The word that ends the relative bliss of the first two years of parenting. The word that is a child’s declaration of independence. The word that I’m going to hear over and over until I am laid in earth:
It’s not like I wasn’t warned by every parent I met: “Oh, she may be a cute little baby now, but just wait ’til the Terrible Twos. Every other word’s gonna be ‘no.’ She’ll drive you crazy.” And they were right. My daughter’s fascination with “no” infected every conversation:
“Hey Anna, you want to go to the park?”
“Want to play with your toys?”
“Want to just sit there and say ‘no?'”
But the Terrible Twos only lasted a year. I made it through with my sanity intact, and I figured that from here on it had to get better.
The Terrible Twos were followed by the Repeating Threes, The Questioning Fours, and The Contradicting Fives. Each stage was worse than the one before it, and I found myself looking back with wistful nostalgia:
As crazy as it sounds, I miss the Terrible Twos. It was such a simpler time. And the worst part of all is that the questioning doesn’t replace the repeating, and the contradicting doesn’t replace the questioning. They all gang up together with the shared goal of putting me in a mental institution.
And it’s only going to get worse. Much, much worse.
Little did I know how much worse. I have now reached the most infuriating phase yet: The Silent Sixes.
“Hey Anna, do you want to go to the park?”
“Anna, I asked you a question.”
“Never mind.” I start to walk out of the room.
“Father, can we go to the park please?”
She really lays it on thick now when she wants something. I take a deep breath.
“Anna, I just asked you the same thing and you ignored me.”
“I didn’t hear you, father.”
“I was standing right here and . . . never mind, just get on your boots so we can go to the park.”
Silence. I walk out of the room.
“Father, can we go to the park please?”
I think about ignoring her for a moment, but I can’t encourage her behavior.
“We can go to the park once you put on your boots.” I step into the kitchen to get a bottle of water. When I come back, she’s sitting on the floor reading a book.
“Anna. What are you doing?”
“Don’t you want to go to the park?”
I take a deep breath.
“Then put the book away, and get your boots please.”
She picks up the book and takes it back to the bookshelf. “Finally!” I think, and I go to the closet to get out coats: it’s a clear day today but it’s a bit cold. I walk into the living room. Anna is back on the floor with a different book. Her boots are still sitting by the door.
“Fine then, we won’t go to the park.”
She looks up, sad. “But I really want to go to the park, please.” No more “father.” No more silent treatment. Have I won? Is it possible?
“If you want to go to the park, put away the book and get your boots on now. Otherwise, forget it.”
I bask in my new-found glory. I have held my temper and I have won the argument. It’s taken six years, but I am victorious. She walks over to her bookcase; out of my sight for just a moment. I put on my coat and turn back expecting to see her on the floor putting on her boots. She’s nowhere to be found. I hear noise from her bedroom: her computer.
I walk down the hallway to her room. She’s sitting on her chair playing a learning game.
“So no park then?”
“Fine, no park!”
I expect protest, but I get none. I guess she’s changed her mind. I could take away her computer as punishment, but punishment for what? I told her she had to put her boots on if she wanted to go to the park; otherwise, forget it. It’s her choice: besides pissing me off, she hasn’t done anything wrong.
I go back to the kitchen and put the bottle of water back in the refrigerator. I walk to the closet, hang up my coat, and then walk back into the living room and sit at my desk. I was looking forward to a trip to the park. Oh well. I flip open my laptop and start writing: I might as well get some work done while Anna’s is occupied.
“What?” I turn around. Anna has her boots and coat on.
“I thought we were going to the park, father.”
“But you were playing on your computer? Did you change your mind again?!”
“No. I’m done on my computer, father. I want to go to the park now, please.”
“But . . .”
There’s nothing else I can say. She’s asked nicely. I can tell her “no” and she’ll throw a fit, or I can take her now that she’s finally ready.
A disclaimer: like the original essay, this story is an exaggeration. There is no way I’d ever let Anna get away with this in real life. What do you think? That I’m one of those fathers who’s wrapped around his daughter’s finger?