The gift of the almighty “NO”

Vivian has learned to put two very important phonemes together: the almighty /n/ and /o/. As she toddles around the house shrieking, whispering, chanting, singing, and repeating them over and over, she appears to get a charge out of simply uttering the word. Like a kid revving a dirt bike with more kick than they can handle, Vivian’s throttle is stuck on no and she’s loving the wild ride.

“Do you want some milk Vivian?”


“Do you want me to pick you up?”


“Do you want a cracker?”


“Do you want to run around naked?”


Of course, she ends up taking the sip of milk, wants to be picked up, is reaching for the cracker, and loves running around naked. You might wonder then if she even knows what she’s saying, but she understands alright; the expression in her voice proves it. The sharp /n/ coupled with the stacatto /o/ belies her intentions. Dramatic body language often accompanies her verbal rejections. When she senses we might want her to stay put or come near, she arches her back, propels her tummy forward and sprint-toddles in the opposite direction. This, while yelling no, of course. She is clearly thrilled with her negative feedback and the fact she is the one in charge of giving it.

This newest obsession is different than her other antics. While writing on the walls, climbing on the piano, playing in the toilet, rummaging through garbage cans, and throwing books at me while I’m in the shower, might be troublesome from my perspective, that isn’t her intent. When she does these things she is simply exploring her world and leaving a trail of chaos in her wake.  With “no” however, being troublesome is the point. It is a conscious, even joyful, display of obstinacy. I imagine her growing sense of identity–that part of her just now realizing she’s a separate individual–clapping it’s hands gleefully while she decides I think I’ll be difficult today just for the fun of it! Just because I can!

Of all the gifts life offers us, this is one of them; the ability to choose the way we respond. Regardless of what life hands us we can decide if we want to be pleasant or disagreeable, to rage or keep silent, to ignore or address, to whisper or yell, to hit or hug, to yell no or yes. And what a marvelous gift this is. Is it any wonder Vivian can’t get enough of it? What power, what influence, what control is afforded us with our reactions!

Something terrible happened a few days ago. Our friend Jason died. He wasn’t just a friend though, he was his wife’s high-school sweetheart, his son’s favourite place to sleep, his daughter’s biggest fan (and security agent), and the best fishing guide our family ever had. I am still not sure how to write about it; I will need some time to think about it first. What I do know, what is easy to write about, is the beautiful way his wife Shelly has responded. She is the one we’ve all looked to, watching to see when it’s time to panic and waiting for her signal. But she never sounded the alarm. Instead, she opened her home and invited us for trout supper. She let family live with and care for them, week after week, so they could be part of her journey. She lay beside her husband in their own bed until the very end, reliving memories and making him feel safe. She planned a funeral with ice cream sundaes and mini-sticks. Shelly is answering the ugliness and pain with grace and spirit and although she and her 41-year-old husband were powerless to the cancer cells, neither gave up control of choosing bravery instead of despair, celebration instead of defeat, love instead of bitterness, and the hearts-open-and-honest bigger life instead of the isolated smaller life. For their children, for me, and many others, that has made all the difference.

During these last few weeks, knowing this hard thing was about to happen, nothing else seemed important enough to write about. But I was mistaken. Everything’s important. Every little thing is important and worth writing about. When, if not now, should we notice the December sun shining on the red willows? How my 83-year-old neighbour uses her new cane with panache? Or the way Vivian’s belly button sticks out when she’s running away from us? These ordinary details are worth paying attention to; Jason would tell you that if he were here. Vivi might even tell you this if she had more vocabulary, but she’s only got her NO and that’s amazing enough.


cutting red willow for our Christmas “tree”




6 thoughts on “The gift of the almighty “NO”

  1. I am so sorry for your loss and for Shelly’s family! Your writing is just beautiful – I don’t know how you could turn “Vivi’s no” into something significant with your loss and bring it right back around to tie it all together!! Amazing gift of the written word! Hugs!

  2. Oh Tricia, I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine losing a spouse so young but your friend sounds incredibly brave and strong. Thanks for these words – you have such a way with them and it’s always a treat to read what you have to say.
    Love to you this Christmas.

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