By Matt Gordon
My son woke up talking this morning. He’s three. And he just had so much he needed to fill me in on. He regaled me with tales of surprise and intrigue as I helped him wiggle into his pants and a fresh shirt. You see, he had attended the first night of a week-long kid themed event at a local church. He was still buzzing from this lone adventure on which he had gotten to strike off.
But he almost struck out on the experience. His mother and I debated on whether or not we should send him because it was a break from his routine. A fairly drastic one, too, as it would keep him up an extra ninety minutes for four straight nights. This likely sounds like nothing to the uninitiated, but for those who have lived through the delicate season of raising toddlers, they know power of minutes. Along with the even greater force of the meltdown.
Did we really want to upturn the applecart? Did we want to risk his sleep (and ours) for the sake of a new experience?
Our answer was “yes” but it led me to that question that lingers for most of us: Do we really want to upset the structure in our own lives?
I had a non-toddler tell me this week that she wasn’t looking forward to a trip she was going on. She explained, “During and after I’ll probably love it. But leading up to going, I dunno? I always sort of wish I didn’t have to go.”
That summarizes well how many of us feel about life’s improvisations. We are coasting along with our creature comforts in their assigned places. Our schedules may not demand the rigidity of a toddler, nor are our meltdowns as epic when structure is challenged, but we live life with clear cadence, a repeating rhythm, a gentle expectation and say a hearty “no” to anything that challenges this sleepy symphony.
And then along moseys up the jazz of opportunity. The first rule of improv is to go with the scene: “Yes, and . . .” But we often robotically do the opposite, offering the universe instead a tepid, “No thanks . . .” We don’t want to mess with our diet, our bedtime; our area code is fixed, and so are we.
This is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. Our brains generally rebel against change, so we try to control whatever we can, and keep change at the minimum. Structure is extremely helpful to the mind, too. Routines can help sleep—which helps everything else. Routine creates realistic expectations. These things can add a predictability to life that brings a psychological safety and security.
But still life calls. Beauty often lives in the realm of “Yes, and . . .” Often these deviations from our norms are where loves are kindled, hobbies are found, and lessons are learned. We cannot say yes to everything—that is a train without tracks: plenty of energy but no progress. But there are some quests that are good for the soul. Better even than a good night’s sleep.
Unexpected “yeses” color our stories, both fictional and real. Yes took Harry to Hogwarts, and brought the magic of Middle Earth to readers. Yes put Lindbergh in the cockpit and Bader-Ginsburg in the bench. Yes stood faithfully at Thermopile and stormed Normandy. Yes is the origin of every first date, and hence the backbone of marriage. Yes is messy, courageous, inconvenient, risky, surprising, and challenging.
And yes wakes up talking in the morning, telling whomever will listen about the this-or-that of recent adventure.
So as summer jaunts up for a chat, what yeses might you offer her? When she asks you to volunteer at a local organization or go hang out with some friends downtown or host that group or do something kind for the neighborhood, what will you say? The world is a busy place, and its language is increasingly “no” and “can’t.” So maybe even that is the first “yes”? Maybe it is a “yes” to trying to become more of a “yes” person this summer? Perhaps it is a “yes” a month—your inkling is to shotgun a “no” but you catch yourself, breathe, and lean into a fateful yes instead?
I don’t know what strategy would work best for you and you cannot say “yes” to everything. But if the only thing we ever say “yes” to is our own self-made structure, we will die very much on time, leaving behind the lingering question of whether or not we ever really lived.
“Look, Dada!” my son piped as we came downstairs this morning. He gestured to a single flag hanging from a string my wife had taped to the wall. “I get a flag every night of camp!”
Each night he will stagger to bed too late, thank God. He will have some meltdowns, thank God. It will be a trying week, thank God. And he’ll hang some flags of learning and experience in his little life. The question remains: will you?