The Age of Contrarius

Avery's first word was "uh-oh."

Not a blunt "uh-oh," but a sing-songy "uh-oh" -- rising pitch on the "uh" and descending terminal pitch on the "oh."

Learned, evidently, from a toy known as The Laugh & Play Puppy, which says "uh-oh" if you knock it over. It took Avery less than two months to kill it she knocked it over so many times.

Adorable. And a harbinger of things to come.

Avery's second word was "no." And while "uh-oh" had its brief moment in the sun, "no" - once learned - quickly became the word of choice.

In those first few months of spoken language, Avery said "NO!" a lot. And emphatically.

Hug from daddy? NO!

Give mommy a kiss? NO!

Drink of milk? NO! (followed by a hurling of the sippy cup to the floor for emphasis)

Go outside? NO!

Go inside? NO!

Want more food? NO!

Done with dinner? NO!

(You can see how it got a little confusing.)

Even before Avery learned to actually say "no," she had many opinions, which were (and still often are) expressed by pausing to smile devilishly at you before merrily proceeding with whatever activity you've just asked her to stop.

Of course, fast forward a year or more from those first gleeful NOs, and Mark and I are now learning how much harder it is to deal with a contrarian when she can walk, run, and speak in sentences.

The latest and greatest from our precocious toddlebot is the use of "I'm just gonna..."

As in:

Me: "Avery, time to get your shoes on."

Avery: "I'm just gonna read this book."


Me: "Avery, it's time for dinner."

Avery: "I'm just gonna do this puzzle."


Me: "Avery, it's time for sleep."

Avery: "I'm just gonna get a drink (pronounced dwink) of water."

This can be crazy making. It is crazy making. It's an unsubtle stall tactic that allows her to just barely circumvent the rules.

It's not the only thing. Avery is also very good at saying "I don't like that." And she deploys those four words with abandon.

Brush teeth? "I don't like that."

Eat [insert vegetable here]? "I don't like that!" (You didn't try it, child! For the love of all that is holy --  not to mention your mother's sanity -- just f*!$ing try it.)

Put pants on? "I don't like that"

In the age of contrarius, everything is a battle. The only question is when and how often I simply surrender.

#ParentingProTip (got this one from my in-laws): Never get into a battle of wills with a toddler. You have many, many things to think about. They only have one -- fighting you. 

But while we're firmly in the grip of the tyrannical twos and staring down the barrel of the threenager phase with an articulate, opinionated child, I'm secretly loving it a little.

Now you think I'm crazy. And maybe I am. Maybe its total madness and I'm a glutton for punishment. But sometimes when she shouts "No!" or refuses to comply, I can't help but smile a little. Because while being a human is hard, being a girl human is maybe just a little bit harder. If "boys will be boys," it seems that "girls will be sweet" -- and all that that implies: complacent, compliant, contented. Certainly not contrary.

And for me (I don't want to speak for all mothers of little girls), I find the constant gender stereotypical reinforcements grating. Yes, my daughter is sweet. And yes, she's very cute. And oh thank you for telling her how pretty/precious/darling/lovely she is.

But you know what? She's strong, too. And she's smart, and precocious. She's brave. She's opinionated. I love those things about her. I love that she learned to climb the stairs in our house before she learned to walk. I love that when she was just a year old, she was the littlest kid out there monkeying up the playground slide and then bombing back down it. I love that she works so hard to figure out the puzzles that are marked "Age 3 and Up." I love that she wants to go searching for garbage trucks while wearing the pinkest, most glittery shoes she can find. I love that she has a deep and abiding commitment to falling into puddles.

And I love that she is unafraid to say "no!" Because "no" and "I don't like that" and all of the other contrarian things she says that make my life harder right now are going to serve her well all her life. They are her expressions of autonomy, of self.

One of the hardest things about being a mom is respecting those boundaries. It is also one of the most important.

Over the past year, Avery has gone through a few phases where she expresses a strong preference for her dad. This has manifested itself as telling me to leave the dinner table, refusing to give a goodbye hug, or screaming bloody murder when it was suggested that I sing the goodnight song. This can be painful. It feels like rejection. But really, she's setting a boundary as best she can, with the person whom she trusts most to love her anyway. She knows that she can tell me "No!" and that I will love her. She knows that she can tell me "No!" and that, whenever possible, I will respect it.

Her boundaries deserve respect. And if I don't show her that, how will she learn?


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