The word “no” is basically a four-letter word among families with young kids. It’s easy to see why, as it is frequently deployed by said kids with the subtlety of an anvil, the preferred blunt instrument to take on such varied attacks as wrongly buttered toast and the cruel reality of bedtime.
In our house, with our 2-year-old, no takes on many forms.
There’s the simple “no” that follows a command that is mistakenly phrased as a question. Such as “Would you like to brush your teeth?”
There’s the “running no” which is a slight variation on the original that not only involves voicing your opposition, but also running in the opposite direction of it, for good measure.
There’s the “screaming no,” a shrill but surprising curt exclamation of disdain that is fast and so violent that it appears to be a direct delivery from the 7th circle and Satan himself. That it tends to be repeated as mantra several times in a row is further proof of brief demonic possession. In our house, with our 2-year-old, the “screaming no” often happens when it’s her older brother’s turn to pick the TV show and he says triumphantly, “The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants.” Perhaps the “no” is simply an early, unrefined cultural critique. Yeah, that’s it.
There’s “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” which is not as harsh or shocking as the previous version, but is equally loud. I’ve found this one is often related to food. Sometimes it’s providing food that is not wanted. Sometimes it’s taking food away. The best times are when this is deployed with equal volume and intensity for both. Such as the other day, when she had pushed her dinner plate aside (the universal sign of “finished”) and I took the plate and she screamed, “Noooooooooo!” and then I put it back and she pushed it away and echoed her previous—if suddenly less credible—statement of “Noooooooooo!”
It all gets a little tiring when you’re just trying to help.
But not all “no’s” are bad.
When Kate was just saying a few words at a time, she had a very matter-of-fact way of asserting her independence. It was both clear and endearing. You could ask her to follow you. You could ask her if she wanted a book. You could ask her if her blue shirt was blue. Her answer was the same: “No, I not.”
As she got a little bigger, she started to resist diapers more. One particular time on the changing pad, it became clear that our efforts to help her set clear boundaries about her body had paid off…and backfired. As she squirmed and I tried to wriggle off her diaper, she looked at me with fire in her eyes and said, “NO!!! It’s my butt!” Gotta admit, I was pretty proud of her. And I had no idea what to do next.
There was a new “no” tonight in our house, with our 2-year-old. She had been scared at the dinner table. Worried about noises and unknown animals. Very clingy. After some books, she seemed to be in a better place. We turned off the light and retired to the rocking chair with her Pooh Bear and puppy. I leaned back and she put her head on my chest. I told her I enjoyed being with her and that I loved her. She was uncharacteristically quiet. Clearly tired. So I rocked for another minute and then started to stand up to take her to the crib. I had moved maybe a couple inches in that direction when I heard a sweet voice, barely above a whisper. “No,” she said, and I smiled and reclined once again because to me, in that moment, “no” sounded an awful lot like “yes.”