“NO!”. She smiles as she says it like she is telling me a secret or reminding me of a memory I had forgotten long ago. She enunciates the newly-learned syllable, and the short word rolls off of her tongue with force. There is no doubting what she means to say. Our conversations now sound like this:
“Do you want some chicken?” “No!”
“Do you want to go downstairs?” “No!”
“Do you want to take a bath?” “No!”
She delights in her newfound ability to make her opinion known. Her lips pucker around the word and her eyebrows furrow. She now even refuses things I know she likes just to experience the joy of hearing the monosyllable escape her lips:
“Do you want bananas?” “No!”
“Do you want to play with Mommy?” “No!”
I smile as I hear the tiny word and see her reveling in its large impact. Just like her mother, who was lovingly referred to as “Bossy Gillis” as a child, she is not afraid to make her opinion known. She shouts it at the world if necessary and listens for its echo- the sound of her own voice.
I know that many parents would discourage her boldness with seemingly gentle reprimands like, “be nice” or try to correct each “No!” with a tentative “Yes?”, but not me. I hear hope in every, “No!” she declares to the world. She will need this type of fearlessness. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that. I celebrate the idea that she was born with all of the courage that is required to exist as a girl in this difficult world. This is something I always imagined I would have to teach her. Maybe it will be the other way around.
As I listen to her little voice, I also hear a message, a reminder of the little person I used to be. One who also rejoiced in the power of no and in making my voice heard. A skill that has been worn down over the years by a world that encourages women and girls to do just the opposite: agree, be quiet.
Her expanding lexicon reminds and reenergizes me to reclaim the power of my own voice. I vow that this will be the year that I introduce the word “No!” back into my vocabulary- to shout it out loud as opposed to sitting quietly in assumed agreement. The universe has timed this reminder perfectly as this is no year for acquiescence.
Instead of being hesitant to let it leave my lips, I know that stating it often will make room for what is truly important. Last week my baby daughter’s favorite word was “Mama.” She said it at least 10,000 times each day. As I entered a room, she would sing the syllables like a chant, “Ma! Ma!” pressing her tiny hands together to applaud my arrival. Her small arms waving in the air, waiting for an embrace. I called her my biggest fan. Really I have two, my baby girl and her older sister.
Re-harnessing the power of “No!” will allow me to make plenty of space for these two little people as well as the many other priorities I juggle as a mom, wife, and business owner. It will give me the freedom to make sure that the minutes that make up each one of my days are spent on what is most important to me. I am reminded by my one-year-old that how I choose to spend my time is my own decision. Often a difficult one but not one that I have to apologize for.
Saying “no” is a kindness we can provide to ourselves. By speaking it, we gain the capacity to hear our own voice again and follow its direction. It is a mechanism which allows us to guard the priorities we hold most dear from being lost in the chaos of our non-stop schedules. We often think of discovery as grasping onto every opportunity that comes along but sometimes it lies in becoming more discerning. “No” is a word that we must rediscover the joy of in adulthood. As mothers our happiness depends on it.
A version of this article was originally published on The Learning Zone.
Follow Nina on Twitter.