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Changing the Rules

127. Changing the Rules

When I worked at Ramapo Manor Nursing Center in Rockland County, NY, we arranged for a nursery group of three and four-year-olds to come for an hour to the nursing home once a month. Sometimes they sang, sometimes they had story time with us. Sometimes they just came and had snacks and the children played around the eighty and ninety year olds. But one time I remember we had the idea of asking the little ones to bring a game of theirs to teach the older folks. And they came on that visit with their various games.

Now remember, they were three and four years old, so the games were fairly simple ones and most of the games were new to the nursing home residents. We set them up at tables and I ended up standing near a table where a four-year-old little girl and an 86-year-old woman sat at a table together. The four-year-old explained her game. She told the older woman all the rules and they started to play. The game went along and pretty soon it was obvious that the older woman was winning. The four year old paused and then said brightly, “I forgot to tell you a rule,” and she proceeded to institute a new rule which would swing the game her way. The 86-year-old woman smiled and listened. They started to play again and sure enough the little girl began to win. That quickly the rule changed.

Another example: In our house in an effort to encourage four children to try new foods we instituted a rule of “three bites with a smile.” I don’t know why we put in the part about the smile. But that rule went along for years until one day when Nelson had cooked and had fixed asparagus. As the bowl of asparagus was passed around the table, it finally came to me, and since I did not especially like asparagus, I quietly passed it on to the child sitting on my right. He took it and then looked at me and handed the bowl back, saying, “Three bites with a smile, Mom.” I grimaced, took a small portion and dutifully ate it. Shortly thereafter the rule was dropped. And that quickly the rule changed.

What I’ve learned from this is that sometimes you can smile and let the rules change. Sometimes you can protest when the rules change. And sometimes you can be the changer.

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