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The Power of No

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

I’ve started saying “No” to Baby E.

No to nursing when my nipples have had enough.

No to him playing with electrical cords.

No to him playing in the kitchen cabinets.

He usually just looks at me and laughs then goes right back to doing what I didn’t want him to do in the first place. Such is the way of the toddler.

I’m trying to redirect him instead of just saying no all the time. Most of the time I am able to do this.

Well, some of the time.

That “No” comes flying out of my mouth before I’ve even realized what has happened.

Such is the way of the mama.

I know that the oft-cited danger of saying “No” to a toddler all the time is that it encourages them to start saying “No” back to you for any and everything. However, I think that children learn how to say “No” anyway, verbally or otherwise, regardless of how many times they’ve heard you say it.

But here’s the thing: I think “No” is a really important word for Baby E to learn. And as tempting as it is, I don’t mean this in a “reinforce the parent-child hierarchy” way. I mean that “No” is important because it helps us set up boundaries. And just like I have boundaries for Baby E, he has boundaries for me. By honoring his “no” I’m hopefully teaching him to honor mine and the “no” of others.

This is a hard lesson to put into practice when I’m steeped in a culture that doesn’t truly treat children as fully realized human beings. It’s a hard thing to practice when I’m trying to keep Baby E’s reasoning abilities in perspective while balancing his need for safety and care with honoring his right to say no.

But it’s important enough for me to keep trying and doing. I want my son to be well aware of his rights as an individual but I also want him to be aware of  and respect the rights of others. Honoring his “No” is just the first step.


The Meltdown

The wedding was set to start at 4:00 pm. As a bridesmaid, I was supposed to arrive at 2:30 pm.

Fifteen minutes before we were set to leave the hotel for the wedding location, Baby E had an epic meltdown.

Of course he waited until it was my turn to get dressed to want to nurse RIGHT THAT MOMENT.

Of course, my outfit was NOT breastfeeding-friendly or even baby-friendly.

Of course, he didn’t want his daddy, just ME.

Big boy shoes!

When Baby E took off his brand new big boy shoes and flung them away from him to the point where they landed on the floor with a thud, I knew he was beyond upset.

But I’d already nursed him. He most certainly wasn’t hungry. He wanted to be attached to me — not near me – attached to me.

But I couldn’t not get dressed nor could I hold him while getting dressed.

He wasn’t even being ignored, his father was trying to calm him.

It didn’t help that only moments before he was smiling, and laughing until he realized that I was going to center my attention on something other than him.

It didn’t help that when I’m running late to get somewhere, I become easily frustrated. So when I asked C to take our inconsolable, screaming child out for a quick walk around the floor outside of our room, I really didn’t need C to cluelessly reply that he was ok with just trying to hold Baby E off to one side of the room. If my superpowers included throwing daggers with my eyes, C would’ve been maimed. Lucky for him, I merely snapped, “Trust me, just take him outside! Please!” And once he did, lo and behold, the child stopped fussing. One of the lessons of toddlerhood I’m learning is that the sight of mommy is enough to trigger separation anxiety.

Eventually I finished getting dressed and we left for the wedding five minutes before I was supposed to be there. On the elevator ride down to the lobby, Baby E gave me the meanest look I’ve ever seen him give. But I was okay with that because I’m sure I was mean-mugging him too.

And don’t you know we got to the wedding location a few minutes late but still ended up early because we were the first of the wedding party to arrive.

And don’t you know, Baby E was fast asleep by the time we got there even though we’d only been in the car for about 10 minutes.

How about that?

But I looked good though.

This Mother’s Heart

I used to check his breathing while he slept. Newborns have this knack for seeming like they’ve stopped breathing but they’re really just taking shallow breaths. It freaked me out every time. Sometimes I would prod him and hold my breath until he moved out of irritation.

I still check on him occasionally. I wake up in the middle of the night and make sure his belly is rising and falling with his breaths.

I developed a fear of driving. I foresaw a collision of twisted metal every time a another vehicle got near my car.  All I knew is that I had my heart seated behind me in a rearfacing carseat. It didn’t matter how much my friend, the Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, reassured me that the carseat was crash-resistant.

One of my mandates of motherhood was “Protect.”

It’s why I paid attention to the way I ate while I was pregnant.

It’s why I educated myself on birth matters.

It’s why I chose not to circumcise.

It’s why I choose to breastfeed.

It’s why I choose to parent the way I do.

It’s probably why most of us choose to parent the way we do.

But then we realize that no matter what we do, we can’t always protect them.

It’s why they say that motherhood is like having your heart walk around outside of your chest.

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