The pandemic sure has us saying “no” a lot more than usual.
No to play dates, gatherings, vacations, and a lot of our holiday traditions. No to visits with older relatives. No to social engagements that seem harmless but could quickly become deadly.
Sometimes, it is a little depressing how much “no” is going on right now.
In contemplating all of the “no” going on, I thought about a time a few years ago on a Tuesday morning, when my then 4-year-old “big boy” was extra clingy, extra whiny, and overall extra needy. The child who the week before had proudly shown off the fact that he could put on his own shoes and socks was now a mess of “I can’t” and “please help me” . . . said in that type of drawn out whine that tends to grate on every nerve that I have in my body. It was a frustrating, irritating morning until I stopped and realized that on top of working late several nights over that week, I had also been traveling out of town for my job the past two full weekends in a row.
Facepalm on my part . . . my kiddo wasn’t cranky, or tired, or needing discipline.
He was needing me.
As much as I wanted to call in sick and scoop my kiddo up immediately, my job didn’t easily allow for that degree of flexibility, so I resolved to dedicate the next day (my day off) solely to quality time with my kiddo. I vowed to put away work, be present, and most importantly, to say “yes.”
The next day we woke up, had a leisurely breakfast, and played Duplo blocks for an hour in our pajamas. I turned my cell phone off and put it in a drawer so I wouldn’t be tempted to look at it or respond to the buzz of a notification.
We went to gymnastics class and open gym play time, then home again where I spent the rest of the day responding to as many of his requests as possible with “yes.”
Yes, we can have a dance party in the living room. Yes, we can paint a picture for daddy at the kitchen table. Yes, we can play in the kitchen sink with bubbles and water, no matter how big a mess it makes. Yes, we can play trucks. Yes, let’s be explorers and turn out all the lights in the house and run around with flashlights. Yes, we can bake banana muffins. Yes, you can lick the batter. Yes, we can watch Daniel Tiger after dinner. Yes, you can have another story. Yes, I can snuggle with you five minutes more before bedtime.
It is true that these kinds of days aren’t always possible, however much I would like them to be. We all have responsibilities that are important and need to be accomplished.
In terms of household productivity, this particular Wednesday fell far short of what I usually aim to accomplish. In saying “Yes” to my child, I said “No” to laundry, to bathroom cleaning, and to grading papers for the online class that I teach. We didn’t pick up our toys from one project before starting on another, so the house was a fair disaster by the end of the day.
But I accomplished something far greater that day.
I filled my child’s love cup up to the brim, and he in turn filled mine, and helped me to remember that there are things in life far more important than sparkling bathrooms.
During this busy holiday season, there are many people who talk about and write articles about the importance of saying “No.” Even in this season we are in, in the middle of a pandemic where lots of things have changed, it can be difficult to block out all the things that seem to clamor into our lives and compete for our attention.
I do my best during this season to take time to slow down, be with family, and say “no” to as much of the commercial noise as possible. In fact, my favorite Advent poem is by Mary Ann Jindra and contains the line:
“Lord, help me to do less this busy season; go less; stay closer to home; kneel more.”
However, I have never before really taken a moment to consider the importance of also remembering to say YES to the things that do matter. Time with family. Quiet. Contentment. Silly afternoon dance parties. Banana muffins.
The holidays are going to be different this year.
There aren’t as many parties and events, but there are still many other areas of stress.
I hope that you will give yourself permission to say no to the unimportant things in life. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Years will come and go whether or not you have a perfectly decorated house . . . or if all the presents are covered in department store quality wrapping.
However, I challenge us all not to forget to give a resounding and purposeful “yes” to those things that are important, even when they take some time away from other tasks in our lives.
Say yes to a conversation with your grandmother about her favorite holiday traditions. Take a second to say yes to the bell ringer who asks if you have any change for the red kettle as you bustle into the grocery store. Say yes to your parents who call at a less than opportune time, for no particular reason except that they missed your voice. Say yes to the extra Zoom call with a friend. Say yes to your child who needs your help to make a Christmas craft to leave on the table for Santa. In the end, these are the things that fill our hearts with love and memories, and shape our lives into something really worth living.