It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Just say Yes!

“Husband told me Jazz was a bit of a handful yesterday.” Mom is smiling, her demeanor relaxed, but she would like more information. This is one of those many mom-dad (aka male-female) differences. Dads get the facts, moms want the details. Moms want the nuance. I’m betting dad said, “Jazz was a handful today,” and when Mom pressed for details, he shrugged and said, “Mary said she was pretty negative.”

End of story. Which, for pretty near any woman out there, would only be the beginning of the story.

I know a woman whose son had open-heart surgery when he was about a year old. Everything went just fine (the son is now a thirty-something adult who works for a high-tech company and travels the world for fun), but for a few years after that, the family had to make the trip to Sick Kids in Toronto for an annual check-up. One year it looked like mom couldn’t make it. Dad didn’t see this as a problem. Everything was going well, they didn’t anticipate any bad news, he could take their son. Not an issue.

This wasn’t good enough for mom. “I know what will happen,” she laughed. “I’ll ask him what the doctor said, and he’ll say ‘He said everything’s fine’. Fine? Yeah, fine. End of story. I’ll want more!” Here she started to laugh at herself. “What was his tone of voice while he said that? How did he hold his head? Did he clear his throat? Did he look relaxed? I want details.” Details that she knew her husband wouldn’t even see, let alone be able to convey to her. A level of detail she knew was extreme and would tell her nothing of significance — but she needed it anyway!

She made it to the appointment.

Return to my front hall. Dad told mom something last night. This morning, Mom wants details. I’m a bit puzzled, though, because Jazz wasn’t a handful yesterday.

“No, she was fine.”

“He said she was very negative.”

“Ah.” Okay, I understand. I know what I said, and I now know what he heard — and they’re not the same thing. I didn’t convey my message well. “Yes, she was, but not in an obstreperous way. She wasn’t misbehaving. It’s more that she has a mental habit of negativity.”

We talked about it — in some detail. A child with a habit of negativity tends to regard the world with a certain level of suspicion. Interactions are viewed as potentially threatening, other children are impositions, daily events are to be resisted, not embraced.

Some examples from the previous day:

— Rory offers Jazz a toy. (Well, actually, it was half an empty CD case. No idea where he found it, but it was Special, and he was Sharing.) Jazz scowls, draws her arms close, turns away from Rory and grunts something grumpy over her shoulder.

— Emily stretches her arms wide and tries to draw Jazz into a hug. Jazz howls as if Emily had wallopped her. (And no, Jazz is not autistic.)

— Another child wriggles onto the couch beside Jazz and looks at the page of the book she holds. The other child does not attempt to take the book, nor even to touch it. They’re just looking at the pictures.

“No! No book! No!”

If this happened once in a while — heck, if this happened six times a day (we are talking two-year-olds here) — I wouldn’t think much of it. But these days it’s been happening with almost every interaction. All interactions are viewed with suspicion. Everything is bad, or potentially so … until you tell her it’s good.

— “Rory is giving you a toy! Isn’t that nice? Say, ‘Yes’, Jazz. ‘YES!’ Say, ‘Thank you, Rory!’ ”

“Yes! Sank you, Orry!” She favours him with an enormous full-voltage Jazz-special smile.

— “Emily wants to hug you! She loves you! Say ‘Yes’, Jazz. ‘YES!’ Give Emily a big hug back!”

“Yes, Emmy!”, breaks into that smile again and snuggles into Emily.

— “Say ‘yes’, Jazz, ‘YES!!’ Grace likes the elephant in your book. What’s your favourite picture, Jazz?”

“Butterfly!” (What comes out sounds a lot more like ‘bar-fly’, much to my entertainment.)

“The butterfly? It is pretty. Show Grace the butterfly.”

Jazz plonks a skinny finger on the page. “Bar-fly! Bar-fly, Gace!”

Default for Jazz, at least this week, is negative, suspicion, and withdrawal. It doesn’t seem to be borne of fatigue, hunger, illness, change, teething, any of the usual suspects. It’s just a habit. It’s not a habit I want to linger. I want to replace it with a habit of openness, positivity, cheerful expectation. She needs to say “yes!” to the world.

“Just say YES!”

I can see it’s going to be my mantra for a while.



June 1, 2011 - Posted by | Developmental stuff, individuality, Jazz, manners, socializing | ,


  1. Love it! Love how you sum it up so neatly. I know I see these thing, but often nowhere near so clearly.

    Thank you. Bear in mind, though, that given that most families have three or fewer children, most parents see toddlerhood for two to six years. I’ve been dealing with toddlers for over twenty, if you count my own three (and why wouldn’t we?). That’s a lot of time to mull things over and see patterns!

    Comment by Chelsea | June 1, 2011 | Reply

  2. omg that’s the story of my marriage. “But what did [our pastor] sound like when he made that suggestion?” “Did the triage nurse sound like we needed to be here, or what?” “What did your dad have to say? What’s going on? Do we need to do anything?” I think it’s his nefarious plot to get out of interacting with anyone I need information from.

    It could be a plot! But really? It’s pretty standard, I think. I am pleased and enormously grateful to be with one of the few men on the planet who gets nuances and actively likes to talk about them. Before I met him, I’d decided such men didn’t exist. I still believe they’re rare. But hey, that’s what girlfriends are for, right?

    Comment by Bridgett | June 1, 2011 | Reply

  3. I would love to have you visit my home and have you give me insight like this into what’s going on with the kids! I see it, too, but like Chelsea said, you sum it up so neatly. Your patience amazes me. If I could summon up a fraction of yours on any given afternoon, we’d all be happier!

    You know what? I’m not particularly patient. Any patience I do have is borne of confidence that we’ll get through this, and the confidence is borne of experience. When you know that what you’re doing will work, and when it does, this problem will be over, never to return… well, it’s not patience so much as impatience that keeps you at it! So, no, I’m not patient. 🙂

    I will confess, though, that the negativity is very often a character trait, not a behavioural one, and character traits can only ever be modified, not removed entirely. If this is part of Jazz’s character (rather than a response to being too tired, say) the best I can do is teach her strategies for dealing with a negative bent. Even that’s well worth doing! But if it does turn out to be a character trait, it will inevitably try my patience. Right now I’m working in a mindset of sunny optimism that it’s not. 😀

    Comment by Patti | June 1, 2011 | Reply

  4. I love it! 🙂 Such a good reminder for me as a mom, to say “yes” to my kids (messy crafts, baking together, reading the same book over and over, etc.)

    And I can completely relate to the facts vs details! 🙂 I’m expecting my 3rd baby and have some restrictions (no lifting, etc.), so my husband took our 3 year old to the dentist as a follow up to a tooth injury. He texted me that they wanted to pull the tooth. I could not text back fast enough, or get ahold of him as quick as I wanted to discuss the details. I ended up speaking with him and having him bring our son home. At the next visit, we were both there. The dentist said all the same things my husband had heard before, but somehow I really needed all the details for myself!! Oh, and if you ever need a good resource on caring for your kids’ teeth, I’ve recently found this Mom’s Guide to have good info and helpful tips.

    Comment by Emily | June 9, 2011 | Reply

  5. As far as it being a character trait, I think I’ve got a slice of Jazz in me. And yet as far as most people can tell, the super-sunny beaming version is the default; they don’t realize it took some learning and cultivation.

    Nice of you to give her an early start!

    Well, that’s encouraging, to think that a learned behaviour can be so well-established that people think it’s your base character. I will keep that as my beacon of hope as I persist in my appointed task.

    Comment by Helen Huntingdon | June 21, 2011 | Reply

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