From her earliest days, it was clear that our youngest child was oppositional. Her happiest moments have always involved utterance of the word no, out loud or in her head. I took her to the pediatrician once when she was about a year old because she’d started beating her head on the floor when I would ask her to do something.
“That’s a self correcting behavior,” Dr. Pierre had said, and smiled.
He was right. She slammed her little noggin down on the porcelain tile kitchen floor one day, and has never forgiven me for it. She’s also never banged her head on the floor again, though, so at least there’s that.
In kindergarten, Clark Kent dubbed her Contrary Mary. It was the perfect name. Contrarian as a hobby. Contrarian as a tool. Contrarian as a lifestyle. No problem, we thought. We’ll always just ask her for the opposite of what we want her to do.
This worked until she matured and saw through our psych jobs. She loved contrarianism so much that no motivators–carrot or stick–outdid the joy of opposing us. The stakes grew higher. Boys, cows, hobbies, cars, colleges: how to “control” her? How to mold her? How to keep her safe, especially when food became her poison, and she had to comply with strict rules for every bite she put in her mouth, just to stay alive, thus increasing her need to oppose and rebel in every fashion she could devise?
Susanne’s joy with “no” expanded to include inflicting behaviors on us that we did not desire. Usually we just ignored her. Until she starting opening our door at two a.m. to deposit our delightful-in-the-daytime, kenneled-at-nighttime, power-snuggling Boston terrier Petey into our room. Petey thought this was the best game ever. Snuggle time with Mommy and Daddy! Fun! Fun! Eric and me, not so much.
We locked our door.
She picked the lock.
We told her NO and WE’RE OLD AND NEED SLEEP and PLEASE.
She flipped her hair and smiled a Mona Lisa smile.
“She’s having way too much fun with this,” I said, eyes bleary.
“It’s got to stop,” Eric agreed.
On the third morning, Eric got up and left the house. He returned five minutes later, all Chesire Cat in the middle of the night. “You know how she hates to walk?” he asked.
He could have said work/help/mind/and many other things as well, but, yes, she did hate to walk. “Uh huh. What’s up?”
“I moved her truck a few houses away.”
“Brilliant!” I tell you, I didn’t just marry this man for his cute butt. He’s smart and devious, too.
A few hours later, a shrill voice shattered our peaceful morning. “WHERE’S MY TRUCK?”
We’d agreed I’d take the brunt of her. “Why honey, why don’t you go outside and use your clicker until you find it?”
“WHAT? DID SOMEONE MOVE IT???”
“What? Did someone put Petey in our room in the middle of the night?”
“YOU DIDN’T TELL ME YOU’D MOVE MY TRUCK IF I DIDN’T STOP!”
“We asked you to stop. And you didn’t . We’ve realized we need to be more creative to get your attention. No more Petey in our room, no more move-y the truck-y.”
Eric and I high-fived. That night, we slept soundly, and so did the dog.
Later that week, I asked Susanne to bathe Petey. Implicit in this request was, “And return his collar/dog tag to his neck when you are done.” She loves to take off his collar and does it every few days, and we’d begged her over and over not to do it in case he gets out, or at least to put it back on before he goes into the yard. She ignores us. She knows we’d die if something happened to that spoiled little mutt, and she had us right where she wanted.
But not anymore.
We took action, and we waited.
“WHAT **#!$%!$^^ WROTE ‘I LOVE JUSTIN BIEBER’ IN SHAVING CREAM ALL OVER MY WINDOWS?!!!!” she shrieked.
Again, we’d decided I would be the one to interact with her. Probably because I was so much like her at her age, I am the one person least likely to wring her neck in these moments. I deserve her. It’s karma. I know this.
“Sweetie, did you not put Petey’s collar back on yesterday?”
“WHAT? NOBODY SAID ANYTHING. I FORGOT. GAH . . .” she screeched.
“Oh, I think we’ve said something many, many times. And you haven’t listened. Remember us moving your car a few days ago? That got your attention. Maybe this will, too.”
“I’M NOT WASHING THAT STUFF OFF MY WINDOWS. I WON’T PUT HIS COLLAR ON UNTIL ALL OF IT IS OFF MY TRUCK.”
Eric had already told me he’d wash it off for her as soon as she put the dog’s collar back on. “No, sweetie-pie, you’ve got it backwards. Someone will clean your windows as soon as you put his collar on. Oh, and you’re not going anywhere today until you wash Layla and finish stuffing the packages you were supposed to do earlier this week. So don’t make plans. And if it isn’t done by 3:00, we might start feeling creative again.”
Door slam. Petey ran in with his collar on five minutes later. Eric and I high fived. Layla came and shook her wet body at us after another thirty minutes. And at 2:55, Susanne came in my room, chatty and perky, and said, “Hey, Mom, I finished the packages, can I go play Top Golf with Kathy?”
When she left, Eric and I high fived one last time.
Game on, Contrary Mary.
That’s all I’ve got.