What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 13
How to Tell Children from Adults 

[p.38]When Philip was in kindergarten, he came home from school one day with this interesting bit of information.

“Mom,” he said, “do you know what happens when you get bit by a bat!”

He didn’t give me a chance to prove that I, too, am up on bats. Before I could shine, he continued, “If you get bit by a bat, you have to go to the hospital where they give you lots of shots and stuff in your stomach. Then you sit around and wait to see if you get rabies.”

At this point Philip paused and looked thoughtful. “So, Mom,” he said finally, “that’s why I don’t stick around with bats.”

I couldn’t help but think this represented a milestone in Philip’s psychological development. It showed me that Philip had begun to think in terms of causes and effects.

I have all sorts of little tricks to help me separate the adults from the children in my life. Children, I have found, very rarely carry meter change, two forms of I.D., a Video Shop membership, Huggies coupons, lay-away slips, Visa carbons from Don’s Husky, and Triple Cash

Bingo cards in their wallets. In fact, children very rarely carry wallets. This in itself is a tell-tale sign of tender age. Adults, on the other hand, hardly ever collect things like Battle Beasts, dinosaur stickers, and Garbage Pail Kids cards. Furthermore, they do not fill used Dixie cups with bits of gravel and glass and put them in their underwear drawer. Also adults never order Happy Meals at McDonald’s for themselves.

As useful as these devices are, however, the differences they reveal between grownups and children are superficial, matters of style rather than substance. The true difference between them relates to their ability to see a cause-and-effect relationship. Adults more or less understand that if they jump on Mother’s furniture with their shoes on, Mother will breath fire. Children, on the other hand, haven’t got a clue and jump away with demented glee.

The truth is that children have very little sense that this follows that or that follows this. So caught up in the moment are they that they cannot look ahead to see what the moment will eventually bring. [p.39]first made this observation long before I had children of my own. I noticed that children have no conception of cause and effect the summer I babysat Sam and Mike.

Sam and Mike were two little boys whom I called the Awful Brothers. The Awful Brothers were especially awful at night when I put them to bed. At that time they became positively wild, turning into night-loving little animals that ripped down curtain rods and left

nasty looking marks on each other’s arms. To halt the destruction, I tried giving the Awful Brothers very specific instructions when I locked them up at night. “I do not want you to remove screens from the windows or take the closet door off its hinges. Now, if you do any of these things I will call Dan-O and tell him to book you.”

In my mind, at least, this summed up my expectations pretty well. So imagine my surprise when the Awful Brothers still kicked holes in their walls. When I then stormed into their bedroom like a one-woman SWAT team, they gave me slightly puzzled expressions that seemed to say, “Now have we met before?”

I used to blame the behavior of the Awful Brothers on their Awful Mother. Now that I have children of my own, however, I’m understandably reluctant to blame a kid entirely on his parent. No, the true problem with the Awful Brothers was that they could not see a connection between their antics and my frantics.

This is certainly true of my own children. Even though I predict for them with startling accuracy what will happen if they stick their tongues on ice cube trees or pull the tail of our sleeping cat, they persist in doing these things. Then when things shake down exactly the way

I said they would, my children act surprised and betrayed. They go into their Major League Windups and let loose with a torrent of tears.

All of this just reinforces my belief that the ability to understand causality is acquired—much as a taste for raw fish or important films where the people speak in subtitles. There’s nothing natural about seeing how one thing leads to another. So as a parent you just keep plugging away, doing your best, explaining things over and over although no one but the family dog seems to be listening. And then he’s only faking it. But then one day a light goes on inside your child’s mind and it becomes perfectly clear to him. Yes! he says to himself. It’s really true after all! Every single word of it!

If you stick around with bats, you get rabies!