I originally posted this as a guest on http://natashadevalia.wordpress.com
“No!”. She’s one and a half and she already speaks her mind. (Well done, mama, you reached one of your parenting goals!) The word surfaced about 3 weeks ago. I was caught off guard. Humoured. A bit miffed too. “No??” I thought to myself. What do you mean “no”?
And then I remembered being 5, and 10 and even 17 years old. I remember the reactions I’ve had when saying ‘no’ to my parents, teachers and others. “No” was met with resistance, rejection and punishment. A good girl should do as she is told.
Looking at my daughter, I shrugged off the past, quickly realizing that this is just a word she’s picked up at daycare. She’s experimenting with it, much like any other word she learns. She’s searching my face, looking for my reaction. Will I scurry to bring her the object she has just named, praising her and reinforcing her new word – like when she said ‘umbrella’, or ‘pumpkin’, or ‘hat’? Will I start to laugh, or clap, or give her a big hug?
I’ve hesitated for too long. She wanders off. Delayed reactions never impress her. The moment is lost.
There I was, left to ponder the fact that Seyian has said ‘no’. It’s a word I have trouble with. I hate it when my partner says “No, I can’t do to the dishes tonight. I’m tired”. Or when my boss says “No, you can’t leave early. I’ll need that report right away”. Or, when a friend says “Sorry.. no, but I can’t meet you for coffee tonight”. (Probably) like most people, at times I even avoid making a request althogether, just to avoid hearing ‘no’. But in doing so, I’ve started to think about all the opportunity that is lost when I set myself up for nothing but ‘yes’ in life. Without ‘no’, I wouldn’t have learned how to negotiate, or how to defend my position or values, or how to be true to myself and respect my own and others’ needs or interests.
Seyians’s Koko (my mum-in-law) arrived last week. It’s the first time she has met Seyian (she lives in Nairobi and we live in Ottawa). It was a sweet reunion after far too much time apart. The day after her arrival, Koko offered Seyian a piece of fruit and Seyian let out a firm “no!”. Flustered, I explained it away, saying she probably wasn’t hungry. I felt a bit embarrased, worried Koko would think that I spoil my daugther, or let her ‘talk back’ to me.
Instead, Koko laughed proudly. I was confused. She looked at me and said, “This girl. She’s empowered. Already! And she’s not even two. She already knows what she wants. This is good”. With six kids of her own and a life-long career teaching elementary school and advocating access to school for young girls in remote areas of Kenya, Koko knows a thing or two about the importance of negotiation and defending one’s values. For her, “no” isn’t a bad word, it’s a necessary word.
I’ll be honest. I’m not sure I’ll also be happy when Seyian says “no”. Let’s face it, “no” isn’t always such a convenient answer for mamas like me who are on-the-move, squeezing far too many activities into each 24 hour cycle (wake up, eat, bring baby to daycare, cycle to work, rush to meet a thousand deadlines, cycle back to daycare, pick up the baby, go home, prepare dinner, go to the park, return home, bathe the baby, put the baby to bed, clean the kitchen, shower, stretch, pay bills or catch up on email, head to bed…. ). It’s just easier if everyone is compliant. But that’s not really how I want my daughter to be. So perhaps it’s better if I start to laugh proudly like Koko and welcome the word ‘no’ into the repetoire of words my daughter will surely need in order to make her place in this world.