On the contrary

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If you're one of the people who saw my daughters and me in Kmart and looked away before you laughed, I thank you.

I was the one limping around with a glazed look on my face.

That wasn't cause for laughter.

Five-year-old Katie, on the other hand, was. She was the one wearing pink Dora the Explorer pajamas under her for-special-occasions-only sweater, socks and dress-up shoes.

She probably would have changed clothes if I hadn't asked her to.

That's the stage we're in. It may be more than a typical stage, as both she and 4-year-old Nikki are in the midst of it. Maybe it's a personality thing.

Whichever it is, it's causing my brain to split as I try to keep track of just what opposite I should request to get the response I'm after.

Even kisses and hugs are a trial. I ask for a kiss goodbye. Nikki asks: "You want a big kiss or a little kiss?"

"A big kiss, " I say.

"OK, little kiss," she says.

Exact same process for hugs.

To my benefit, she's not entirely clear on the concept of big and little -- so I generally get what I want anyway. I like to think she blurs the line because she can't stand the idea of not getting a long hug with an extra squeeze.

Katie puts me through the same routine. Unfortunately, she delivers what she promises.

It really stretches out the bedtime routine.

Most of the time, their desire to be contradictory amuses me and only applies to life's little things.

Then came time for Katie's school pictures. Retakes to be exact -- I kind of glossed over picture day the first time.

In fact, in Katie's case, that was the second time I'd botched the job. I forgot it was picture day last year in preschool. I signed up for the package that day even knowing that we were at the bottom of the laundry pile and the only thing I'd done to her hair that morning was smooth it down.

So, I was determined to do this one right. I set the clothes aside the second I heard rumors of retakes. I kept the curling iron hot and her teeth brushed.

But, as any parent knows, you have little control beyond the door of your house. Your child could run through mud puddles, use green paint to make handprints and eat three Hershey's kisses before picture time.

My biggest concern, though, was her smile. Katie has the corniest fake smile you can imagine (not quite as bad as Nikki's scrunched nose and squinty-eyed smile, but ...). When someone says, "Say cheese," Katie tilts her head to one side, stretches her closed mouth as tight as she can and bites her lower lip.

So, a week before picture day we started smile practice. About half the time, she hit right on. The other half, she did just the opposite of every suggestion I gave.

It'll be weeks before I see a tangible version. Considering her contradictory state, anything could have happened.

I have hope. When I asked her to demonstrate the smile she gave for her picture (yes, I know I'm weird), she showed the most adorable and perfect smile I could imagine. Nothing I said as a coach got her to that point.

I can only pray that's what comes out in print (you only get one shot at a retake).

If they're not -- I won't care who wants a big one and who wants a little one, nobody gets anything.

Hey, their personalities didn't spring from a void. I can, under the severest of circumstances, be a tiny bit contradictory, too.

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