When Cute Becomes Ornery: The Softest Slap and Sweetest “No”

Until now, my 18 month-old daughter, Emersyn, has mastered the art of communicating without the use of words.

She points at the pantry for a snack.

Emersyn’s pterodactyl-like shrill alerts me when her 4 year-old brother gets too close for comfort.

She arches her back with the strength of a gymnast as I try to stuff her into the still-backward-facing car seat.

For a person who has uttered very few words, my daughter can definitively get her point across.

Emersyn is resourceful – constantly adding to her no-words-required repertoire.  Just the other day, in fact, my little angel added another non-verbal communication method – the face slap.

She tried it out on me first.

Emersyn, 18 months, showcasing her favorite non-verbal signal – pointing.

I simply asked, “Emie, can I have a kiss?”  I leaned in and WHACK!  She slapped me across the face and laughed adorably afterward.

Immediately, I scolded the giggles that erupted – both from Emersyn and her four siblings standing to my right.

Most days, I try to hold back my amusement of such outbursts – keeping a stern front to discourage the behavior.  I, admittedly, do find these ways of making a point pretty damn endearing.

But, today ushered in a new era for Emersyn.

Our one-sided dialogue began as it had so many times, with my simple request, “Emie, can I have your pacifier.”


My little princess responded – no shrill, no throwing, no pointing and no stomping her foot.

I doubted what my ears were hearing – she couldn’t really be saying, ‘No’, right?

“I mean it, Emie.  Throw it to me.”

Again, my little princess replied, “Neeewwww.”

This time she gripped her Nuk with a clenched right fist, smiled broadly and ran in the other direction.

I stood bewildered in the kitchen, shaking my head and saying aloud, “Yep, she’s saying ‘No.’”

Yes, cute becomes ornery in the blink of an eye.

But, I’ve been through this before – four times, in fact.  I should be more than equipped to reel this defiant behavior back in – right?

Two qualities stand in my way:

  1. I cannot seem to remember any of my other children’s idiosyncrasies prior to the ages of 2.
  2. I’m great at counting down the days but terrible at making days count.

With the same forgetfulness of a mother longing to be pregnant once a baby is six months old, I have parental amnesia for each of my kids’ lives before they sleep through the night.

My vanished memories are attributable to a combination of exhaustion and hurry.

With each child, I’ve been so quick to race through each stage – longing to reach each impending milestone.

I couldn’t wait for my infant to crawl, then to walk, and then to run.

I looked forward to my toddler entering pre-school and then full-day kindergarten.

Now, as I stand in the kitchen, even deeper in the parenting pool with my five kids, I’m realizing that I’ve changed through time.  My balance of fun and firm is out-of-whack.

I’m much slower to laugh.

I’m far quicker to yell.

There is little doubt that Emersyn probably learned “Neeewwww” from me.  In fact, she’s likely running away because I’m hesitant to give chase.

I still have time to regain what I’ve repressed – to shelve the serious and call up the silly.

To play more, to plan less.

So, as I fell to my knees on our kitchen floor and crawled after Emersyn while barking like a dog, the giggle in the distance nourished my soul.

I needed her laughter.

I needed her exuberance.

I needed her slap across the face.


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