Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Power of No

Was it really just a few months ago that Sophie could only say yes?

We were amazed when she began nodding her head in assent:

Do you want more broccoli?
Yes, nodded Sophia.
Do you want to go up?
Yes, nodded Sophia.
Is it time for bed?
Yes, nodded Sophia.

It was a glorious time when no was absent from her vocabulary. She seemed to embrace every new food, every new experience, every suggestion I made. I made a point of using the “n” word very judiciously. My friends had cautioned me, if you use it to much, it loses its power. And so, aside from a gentle “no-no” as she attempted to pop another fuzzy from my comforter into her mouth, I seldom evoked it.

Then, as Sophia began to experiment with her autonomy, shaking the glass doors to the fireplace, caressing the plastic fa├žade of the space heater, poking a curious finger at the outlet, I allowed myself a very firm, very loud “no” as a deterrent. The first couple of times I raised my voice in this manner, she immediately shrank back and cried, stricken.

It was shocking to me that not only did she obey my “no,” she was distraught at my disapproval. I watched her sob as if I had slapped her against the face, and agonized over what to do next. Console her or let her feel the full force of my condemnation? I tried to find some middle ground, letting her absorb this new information, then gently steering her in another direction.

After she had recovered, I watched her internalize the new rule. She approached the forbidden object, reached out to it, told herself, “no,” and retracted her hand. She did this over and over again until, ultimately, she abandoned the thing for good. I was satisfied. The “no,” it seemed, had served its purpose.

Then, one fateful day, I asked if she wanted a diaper change.

“No!” she told me, her eyes narrowing in a familiar gaze of fury.

It was my angry look. My “don’t touch that” expression. And now, it was being used against me.

When I told my mother the story, she said, “Your first mistake was asking her. Don’t ask. Tell.”
So, I’ve tried really hard to avoid these rhetorical questions that beget the same answer each time. But even if I say, “It’s time for a diaper change.” Or “P.U! You need a diaper change,” Sophia still exercises her right to reject my proposal.

Kevin received this information gleefully. “That’s my girl!” he chirped. “You two are really going to butt heads,” he added, still smiling.

And yes, I’m glad she has opinions. I’m glad she has harnessed the power of no. She’ll need it as one of her weapons against Spike, the sperm-doner or the “friend” who offers her a first taste of heroin. But for now, I want my sweet-tempered, agreeable little girl back. I want our days to be joyful and free of confrontation.

I want a few more months of oneness, before having to face the reality of two.

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