Several years ago, I began to embroider this piece, sitting on a blanket in nature near friends, seated in the library while my kids played board games. I’d wanted a lap project, something travel-ready and simple, and I was trying to learn embroidery because I’d been inspired by a stash of threads I found at an estate sale. Anyway, I sewed myself a bag out of a fragile hand towel, tucked in some colors I thought matched, and tossed in the needle and hoop. I did not know how to embroider. I cannot tell you how many times I tried the letters, and they’re still wonky. But all along the way, friends and strangers asked me what this meant.
“I’ve always been a NO person,” I heard more than once in reply. Also heard, repeatedly: “Children need firm boundaries.” I know I sure do, I wanted to say.
But I thought it made perfect sense, this phrase: BE the YES. I wanted to find better ways to collaborate, ways to say YES to my kids and their wild ideas even when I was too tired or, worse, thought the idea sucked. If I was saying no to the candy while we grocery shopped, no to terrible toys at Target, no to most of our friends’ kids’ birthday parties, I had some clear boundaries. Declining things didn’t bother me. I was raised in a world of nos. I needed to learn how to yes, or at least how to do it better.
When they were super little, their ideas were easy to approve. “What happens when I mix flour with baking powder?” Go ahead and find out! “Can I break rocks with a hammer?” Yep, just get your safety glasses. I had this! But then the requests got harder and required more of me: time, effort and, often, money.
I’ve never bought into traditional parenting tactics – unless I was ridiculously overwhelmed – and saying no to every idea the instant it’s out of someone’s mouth felt like another paradigm to reconsider.
Wilder asked if we could find an antler in real life, and Rosetta wanted to pet lots of kittens at the same time. I floundered. “Maybe?” Then Wilder wanted to shoot his homemade arrows into a watermelon, and Rosetta wished she could add ALL the glitter to her store-bought play dough. I hesitated. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered, “Why not?” Some things potentially wasted our food, or materials. Their requests are only getting more involved, but my questions helped me develop a values system to guide me along.
BE the YES hangs on my bedroom wall, where I try to look at it every day. This is my reminder to slow down, think it through.
Am I wasting money?
Does it hurt anyone/thing?
What’s the worst that could happen?
Can I make time for this?
My internal monologue doesn’t take long anymore, and I can ask for more time if I need it. They know I’ll consider it now, so they allow me wider parameters, too.
We usually talk about it again, sometimes repeatedly, and they’ll let me know if this was a fleeting idea or they’re no longer interested.
When we all listened to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books (the whole series, take 3), the little things Ramona wants to do are so funny because we ALL wanted to squeeze out the toothpaste and empty a box of tissues. I know I did. Life would’ve been more fun if I explored some stupid trajectories without the burden of shame. Did I need to? No. But curiosity leads down crazy roads, and I am its fan. I intend to coddle it all along the way.
© Christine Emming, 2021. A version of this article was originally published by Wild + Free in August 2021, in their FOUND bundle.