My cousin has recently found herself grappling with a 2 year-old after having a nearly idyllic infancy and early toddlerhood with her fabulous daughter. It is her first child and she is a great mother. Her daughter is lively and animated and bubbly and quiet and imaginative and creative and cuddly and spirited and fun to be around. They spend most of their time in one another’s company on a piece of land in a remote area, save for the times when they venture out to do some shopping, visiting or adventures. My cousin’s husband works hard and comes home and loves his wife and loves his daughter and loves his dog and his home and his land and they have a pretty good life overall.
So when my cousin found herself facing down behavioural outbursts in public arenas from her lovely little 2 year-old daughter, she put on her finest parenting hat and tried to not only cope with the public embarrassment but also correct her daughter’s inappropriate behaviour and teach her the correct manner in which one conducts oneself whilst other people are watching. Her daughter’s latest retort to being told ‘what to do’ by her mother is an emphatic and growly, ‘NEVERRRR!’
Imagining this response from a toddler not only reduces me to a round of giggles that then causes me to wipe the tears from the corners of my eyes but also brings up the comedy of the situation. I don’t have children despite always having children around me for as long as I can remember and while I wanted to be a mother my life never presented the opportunity to me. In many ways I regret not becoming a mother and in other ways I am grateful for the freedom that my life has afforded me because of my lack of offspring. Watching other people try to ‘control’ their independent children while in public has been both a source of amusement and irritation—as I’m sure it’s been for most people who are not on the hook as the parent themselves.
My cousin is feeling at a loss as to how to respond to such a reply to her polite request to ‘put it back’ or ‘let’s get going’ or ‘pick it up’ or ‘time for home’ or whatever directive she is sharing with her toddler. To be met, in response, with ‘NEVERRRR!’ must force my cousin to a) stop herself from laughing hysterically at the silliness of the scenario, b) work out how not to give her daughter the impression that speaking to her mother in that manner is an acceptable response and c) deal with the situation without causing any of the onlookers reason to call in the authorities. While option a) is necessary it must be difficult. If I asked a friend I was shopping with to ‘put it back’ and that friend responded to me with ‘NEVERRRR!’ I would nearly fall over from laughing and certainly wouldn’t need to hold in my natural reaction. Option b) is also necessary but how do you think on your feet when your brain is caught up in buying a sheet set and comparing prices while several people around you stop to watch your interaction with your child? Option c) is also a tricky operation because, when I was a child, that response may have garnered me a slap on the mouth (unacceptable in public today) or a physical grabbing of my arm and forcing me to ‘put it back’ on the shelf before my arm would be let go of (also unacceptable in public today) or even a grabbing of the arm followed by a good shaking (yet still unacceptable in public today). I may even have received a spanking or, at best, a stern telling off—only the latter being remotely acceptable by all of the people watching, smart phones at the ready to call in the parenting police and have your child removed from your custody.
So I don’t envy my cousin who has to walk this fine tight rope and teach her daughter appropriately while also maintaining her composure and keeping back the possibility of police intervention. I’m not entirely sure how she handled it, since I was not with her at the time however my brain stopped moving forward in the story when I heard her child’s response to being told what to do: ‘NEVERRRR!’
I love it. Not because it’s cheeky or disrespectful (because it is) but because it shows me not only that her daughter has a mind of her own, but she has a definiteness about her which will serve her well as she gets older and enters puberty and then adulthood. If someone tells her to do something she has no interest in abiding, her response of ‘NEVERRRR!’ will serve her very well. Not only is it unexpected in its voracity and definitieness, the volume itself helps her case along rather nicely. I might even adopt it for myself when being coerced into something I am not willing to participate in.
I’d like to ask my cousin to see if she can get her daughter’s response on video simply because I selfishly want to see it. Perhaps the image I conjure up in my head will be far from the reality of the scenario itself but I’d still like to be a fly on the wall when it occurs—or one of the other shoppers out milling around when their transaction takes place.
There’s a lesson to be learned in this toddler’s freedom of speech. If more of us expressed our dislike of a situation or insisted that we not take part in something we don’t want to, wouldn’t our adult lives be less obligatory and more comfortable overall? As adults we would not be admonished in quite the same manner as we would be as toddlers. Toddlers are still learning—adults are supposedly already learned. The next time there is an event which I am invited to which I do not wish to attend, I think I’ll try my cousin’s daughter’s reply of ‘NEVERRRR!’ and see how the invitee responds to me. Even if I lose a friend, the comedy of the situation will carry me for months. I’m an introvert anyway so responding to anything at all which I’m not interested in with, ‘NEVERRRR!’ is rather an appealing option for me. I rarely want to do anything other people want me to do and it is only the fact that, as a child, my personal preferences were ‘taught out of me’ in favour of always putting others before myself which has left my adulthood riddled with the obligation of other people’s wishes. My response (privately) is always ‘I don’t wanna!’ followed (usually) by sucking it up and doing it anyway then resenting the fact that I had to do it at all. I’m talking about social situations rather than chores or things that we can’t get away from (despite not loving chores as a general rule either).
Skipping a party or a dinner or a night out or a get together is fine by me. Not because I don’t want to spend time with those particular people—I enjoy the company of many people in my life—but because I will always pick my own company (solitude) over the company of anyone else—no matter how much I like or love or adore that someone else. It’s part of being an introvert. So, the next time my wife asks me to do something or go somewhere that I REALLY have no interest in, I will use my cousin’s daughter’s reply and see if I can’t, at the ripe old age of 49 years, change my obligations into personal preferences. Hopefully it will accomplish two things: 1) laughter and 2) I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. Isn’t that what we all really want, anyway? I know I do.
So just remember this one word and express it with voracity and feeling and true purpose: ‘NEVERRRR!’