You are five and the worst thing you can possibly think of is the word “no” coming out of my mouth.

I say it less and less arbitrarily than I used to but that doesn’t matter right now. Right now you aren’t focused on all the battles you don’t know I’ve chosen not to wage.  Right now I had to say no and the moment those two fated letters touch your ears, blue eyes disappeared behind lids tweaked into angry slits. “You are mean. You are the meanest.”

I know, in this moment, you believe it and your feelings are valid but I’m not going to change my mind. It hurts me to be on the receiving end of those words but I know you love me. I’m sure you will love me no matter how many times I say no.

Maybe someday you’ll love me because of it but don’t worry, I’m not holding my breath.

I want to be your friend and I imagine that will be true someday but you have many friends and only one mother and one father. Two parents tasked with the heavy job of making sure you don’t grow up to be a jerk.

Often that entails curtailing your extravagant requests and withstanding the storm of your discontent. Sometimes it requires me to prevent you from participating in activities which disrupt others. Occasionally it means I have to ask you to do things that are difficult or simply not very much fun.

In your life, you will meet people who have never heard the word no; who have not been asked to do things for themselves or for others. People who have never had to put all of their effort into something. You will be forced into group projects and presentations with them in school.  You will work with them, it’s possible you will work for them. You will even overhear their complaints in busy coffee shops and in crowded subway trains. They will be obvious. They will be unyielding, unsympathetic, unfair, quick to judge, and often times lazy.

And I want you to know something else.  For the most part, they are unhappy.  They will feel victimized by the world and act like it even when it isn’t true. They will struggle to make honest connections with other people. They will refuse to be in charge of their own destinies. They will never know the potential because they won’t have opportunities to fully utilize it.

I don’t want that for you, and neither does your dad. I want you to do things that are difficult so you know the value of your work and your time, and in turn that of those you come into contact with. I want you to know your hands and your brain are your greatest resources; you carry them with you wherever you go.  I want you to be proud of your accomplishments and come by them honestly, so they can be small steps to big dreams.

I tell you no because I love you. Because I want you to be safe as often as it is possible.  Because I have seen glimpses of the brilliance inside, the kind that blossoms in the face of opposition and effort. It’s just barely been tapped.  Because I want you to be able to accept criticism with grace and work with people who benefit from your proximity. Because in a world of people who’ve always been told yes, being someone who understands the word no is a powerful point of view. I tell you no, because it’s my job.