The big, weird world between yes and no

One odd aspect of being a parent is that you’re constantly forced to decide whether things are allowed or not. Sometimes explicitly, more often implicitly, every second that you’re with your kid there’s a little program running in the back of your brain: Is this okay? Can I allow this? Do I need to say no?

Most of these decisions are easy, silent, and fun. The default is acceptance: Yes, you can go down the slide. Yes, you can color with your crayons. Yes, you can run circles around me while I lie on the floor.

A lot of the “no” decisions are easy too. No, you can’t play with the knives. No, you can’t go down the basement stairs by yourself (at 19 months old). No, you can’t have my coffee.

But then there’s this giant gray area.

Sometimes it’s a matter of degree. Watching one YouTube video is fine; watching 20 in a row, not so much. Somewhere in between is a “no,” but exactly where it is depends mostly on how you’re feeling at the moment.

Sometimes it’s a matter of time or energy. Yes, you can go outside, but not right now. Daddy’s taking a break.

Sometimes you’d prefer to say no, except there are only so many things you can forbid a toddler from doing before you feel like you’re being mean. Kids are curious, they want to explore, so you don’t want to be constantly saying “Keep out of there” and “Don’t touch that.” Thus, Evan is allowed to unroll the toilet paper and take pieces in other rooms and put them in piles (within reason). And he looks at me like, Didn’t I do great? I mean … sort of! Yes, you did. A little bit? Yes.

And then there’s this vast array of things kids do that aren’t right or wrong exactly, they’re just weird. Like I’m gonna smear my face on this for the next five minutes. Or I’m gonna move all the dirt in this flower pot onto the sidewalk one handful at a time. Or I’m gonna shove this toy halfway into my mouth and leave it there for the foreseeable future.

This last category is all stuff that you’d never do as an adult, that no other adult would ever do, and that you maybe don’t even have a strong opinion about one way or the other. It’s not great, but it’s not horrible, so, y’know, *shrug.*

Except that, when you’re a parent, *shrug* isn’t really an option — or rather, it is, but it’s converted to a yes by default. And since you want to be consistent and clear about what’s allowed, you have to pick an answer and get behind it, firmly if necessary. So you find yourself saying things like “No, we do NOT put this toy in our mouth” like it’s the Eleventh Commandment, even though you might have decided it was 100% fine, had a butterfly in Singapore flapped its wings differently.

I never realized this as a kid. Parents and teachers would say these things very seriously, so I generally figured they were serious things. And sometimes they are, of course. But a lot of times it’s more like sending the army to guard a border that was drawn on a map by somebody blindfolded and drunk.

Life is weird. Kids are great. Happy Friday!

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2 responses to “The big, weird world between yes and no

  1. And before you know it, you have a two party system that focuses more on making everything a wedge issue than fixing anything.

    Definitely agree it’s the right stance for the pre-logical, but adult nuance requires I highlight the need to move past binaries later in life.

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