Michelle Martin

No and Yes

January 29, 2012

Sometimes it seems like all I do is say no. No, you can’t stay up until midnight. No, you can’t eat that right now. No, you can’t climb on the cabinets.

So it was a little strange to me that Teresa learned to say “yes” weeks before she said “no.”

That doesn’t mean she agreed with everything; she could shake her head no just fine. But still, you would ask if she wanted to go outside, or take a bath, or eat some banana, and most likely, you would hear “yah.” Or maybe, a couple of weeks later, “yesh.”

If she didn’t want whatever was offered, you wouldn’t hear anything.

When she did learn to say no, she wasn’t very emphatic about it, which was different from what I remember from my other kids. I seem to remember tantrums with them screaming “No! No! No!” But maybe that’s just my nightmares I’m recalling.

With Teresa, I almost missed the first time she said no because she was so nonchalant. I asked her something simple (“Do you want to read ‘Pajama Time’?”) and she just said no, quietly and clearly and calmly, and we picked another book.

Now she’s making up for lost time. Almost every yes-no question I ask gets a “no,” at least at first. But then, with a moment to think, she often changes her answer.

“Do you want a cookie?” “No. Yes!” “Do you want to brush your teeth?” (For some reason, she really likes to brush her teeth.) “No. Yes!”

Frank especially has fun with this. When she only said yes, he’d ask a series of increasingly silly questions, getting a “yes” each time. “Do you want a million dollars?” “Do you want to clean the bathroom?” “Do you want to dig a ditch?” And then he would laugh hysterically. Now that her initial reaction is “no,” he just asks them in reverse order.

Then Caroline tells him he’s mean to make fun of Teresa — who is laughing hysterically too, because her brother is having so much fun.

The bigger lesson, I think, is that it seems to be ingrained in us humans to automatically reject any request that we accept any kind of a change, even a change that will be good for us, whether in the short run or the long run. We view any change with suspicion. Apparently, we feel deep in our bones that no matter how good or bad things are now, they could always be worse.

We have to stop and think about how things could be better before we’re willing to take the chance. Parents at some level know this. That’s why we don’t ask certain questions: Teresa has to go to bed, has to eat breakfast, has to get dressed. When those things have to happen right away, we don’t ask if she wants to do them, we just do them.

That’s what makes the Gospel story so amazing. Not only does Jesus say yes to his own suffering and death — he is God, after all, and I suppose he understood why it was asked of him — but Mary says yes to bearing him, his apostles say yes to following him, so many people say yes to listening to him and to heeding his word.

The challenge for us is to overcome that initial inclination to say no to what we know is asked of us, and find it in our hearts to say yes.