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Sticks And Stones

Cora has discovered that she can say
whatever she wants, whether she has any true authority over the
matter or not. And Madeleine, bless her heart, doesn’t yet
fully realize that she doesn’t have to listen to Cora. You
can imagine the results.

Cora’s current favorite game is to order Maddie not to smile.
They’ll be sitting, peaceably eating their breakfasts, when
Cora will look up out of the blue and say calmly, “You
can’t smile, Maddie.” Notice she doesn’t give
Maddie an order – “Don’t smile” – she
simply issues a decree – “You can’t smile”.
And Maddie, bless her obedient little heart, nearly crumples to
tears every time, whimpering, “Why not? Why can’t I
smile?” followed by the omnipresent –

“Mooooooooooooooom! Cora says I can’t smile!”

“Well, honey, you don’t need
to heed her, you know,” I finally said, but Maddie continued
to look at me imploringly. “Can’t you tell her to stop
saying that?”

“Cora, stop telling Maddie she can’t smile,” I
offered up. And Cora simply looked at me mildly and replied,
“Well, Maddie can’t smile, Mommy. She just
can’t.” And then she looked down at her cereal –
but not before I caught the impish gleam in her eye.

Cora has realized that this applies to other areas in her life as
well, and will sometimes go on a verbal rampage through a room, a
mini Godzilla leaving a trail of emotional carnage as she passes:
“Maddie, you can’t play with that Thomas train,”
she’ll toss off as she walks past the train table.
“Daddy, you can’t use your iPod now,”
she’ll continue, before squaring off for the icing on the
cake. “And Mommy – don’t sing.”

And she’ll toddle off, satisfied with the devastation
she’s left in her wake.

Maddie, for her part, has mostly learned to let these edicts bounce
off of her now, but it takes some determination on her part.
She’ll instinctively get her dander up, then deliberately
calm herself and smile wheedlingly at Cora – part pleading,
part patronizing – and say, “Oh, now, Cora,
that’s a funny joke! You silly girl, saying I can’t
smile!” And then she’ll run off before she has to hear
it again.

I’m amazed that Cora’s already learned the power of
words, and that what comes out of her mouth doesn’t have to
have any moral authority behind it to be powerful. And I’m
almost more awestruck by the way it works so dang well. Let me give
this a try –

“Cora, you can’t wake up before 9 a.m.”

Nope, I don’t think it carries the same weight.


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