It was only after the door closed behind me that I realized I had not unlocked it. While it has happened before to all of us here, on this occasion the situation was different because I was the only adult home. My three youngest children were in the house as well, but only the toddler was on the main floor. I banged repeatedly on the door and called her name, but to no avail. I finally deciding that their inability to follow our rule not to answer the front door when they hear the bell might actually be a blessing. With that, I opened the garage and walked around to the front. I simultaneously rang the bell with one hand without stopping while banging on the door with the other, but had no success. It seemed someone was finally listening to the rule. Lucky me.

Sanitation workers arrived outside my home on their usual run and children waiting for the school bus gathered on my corner as my histrionics continued. I was causing a scene. I sheepishly waved at them and wished them a good morning. I could not believe the irony, trying to decide if I should ultimately be relieved that they were abiding by our rule. Unfortunately, the silver lining of this latest saga in my life would not be apparent until after it was over. For now. I just wanted to go inside.

Finally, I heard a voice inside my home approach the door. While I had hoped it was not my toddler, I was not that fortunate. “Mommy,” she bellowed in the general direction of our upstairs, loud enough to wake the dead, “somebody [is] ringing the doorbell!” Rolling my eyes, I gently knocked on the door, called her name and told her it was me.

Slipping back the curtain on the side of the door, she peeked out and I waved. “Hi, Mommy,” she said, grinning ear to ear. “Hi,” I replied, asking her to quickly get one of her siblings to let me in. “Okay,” she said quickly, excited about her mission. I was home free – or at least I thought. Less than a minute later, she returned, but without someone capable of opening the door. Instead she had something to show me.

“Look, Mommy!” she said beaming. “I have a new brush.” She held the Hello Kitty brush up the window and smiled, while my chin fell to my chest. “I know, sweetheart,” I said. “But could you get someone to open the door for me instead?” Again, appreciating her mission, she gave me a swift, “Okay!” and closed the shade, leaving me alone on the steps, my morning audience growing. She returned a minute later.

Sliding back the curtain, she had something else in hand. “Look, Mommy!” she said. “I have new clips!” and showed me the matching Hello Kitty clips that had come with the brush. “That’s great, sweetheart,” I said, completely defeated. “But could you please get someone to open the door?” She smiled. “I do it,” she replied and began to play with the knob, with no success. Finally, I had an idea.

“Could you open the garage door?” I asked her. On a few occasions, she had been able to open that door and I figured it was worth a shot. My continual banging on the front door and bell ringing had not ceased nor was it effective, so this was plan B, and she was game. “Okay,” she said in her hurried voice, at which point I bolted from the front of my house and headed back to the garage. I was afraid she was going to open it, not see me there and allow the door to close.

I called her name as soon as I got to the door. All of a sudden, there was a slight turn of the handle. She had done it. I quickly seized my chance and pulled the door towards me. It swung open and my little girl was standing right before me. “Hi, Mommy!” she said and I gave her a big high-five. “Nice job!” I told her and we both smiled. I was filled with a complete sense of relief. Of course, it then took no time at all for my other two kids who had been upstairs and ignored every call for help to join us in the kitchen.

“Hi, Ma,” said my son, looking as innocent as ever. “Who was at the door?”
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Arpil ’12

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