We'd bought the kids some clothes and Ruby was intent on trying everything on. The word 'No' was forming on my lips and I had to shove hard to get it out of my mouth, even if it didn't leave my mind. True, it would make a mess of the hotel room, taking everything out, paper, pins and all. True, it would demand a lot of attention as she went into the bathroom to change and then come out to model for all of us. True, it would distract us all from more adult catching up. True. True. True. But none of those is a reason to say, 'No'.
The adult/child relationship is power based. Some of that power is reasonable - adults make better and safer decisions (at least in theory). Adults need to ensure that they have a bit of instructional control or everything will be chaos. But, in reality, there is are very few times when the word 'no' is needed. 'Yes, later,' is most often what parents mean by 'no'. However, I've discovered, maybe rediscovered, that sometimes I want to say 'no' because I can. Simply as an exercise of my power and control.
Further, a child that is disobedient to an adult's 'no' is a problem child - not a child dealing with a problem in power.
I heard a staff say once, about someone with a disability, 'He likes to get into power struggles with staff.' Annoyance greeted my sentiment, then, that there are only power struggles when power has been used. What we mean by 'power struggle' is most often either 'didn't do what I said' or 'didn't heed my opinion'. Sometimes power struggles aren't anything more than a reasonable reaction to an unreasonable person.
Tyrants only respond to power offered in opposition.
I found myself constantly swallowing 'nos' ... constantly fighting the urge to have an opinion on something that didn't matter. I kept asking myself, why do I care so much about something that REALLY DOESN'T MATTER. I was exhausted at the end of the day, partly because of the physical activity involved in caring for children and partly because I was constantly wrestling power out of my hands and stifling commands from my mouth.
I thought back to my time as a front line staff.
I was hired into my first job. They threw me into a power based relationship with people with disabilities without ever ONCE talking to me about power. It was like they injected power directly into my veins, making me the worst kind of addict - craving it's use. And because I was good at it, I got made a behaviour therapist. OH. MY. I wrote compliance programmes which ensured that people did as they were told, and did it quickly.
I got off the addiction to power after a particularly memorable moment: something that lead me to write 'Mourning Has Broken,' a piece that changed my life. I learned things about myself that weren't pretty, but I think were pretty normal. Power is addictive. Power corrupts. Power makes mean. Why would I be exempt from any of these rules.
Why would any parent?
Power ends up making a fussy, old, fat guy in a wheelchair thinking he has a right to say 'no' to an excited child who wants to pull clothes out of a bag and try them on.
There is a greater power. Greater than the one with the desire to control others. It's the one with the desire to control ourselves.
And I did.
At the end of the evening I got hugs from both kids. Ruby thanked us both for our presents and then stopped and said, almost to herself ... 'I had fun.' I thought that fine reward for the war that went on in my head. When she left I surprised Joe by shaking my head back and forth and spewing out the word 'no' over and over again'.
He asked what I was doing, I told him that I'd been stuffing back all the 'nos' that I wanted to say, all the silly meaningless nos, and now I was letting them out.
He laughed and then shook his head saying: nononononononononononono
I guess it's a universal thing between adults and kids.
Between staff and people with disabilities.
Between bosses and employees.
Between the powerful and the powerless.
Power, noticed, is power that can be controlled. Or at least that's my hope.