I was trying to describe what it's like to manage a severely hyperactive, impulsive and slightly autistic child when she gave me a perfect storm of an example. I was outside in the yard with my mother (a rare moment), showing her how we'd trimmed back the azaleas and pruned the hydrangea bush. We were walking toward the backyard gate when my youngest popped into sight holding the sprinkler. It was sprinkling with all its might, several jets of water arcing more than a yard from their source, and she aimed it at us, delighted to find fresh targets.
We yelled, "No! No! NO!" I didn't particularly want to get wet, seeing as how I was planning to go back into the air conditioning, and my mother definitely didn't want to get wet. Anyone who knows my mother, knows that she is not the type to indulge in water fights. My daughter shrieked with glee and ran at us with the sprinkler, playing the spray liberally in our direction, while I turned my body to protect my mother from the worst of the wet. We were on the verge of retreat (the driest option) when my husband appeared, also calling out, "NO!" in his most commanding tone. She responded by turning the sprinkler full on him. He walked calmly into the spray and took it from her, ordering her inside. She ran indoors, wailing with dismay, where she stripped and fled upstairs to the bath, judging from the pile of wet clothing I found in the doorway a few minutes later.
She hadn't meant to behave badly. She hadn't meant to be defiant that time, though defiance happens frequently. She was too thrilled with the opportunity to drench her mother and grandmother on a scortching day. No, she was merely being impulsive, turning the sprinkler on us like that. The idea so filled her mind that she was impervious to our protests, and her difficulty relating to others manifested itself in her inability to understand why we didn't want to be soaked. She had thoroughly enjoyed being doused with water balloons earlier and simply couldn't comprehend that we would not take similar pleasure in being blasted with a fine spray on a blazing afternoon. Later, she asked my mother if she had enjoyed her encounter with the sprinkler. Seriously.
My daughter did have to live through the consequences of her actions, appearing later in her nightgown after her bath. (I'd already had her wash with soap in the sprinkler after covering herself with mud, like Piglet. It had been the beginning of an epic water battle that had ended with me and my mother as unwitting victims.) She does learn, though it takes time to see the results of the lesson.
Earlier that morning, she had brought me my purse. I'd left it in the room where she watches television.
"Here, Mommy. Here's your purse," she said, holding it out.
"Oh, thank you," I said kindly, looking at her with suspicion. "Did you want to go through it?" I asked. She loves to rifle through my purse, since I keep forbidden items like chocolate mints and scented hand gel in its depths.
"But you brought it to me so you'd behave?"
She nodded again.
I pulled her into a hug. "I'm so proud of you!"
My pathologically impulsive child had deliberately rid herself of temptation just in that moment. It was a glimpse of success.