“Jeez wuh-leez!” she blurts exasperated.
I have dared to request that my daughter put her shoes away. As she stomps off to her room, shoes in hand, I have to turn away to conceal the grin creeping up my cheeks. Yes, the attitude and the stomping are unacceptable, and I will address them…as soon as I can stop giggling. But I am grateful that at seven years old, jeez wuh-leez is the worst expletive she has in her arsenal. And I kind of love everything about it.
In truth, I have loved all of her mispronunciations, and as they disappear, I am beginning to miss them fiercely. When a tiny human joyously shouts about the pink “flea-mango” at the zoo, I challenge anyone not to smile.
It’s not that I haven’t tried to teach her the real phrase. I have corrected her over and over, but she still insists I am wrong. It is the hill on which she has chosen to make her stand. It’s one of her first real acts of rebellion, and to be honest, it is pretty harmless. So, I’m done correcting her. Jeez wuh-leez it will be. For now, at least.
I realize it might not seem like much—the freedom to pronounce something wrong—but it’s a choice that my daughter appears to need to make right now. Childhood is so often about adults’ timelines. We want to speed things up (three-day potty-training boot camp, anyone?) or slow things down (no, you may not go on a date!) according to where we think our child should be or where their peers are. In the chaotic swirl of everyday life, it is easy to become rigid about things, stuck in the minutia of timelines and schedules.
However, in the past two months of sheltering in place, we have slowed our calendar way down, welcoming more flexibility into our lives. Within a few days of school and extracurricular closures, I noticed that I started to “give in” to my daughter’s wishes more often. She wanted to wear clothes that didn’t match the weather? Sure. If she got cold or hot or wet, we were at home anyway, near her fully-stocked dresser. Pushing for a later bedtime? Fine, let’s try it out and see how it goes. If she’s tired tomorrow, we can fit in a nap. When it comes to matters of safety or respect for others, I still hold strong. But the little things? Those things that I definitely found important before but am finding less so now? Those jeez-wuh-leez things? On those, I’ve started to let her have her way. And it seems to be reducing conflict and making life more peaceful.
I mean, it makes sense. Let the kid have her way, and of course, she’ll stop arguing. But it’s more than that. With less to do, there is less I need to control. And as I relinquish some of my control, in turn giving my daughter a little more autonomy, it has made both of us calmer and happier and has helped her become more confident in her choices. If going at her speed brings my child a sense of self-assurance and control in a world that is otherwise very much lacking both right now, why not try to make room for that in our already upended lives?
I suppose I will discover, as my daughter grows, how slowing down and giving her more of a say during this strange time will affect her sense of security and autonomy in the world. In the meantime, I will enjoy her mispronunciations for just a little bit longer. Because while yesterday my daughter may have “goed” to the park with her grandma, soon she will be going out with her friends, and before I know it, she will be gone.
Ruth Kogen Goodwin is a writer and editor living in Southern California. Her nonfiction has appeared on Huffington Post, Kveller.com and in Hippocampus Magazine, among other publications. You can see more of her work at www.ruthkgoodwin.com. Follow her on Twitter @ruththeputh or Instagram @ruth_k_goodwin.