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The 5-year-old peered around my bathroom door. I slapped my book on the side of the tub.
“Pete, what are you doing in here? We brushed teeth. We read stories. We did prayers. Go back to bed,” I directed.
Pete looked me dead in the eye. “Nope,” he said. Then he leaned against the doorframe. I sprang from the tub.
“When I tell you to get to bed young man, I mean it. Do it.”
“Nope,” he repeated, relishing the juice of the word as it tumbled from his lips.
I grabbed a towel, stuck my hand in Pete’s back and propelled the boy down the hall. Pete may understand the power of Nope, but he doesn’t quite have the art form down yet.
I do. I’ve been a parent for 17 years. As a parent in a military family I have no delusions my children need tenderness more than discipline. I understand the Art of the No.
And it is an art. I can’t just throw any No out there and expect it to stick. It has to be the right No. With Pete, every No is clearly for his own dang good.
A preschooler is not allowed to live on popsicles. He cannot drive the car with his feet. With Pete, I am the Jackson Pollock of nay-sayers throwing Nos at a gigantic canvas with utter abandon.
Which is all well and good when you have toddlers and preschoolers lying around. It is when you get those teenagers going you suddenly realize you have to be much more artful with your Nos.
Now that my oldest is 17, there aren’t so many Nos left on my palette, especially when her dad is at sea. I am learning to be a minimalist with my Nos, etching them like a series of red dots on a white canvas.
“Can I go to a party at a hotel room?” Kelsey will ask.
“No,” I’ll reply.
“Can I go to the sleepover at Jonathan’s house?”
“Should I take up pole dancing? Travel to Vegas for Spring Break? Have my tongue pierced with a tiny silver basketball?”
No. No. Again, No.
Since I’ve only got enough Nos left to spend on the biggies, I find myself saying OK to things I would have said No to just last year.
Not quite Yes. Just OK.
“Mom, Cheryl’s boyfriend broke up with her and she’s crying and she doesn’t have a way home from the party and we can’t call her parents cuz they don’t know she’s here and I know you said I couldn’t drive anyone else but I don’t wanna leave her here and it’s not raining that hard.”
That No wants to spring from my lips as if she were still 5 years old. But if I say No to this call, I might not hear from her the next time. She’ll tell her friends I say No to everything. And the Nos I have left will be no use to her.
“Well, OK,” I tell her. “Call me when you get to Cheryl’s house.” I hang up thinking there is no art in OK. No relish. No abandon, just the mealy taste of hoping that you’ve done the right thing.