One of my favorite events when I go grocery shopping is to meet a mother with a two- to three-year-old child in the seat of a grocery cart. I will often say “Aren’t you almost three years old?” Little girls usually look to their Moms for comfort, and will snuggle towards them shyly. Their body language says “Should I talk with this strange man?” Moms usually tell them “Well, tell him you are almost three!” “I thought so!” I will reply. “But you are really getting to be a big girl.” They will blush, and break out in more self- conscious smiles. “I know what your very favorite word is,” I will continue. This brings on more wide-eyed wonderment. “I’d say your very favorite word is ‘NO!’”
“How does he know that about you?” Moms will ask. “That is your favorite word, isn’t it?” I tell them that I had seven little girls in my home and now they are all big, but each one of them used “NO” as their favorite word. We all go our separate ways to shop, but when I see them in different aisles, I often overhear the mom’s who say to their daughters, “That man knows a lot about little girls because he had seven girls.”
Children at a very young age already know the most powerful word in the English language: “NO!” When you are a child, you say “NO!” to your brothers or sisters, and achieve a terrific sense of independence. When you can tell parents or other adults ”NO!” and get away with it, you enter into exhilarating uncharted territory.
The next step in this adventure is what you will do with all this power? “Hey, Sis, it’s time for bed…“NO!” Now what do you do? Do you run? That is dangerous, because it can elicit a swat to the behind. Do you plead “Not yet, please Momma?” The word “yet” is almost always a weaker word, but when you plead “Just a little longer, please” it often gets a response of “Well, okay, just a little while longer, but then we really need to take a quick bath!”
On the other side, as parents we often need to be psychologists. It could be better to ask “Sweetheart, would you like Mommy to help you undress so you can take a bath or would you like to undress yourself?” This would be followed by “You are really getting to be a big girl, I didn’t know you could get undressed all by yourself. Mommy is so proud of you! Wait ‘til Daddy gets home and you can tell him what you did.” Perhaps for us parents, what is important is the way in which we get from “NO!” to “YES!” It is in how we make them think it was their idea, so they feel like they can assert themselves as individuals.
This tremendous urge to show our independence as we grow up takes on many forms. My two brothers Mike and Doug are four and eleven years younger than I. Being older, I was able to learn much by observation. Mom would ask Mike to please close the door, and Doug would race to the door as fast as he could run to try to close it first. In this way he showed his own independence and authority over his older brother. A skirmish would ensue between them, and Doug would say “ME Do It! ME Do It!” Mike would say “NO! I DO IT ME-OWN SELF!”
That phrase became popular in our family, and when we are at family gatherings like Thanksgiving, even fifty-plus years later, you will often hear one of us endearingly use it, especially to open or close a door. It is interesting how phrases of this nature become long-remembered badges of self-confidence.
My Dad and Mom, Jay and Ruby, built a new home by themselves on an eighty-acre ranch near Hughson, California when they were in their late fifties. One of the features was an “A-frame” cabin-style living room on one end, which overlooked their private man-made lake. The challenge during construction was how to get the twenty-four foot long 4×12 beams in place and then secured to a huge ridge beam.
Mom wanted Dad to hire a crane truck and operator in order to do it safely. Dad said that would cost several hundred dollars, and he would try to figure a way to do it himself. This conflict of wills was real, and she was afraid he would hurt himself in the process. My father secretly created a Newtonian plan whereby he could use the farm tractor and a pulley contraption to raise them. He would then crawl up an extension ladder to secure them into place.
He sent mom to town to purchase another trailer-load of supplies, and while she was gone he executed his plan, and set all sixteen beams. When mom returned with her big trailer-load of supplies behind her, she was shocked to see the beams up and secured. Dad was there proud as a peacock to greet her, and with his hands on hips he grinned “I DO IT ME-OWN SELF!” Mom shook her head, but likely she was not surprised in the least. Dad and Mom were really great role models, and we were blessed to see their love and cooperation.
Unfortunately, many people these days take independence to the extreme, and we miss out on some wonderful experiences of shared responsibility and teamwork that makes life more enjoyable. When we grow older we do not have a problem with someone else closing the door for us so we do not need to expend our own energy. As we age further, we become belligerent in our defense to take care of ourselves and maintain independence in spite of questions from others to our mental stability and wisdom. Life comes full circle as we get very old and say “Maybe I should at least get one of those emergency transmitter cell phones where I can push the button in case I fall and cannot get up.” Even then we question this idea because it ties into our primal instinct of independence from early youth of “I DO IT ME-OWN SELF!”