Gaslighting can be incredibly dangerous and demoralizing, because it warps your entire view of what is real, and almost turns you into your own abuser. It makes you doubt yourself and call yourself crazy.
So naturally Audrey does it to me all the time.
The Nilla Wafers Incident
One night, Audrey opened up the pantry and pulled out a box of Mini Nilla Wafers without saying a word to anyone. She then carried the box around happily for a while, eating all the Mini Nilla Wafers she could manage until I noticed what was happening.
Now, I have long since learned that "just one more" of anything (snacks, renditions of "la la la Elmo's Song," books, episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse) is infinitely less likely to end in total toddler meltdown than suddenly announcing that there will be NO more without a fair warning.
So I took the box away from her and said that we were all done with cookies and she could take one more before I put the box away.
She said okay and reached down into the package. And out came her little hand with two Nilla Wafers in it -- one clutched between her thumb and her forefinger in full sight, and then a sneaky second cookie being held against her palm by her other three fingers.
At first I thought that maybe she didn't understand when I said "one more." I mean she's only two; she's not exactly performing multivariable calculus over here. Maybe the concept of "one cookie" versus "two cookies" kind of threw her off.
But then she held up the openly visible cookie and said "I take one cookie Mommy," continuing to hide the second cookie in her palm.
She knew exactly what she was doing.
But then I thought again, she's only two! How could she possibly be so clever and so evil already? I mean this is a stunt that required some planning. Some knowledge of deception and some understanding of when things can and can't be seen from the perspective of others. Which toddlers are notoriously awful at. After all, this is the same kid who tried to hide between my legs during a game of hide and seek. How could a child who thought I would not be able to locate her while she was touching me suddenly understand that if she palmed a cookie in a certain way, I wouldn't see it and she could eat it in peace?
Did she really palm that cookie?
If so, did she palm it on purpose?
Did she look me in the face and lie, claiming she had followed my instructions and taken only one cookie when she had in fact taken two?
AM I LOSING MY MIND?
In the end, I let her have both cookies and didn't say anything. If she thinks she's getting away with this stuff, maybe she'll let her guard down and make it easier to catch her when it's bottles of vodka she's palming and not snack cookies.
I'm just thinking ahead.
The Potty Incident(s)
We are currently potty training Audrey, which means a lot of time is spent sitting on the toilet. She has decided she doesn't want to use her own Elmo or Mickey Mouse potties and would instead rather sit on the big toilet using an Elmo toilet seat.
On the one hand, this is really convenient because if she does go, there's no need to clean up the potty -- just flush and go.
But on the other hand, it also means it's really hard to tell if she has peed. She mostly pees tiny amounts that are hard to detect even when I'm sitting right there in front of her when she goes (also, weirdest eye contact ever).
So she gaslights me.
We use peanut M&Ms as potty training aids. If she successfully goes pee or poo in the potty, she gets an M&M. And she knows this -- if you ask her if she wants to go potty, she will get excited and start pulling down her pants while insisting "I go peepee on the toilet and get an M&M!"
I can't tell you how many times she has sat on that toilet, done nothing, and then demanded an M&M because she "went peepee." YOU DID NOT. I WAS RIGHT THERE HOLDING AWKWARD EYE CONTACT. YOU DIDN'T PEE.
... or did you?
How can I know!?!? Maybe she peed a little but it wasn't enough for me to hear it hit the bowl.
And if she did pee, and now I'm arguing with her that she didn't pee, I'm destroying her trust in me. I'm the one gaslighting her. "I peed!" "No you didn't, stop lying!" = lifelong resentment because there's nothing worse than being accused of lying when you're telling the truth.
I'm pretty sure she's not peeing, though. She just wants the damned M&M.
I mean ... right?
How do I ... I don't ...
So we switch to intermittent positive reinforcement, which is the most effective way to condition behaviors anyway. Every time she claims she peed, she gets praise. And sometimes she gets an M&M, whenever I feel like giving her one.
No more potty gaslighting, Audrey. You'll have to find other ways to make me question my sanity.
I'm sure it won't be a problem.
The Bingo Incident
This one happened last night. Audrey was having a meltdown because it was almost bedtime and she was tired and fussy. I had to take a shower, so I thought I would distract her by inviting her to come into the bathroom with me (since she's such fun in there while I'm trying to bathe). I asked her if she wanted to sing a song with me.
She said "sing Bingo Mommy!" and I agreed, launching into a boisterous rendition of the song.
After about two verses, I peered around the shower curtain and found that ... the door was closed and the bathroom was empty.
I had been singing to no one.
Once I got out of the shower, I opened the bathroom door and saw Audrey messing around in our bedroom. "Audrey, why did you leave while I was singing Bingo?" I asked her.
And she looked at me in absolute confusion. "Mommy you not sing Bingo."
But ... I could have sworn ...
Then she told me there was a man downstairs (there wasn't), that our comforter is purple (it's black), and that she wanted her Goofy doll (she doesn't have one). She even made me search through the whole toy box for this alleged Goofy doll that doesn't exist. She also told her daycare teacher it was her birthday (it wasn't) and that I was going to take her to the park (I had made no such promise).
STOP IT AUDREY. I'M ALREADY HANGING BY A THREAD OVER HERE.