We have a light switch that operates an outlet in our family room, but the outlet is in a bad place (next to the stairs, so too exposed to where the kids like to play to plug a lamp into), so the light switch serves no function. Peanut has played with that switch for about a year, always turning it on, looking around the family room and in the adjoining rooms for any new lights that have come on, then turning it off and checking the rooms for any lights that have suddenly turned off. I’ve tried explaining it to her, that it’s an unused outlet, but it’s either beyond her three-year-old capacity for understanding or my explanation taxes her three-year-old attention span, because she’s never quite grasped how a switch so perfectly placed at her height could do absolutely nothing.
As Halloween decorations started going up around the neighborhood, String Bean suddenly remembered that we have a rather large cache of lights that I hadn’t brought in with the decorations we’ve already put up. We no longer have the curtain rod up that I used to hang the lights from in the front window, so I decided to please both girls by plugging the lights into Peanut’s switch-controlled outlet. I strung them around the railing along the stairs and across a guard rail that separates the kitchen from the split-level family room. The girls have absolute power to turn these lights on and off as the mood strikes them, and they do so every five minutes or so.
The first night we had the lights up, after turning the lights on and off about fifty times, String Bean turned to me and asked, “So where were these lights before?” I told her they lived outside in the storage shed, in a box with all of our Halloween decorations. She studied the lights and the switch, then asked, “And every time we turned that switch on in here, it turned the lights on out there?” Electricity is a tricky concept for a four-year-old. So, even with my careful explanations and demonstrations, the concept of the switch-controlled outlet is still a bit fuzzy.
The cutest thing was how guilty String Bean looked as she asked it, as if she’d just realized that she and Peanut have been wasting electricity by turning on the lights in the storage shed with that light switch all year. She didn’t appreciate my laughing as I reassured her that playing with the switch didn’t control the lights unless they were plugged into that exact outlet. And I’m pretty sure she still doesn’t understand what I mean.