My 6-year-old came home from her grandma's house last week with that particular "I've got a great idea" shine in her eyes.
"Hey, Mom! I was watching Disney Junior and there were these kids talking about having a Yes Day! That's a day when the parents say, 'Yes!' to anything the kid asks! Can we do that? Can we have a Yes Day?"
My first thought was, "And that is why we don't have cable."
My second thought was, "Why the hell not?"
We decided that her requests had to involve her little sister, who didn't understand the concept, but would love the fun. Then we came up with just four rules: No trips more than an hour away from our hometown, no permanent hair dye, no purchases over $25 and nothing that could hurt us or anyone else. Finally, we set a date for the grand experiment in affirmation.
I'm writing this on the other side of our inaugural Yes Day, and I'm exhausted. I should have invested in some sort of advanced vitamin regimen in the week running up to the big day. Tiredness aside, I've got to say, that kid and her little big idea reminded me of a few things my tired mom brain had forgotten over the past year or so.
1. My kids aren't little monsters out to conquer me.
Listen, I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but sometimes, that's how it feels. And I have good kids! Easy kids. Take-care-of-themselves-and-thank-me-for-dinner kids.
There are days when I can feel myself slipping on armor before I have to enter the fray of motherhood. Because sometimes, it feels like me vs. them. The lessons I need to teach vs. the wandering minds and quick feet. A clean house vs. sticky hands. Bedtime vs. inexhaustible excuses for just five more minutes.
The right to say "no" is one of my surest means of holding the castle, of protecting my fiefdom, of not being overrun by the hordes. (You're probably thinking, "You've got two children, Meg! That's not a horde." I beg to differ. Catch my 3-year-old without a nap or my 6-year-old with low blood sugar. Trust me, they're a horde.) However, I entered Yes Day relaxed. Because we were in it together! I was supposed to join them, rather than shepherd them. And it was amazing. We talked and laughed more than we had in months. Somewhere between our first doughnut run and last movie rental, I remembered that we are confederates just as much as we are mother and children. There is a place for both manifestations of our relationship, even if one can't always exist with the other.
2. What our children really want is often truly lovely.
Sure. There were some requests that didn't surprise me at all -- a doughnut run, skipping school and lunch at Chick-fil-A. But there were also the asks that were just really simple and really sweet -- a drive up the canyon so we could see the last bit of winter's snow, a favorite candy for her sister, a superhero costume made entirely of paper. The most surprising thing was all the stuff she didn't ask for -- there wasn't one toy request in the entire lot. Nearly everything she wanted was an experience, usually the type that involved me and her sister. She spent the day feeding her heart, not her toy box. When was the last time I spent a day feeding my heart instead of my Instagram or my desire for a clean house or my box full of shoulds and have-tos?
3. You don't always have to say "no" to, you know, say no.
Listen, I was a rookie. I'd never done this before. My super literal 6-year-old memorized my four paltry rules and figured out a couple impossible requests that didn't violate them one bit. My personal favorite was when she asked if she and her sister could draw pictures on their walls with markers. I didn't want to break our contract and say, "Um. Hell no." But I also didn't want 32 different renditions of stick figure Baymax scrawled across the fresh white paint on their walls. So, we talked it over. We discussed the fact that it was a semi-permanent decision. That she might not even like stick figure Big Hero 6 characters in a few weeks. And man, it was nice that she wanted to decorate her room, so what was a better way she could go about it? Her solution was to tape butcher paper to her wall so she could draw on it and replace it as she pleased. Honestly, I just hope our inevitable talk about tattoos 10 years down the road goes half as well. She didn't need me to say no. She just needed me to provide the context for my reasoning along with some time for her to come up with a solution. We became partners for a moment, and our potential together was so much grander than our potential alone.
4. Saying "yes" is its own kind of negative.
Saying yes wasn't the act of indulgence and chaos I thought it would be. While I watched her decide what she would ask, I was also watching her decide what she would let go of. Yes Day comes once a year! She had to choose what was important to her in the grand scheme of yeses. That was an education I'd been denying her with all my "no"s and "know better"s. She was forced to hold up the things she kind of wanted to the light of the things she really wanted. It was fascinating and heartening to see the desires that made the cut. She wanted to make every yes count, so she handled the word with care. I hope it's a lesson she remembers as she grows older. Too much of womanhood -- from the food we eat to the clothes we wear to the way we spend our time -- is motivated by the word "no." We focus on what we should cut out rather than what we should embrace. When your arms are full of the right yeses, there is no room for the self-defeating nos.
5. Saying "yes" can demonstrate an understanding of personal worth.
Is there a time and a place for "no"? Of course there is. Nearly every hour of every day holds at least one legitimate negative answer. And it is important to teach our children (and ourselves!) that while the right "yes" will move us forward, the wrong "yes" can pull us backward. With that being said, I am finally beginning to understand the power of yes. I saw it infuse my little girl with a sense of purpose and empowerment. It's a wonderful thing, deciding you are worthy of a "yes" now and then. We should all do it more often -- because, you know, we deserve it.
The good day came to a good end. Bath time and prayers and then one last question as I tucked her into bed:
"Mom, can we say yes again sometime soon?"
Yes. Yes, we can.