Monday, April 25, 2016

Sing Out, Thelma and Louise

Many moons ago, when my daughter and I were traveling with another family, I was scolded by the other mother for "Never saying 'No'." 

I thought at the time (and still think today) that this was a bit unfair. I know what "No" means. I know how to say "No." I have said "No." Really. I've said "No" a lot. A lot. A real lot. 

Just not as often as I might have. Or, maybe, not as often as some other mothers do. Trust me, when it mattered, I said "No."

Fork in electrical outlet? "No!"

Knife in reach on the counter? "No!"

Running off a curb into traffic? "No! No! No!"

What I didn't do was say "No" for no reason. Our marvelous pediatrician gave me great advice when my daughter was turning two. (Actually, he gave me great advice many times, many many many times, but this one is germane to my essay here.) He said: 

"Here come the terrible twos. She'll be testing you all the time now. And, you're going to have to say 'No.' But, don't say 'No' unless you're going to stick with it. If that means you say 'Yes' 98% of the time, that's ok. But, once you say 'No,' you have to see it through. If you say 'No' and she cries for 45 minutes and then you give in, all you've taught her to do is to cry for 45 minutes."

Needless to say, that little speech scared me straight. And, I particularly liked the saying "Yes" part. 

The thing is, my daughter was an easy child. She rarely disobeyed. She rarely threw a tantrum. When asked to describe her with one word on her kindergarten application, I chose "compliant."

(Excuse me now while I shake my head with wonder about how things change ... 

Still shaking ...

Still shaking ...

All right, I'm done.)

She may not be as easy as she once was — and I may find myself saying "No" more than I used to — but, I still think that if I can help her pursue joy, I should.

Thus, I recently found myself doing a three-day roadtrip to New York and Providence with her so she could see her favorite band. This was neither convenient, nor easy, nor inexpensive. But, it was important to her. It made her happy. All in all, we had nearly twelve hours together in the car, which gave us ample time to talk about upcoming senior year activities, new horses at her stable, and questionable decisions made by some of her friends. We ate junk food and sang along to the cast recordings of Spring Awakening and Hamilton. We were roadies together, like Thelma and Louise but with a happier ending.

And, as much as saying "No" might have taught her a lesson, I think fulfilling her request taught her something too. Like, how going out of your way to make someone you love happy is worth doing. When she heads off to college in just under four months, I want her to think of her mother as someone who said "Yes" more than she said "No."

Unlike Thelma and Louise, we made it home safe and sound, exhausted and happy. You guessed it. We were safe and sound; I was exhausted.

She was happy.

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.   


  1. Alex, I applaud you. I raised my son the same way - believing that "no" was not arbitrary - it had to be backed up by a solid reason. So he grew up confident in making his own decisions and only heard "no" when it was important.

  2. Some of the best words on parenting I have ever read: "I still think that if I can help her pursue joy, I should." Bravo!

  3. All I heard as a child was "No!" and "Because I said so." I started adulthood without the experience of making choices, and the extended learning curve I suffered caused me to raise my child differently. I've been astounded by the comments from family and friends who felt my child-rearing was defective, even as they watched my daughter become a smart, independent, responsible adult.