The Way to Yes

Front parkour jump “You say yes to everything,” my daughter’s friend remarked late last night, as we blew up the air mattress in the basement.

The question my daughter posed was whether they could rent a movie from Amazon Prime to watch at the sleepover. I was heartened to be seen as a permissive mother, given that I always feel I’m coming down harsh on my kids, telling them no. Apparently, the outsider’s view was the complete opposite.

Refreshing, since my own kids think I’m a crack-the-whip kind of mother.

I remember during my more religious days, the automatic response to a question about whether something was permitted under Jewish law, was better safe than sorry, no, it’s not allowed.

It is easier, always, to say no.

To shut it down. To not think. To go to the automatic absolute rather than be knowledgeable enough to find a way to yes.

I’ve heard time and again that it is imperative to praise our children ten times more than we chastise or punish, and so I believe it follows suit that it is far better to find ways to say yes, to permit, to allow, to set free, than it is to keep them chained to NO.

ChildhoodBelieve me, I say no plenty. But I guess, if I reflect on it, I do give my children the freedom to explore. I believe it’s what they need to figure out the world and their place in it.

In fact, there are times I am so permissive I stop myself and wonder if I am being stupid. Yes, you can go on a bike ride of unspecified length and distance. (Don’t worry; I’ve set parameters as to how many miles in each direction they can ride.) Yes, you can have friends sleep over. Yes, you can go to the pool this afternoon and no, I don’t need to be there. (Don’t worry; there are lifeguards.)

It seems so long ago that these precious souls were tiny new babies mewling for their every need. Hunger, discomfort, stomach upset, dirty diaper, just wanting to be held.

They still mewl in a way when they want something, but it is far more articulate, constructive and pleasant. In a way.

I try to say yes when I can to my beautiful children...
I try to say yes when I can to my beautiful children…

It was something pretty special to be so needed that all I had to do was hold them close so they could hear and feel my beating heart, and all was well in the world. Sometimes these days, my daughter will sidle up to me and crane her head under the nook of my arm to pull in very close for a long, satisfying hug.

In fact, I have to say, I get lots of hugs. I’m lucky that way. My kids still want to pull close – when no one is watching of course.

But most of the time, they’re off and about, exploring the world as kids do when they hit these ages. Discovery isn’t just about what’s out there; it’s about what is inside them, and that isn’t really discoverable when you sit safely at home.

We have to allow the fall if we want to know how to get back up. And for all the scary police shows I watch on TV, I hedge my bets and say yes to things that are pretty safe. Yes, you can ride your bike to the Y. Yes, you can take a long walk with a good friend to talk in the confidence of the wind. Yes, you can stay up late and see how that feels to you next morning.

I cannot, nor do I want to, protect my children from all the sharp corners of life. When I have to say no, I do it without hesitation, so if I can find a way to say yes, often and in meaningful ways, I will.

It doesn’t make me a bad mom. It just makes me a human who understands the need to run free. A human who understands that if we don’t have the ability to run free, we’re going to do it anyway, and perhaps in ways that aren’t quite as constructive.

Or safe.

When my eldest boy turned 10, we spent four days in Sedona hiking, talking, kayaking and just being together. Exploring a part of the world that we’d never seen.

On one hike, there were winding trails up to the flat top of the red cliff, but we didn’t see the snaking trail. Asher scurried straight up, thinking the path before him was the way to the top. When we hit the pinnacle, we realized it was not, in fact, a trail, and that just over the top was a sheer, dangerous drop.

Man's feet on the edge of rock cliffI urged him to get down on his behind and crab walk down as I was doing. My stomach trembled, knotted in fear. What would happen if just one more step took my boy over the edge?

Later, we wound our way up the marked trail to the top and once there, we found lots of adolescents sitting at the edges, kicking their legs into the oblivious air.

“Let’s go to the edge, Mom,” he said, but I shook my head. No, it wasn’t safe to go right to the edge. I loved him so much that I couldn’t bear to dangle him that close, even though he wanted to.

Later, I told my boy that when he grows up and does things like sit at the edge of the cliff and dangle his feet over, to not tell me until he was safely back from the climb.

I didn’t tell him NOT to do it. I told him to only to inform me of the feat once it was successfully completed.

Life is not about staying away from the edges. It’s about knowing when it’s safe to dangle your feet over, and when it’s safe to tell your mother you did so.

And it’s about knowing that safe is a relative concept which probably does not even exist.

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