“Actually,” and the Dawn of Civilized Defiance in Our HouseholdRufus Griscom
In the last several months, “actually” has become Grey’s favorite word. Actually, I don’t like hamburgers anymore. Actually, my bedtime is 8pm. Actually, Declan drew the outside and I just colored it in. Grey seized on “actually” at about three and half, the same time Declan did, and it’s now neck and neck with “legos,” “mommy” and “poopie” (sad but true) among the most common utterances in our household.
“Actually” is, for our boys, a powerful word, a watershed word. It’s arrival semaphores the realization that parents do not, in fact, know all, and often need to be set straight by little people. It is, always, the prelude to a civilized act of defiance. Actually, soccer is boring (yesterday, refusing to take a soccer class). Actually, I like cinnamon and lemon in cider that is hot, not in cider that is cold (today, at lunch, protesting a leftover beverage). Actually, I poked him with the fork because he didn’t play with me when I asked him to (uttered nonchalantly in a bustling restaurant this morning, in response to the hushed, urgent, inaccurate statement, “We never poke each other with silverware in this family!”
These lofty pronouncements from our little hooligans, who are generally ketchup splattered and unfit for polite society, teeter between aggravating and comical. They grow a little taller when they pull out an “actually,” an eyebrow raises imperceptibly, and then they hesitate for a second like a nunchuck spinning martial artist looking for his target. It works for them like “essentially” or “ostensibly” work for some adults, as a way to ratchet up the soap box a couple notches.
The truth is, I relish their small acts of defiance, even as we do our best to reign them in. Actually, peas taste like boogers, Daddy. It’s the beginning of daylight between us and them, the lever they use to crowbar a separate identity. Of course the dawn of semi-rational thinking has its pros and cons. It means a lot more talking about every last little thing and a little less recreational screaming. And this seems, actually, like a good thing.