Noah's "Yes Day!"

A few weeks ago, my son, Noah, came home from school and wrote "Yes Day" on the calendar by the fridge. He'd read a book in the school library about the new holiday, and wanted to make sure we observed it. He explained it to me, and I thought it sounded like a great idea. In essence, kids are told "No" by their parents every day of the year. So what if there were a single day when Mom and Dad had to say "Yes" to every request? Conveniently, Noah had chosen a Saturday. We couldn't have pulled this off on a week day; we would not have had time for all his ideas in the afternoon, and he invariably would have asked me to skip work. That would have been tough to explain to my boss. "Sorry, but my son asked me to stay home today, and, well, you see, it's 'Yes Day' so..."

I decided use this as an opportunity to force him to practice his writing. He had to write all his requests down in advance. Not only would this give him time to think about what he really wanted, but it gave me a chance to vet his ideas and get some "No"s in before the big day arrived. My wife, Paige, and I explained to Noah that we reserved the right to say "No" to anything extraordinarily expensive or unsafe. Paige wanted to qualify the whole thing with "as long as it's within reason," but I felt like, since that has no real meaning to a six-year-old, we'd be giving ourselves too much flexibility. We needed to have our hands tied a bit in order for this to work.

Part of what made it possible is that six-year-olds (ours, at least) do not have particularly expensive or extravagant tastes. For example, Noah wanted to go to McDonald's for lunch. I can afford that. He also wanted to go to the park and play a whole bunch of variations on tag of his own design. I can afford that, too, though I did find myself saying, "Yes, as soon as I catch my breath." I made a few suggestions to help him out. By last evening you'd have thought it was Christmas Eve.

Here's something of a run-down of the day. Paige encouraged Noah to let me sleep in a bit later than he did so I would have energy for all his big ideas (bless her!). When I woke up, he asked me to play a particular video game with him which I don't really enjoy. I said, "Yes." After his normal allotted video game time, I reminded him that if he asked for more time he'd get it, so he chose a different game I don't like very much and asked to play that one with me. I said, "Yes."

We went to lunch at McDonald's. I don't like the food there, so I have no need to eat more than the bare minimum. I hinted that if he asked me to get a Happy Meal as well, he'd get two toys. He did ask. I said, "Yes."

After he played on the McDonald's play structure for a while, we went to Circle K and he got to pick out some candy. He picked Jujubees. I think they're gross, but those were the ones he wanted, so I said, "Yes."

Loaded up with our secret stash, we went to see Rio at the local cineplex. It's in 3-D, so it cost an arm and a leg. That's not a cliche. It's an understatement. It cost a lot more than one of my arms and one of my legs would be worth on the black market. My arms and legs are hairy, knobby, pale, and stringy. Hungry cannibals would refuse my arms and legs. On of your arms and one of your legs might have purchased three 3-D tickets.

I enjoyed the movie. It wasn't up to Paige's high standards for animated movies, and I have my quibbles with some of the choices, but Noah loved the physical comedy. It's set in Brazil, so there were lots of soccer balls kicked in faces and people being knocked down by equally round butt-cheeks. Noah would bark out big lung-fulls of laughs, and those are worth more than both my arms and legs.

We came home and Paige asked to be excused from the festivities to work on a project, so Noah and I went to the park. He has this amazing ability to tell a long narrative about the good guys and bad guys, their motivations, their preferred weapons, and a landscape of invisible obstacles, all while chasing me around. And he's asthmatic. I don't get it; how can he run around and talk constantly without taking a breath one day, then need an inhaler in order to sit on the couch and watch TV the next? Maybe, if he'd breathe while playing, he could store up some oxygen for more stressful video game sessions. Anyway, I'm not asthmatic, but he ran me ragged.

We came home and he reminded Paige about the dinner request he'd written down. Wait for it... Wait for it... Mac and Cheese. "Yes."

After dinner he seemed a bit unsure about what to ask for next, so I reminded him that I wouldn't be able to say no to a third round with the Xbox 360. We played another of his games I don't enjoy very much. It turns out that I'm not very good at it, either. Paige reminded him to be patient with his old man, and he graciously acquiesced.

When it was nearly his bedtime, he asked to watch a TV show. We'd already gone well beyond the amount of time I like to let him stare at any screen in a single day, but the book makes it clear that the kid gets to stay up really late on Yes Day, and I was raised to observe holidays in a traditional fashion. I whispered that he could choose a movie, get on his PJs, and fall asleep on the couch. We flipped through the Xbox's Netflix queue and Paige and I rediscovered Robinhood: Men in Tights. We tried to sell him on it, but it only reminded him of the Disney version, so we said, "Yes" to that.

He didn't fall asleep, of course. He never does fall asleep on the couch watching anything. He asked for some ice cream, and asked if he could help scoop it. We did that together without any serious mishaps. Now I know he can scoop me a bowl in the future.

Ultimately, Paige and I made the arbitrary decision that Yes Day ends at 10:00. The book doesn't say for sure, so Noah interpreted that to mean that it ends at dawn the following day. That's a reasonable assumption, but since it was after 10 o'clock, we were allowed to say, "No."

A few times over the course of the day, Noah asked me when it would be my Yes Day and what I would do. I told him that all the things I would want to do would be too expensive, so I don't get a Yes Day. That's not entirely true. Sure, I'd probably choose things like flying off to Europe on a private jet, only to have those vetoed on expense grounds, but I might also choose to sit in my recliner all day and watch NBA basketball. I get to do that anyway, which is precisely why kids deserve a Yes Day and grown-ups don't.

I don't even want to think about the things Noah will ask for as he gets older. Having experienced a six-year-old's Yes Day, I have no interest in a sixteen-year-old's. Considering what he chose today, I think we'll make these events the tradition. Next year, he'll resent not being able to choose new activities, but I think a day of movies, video games, and hanging in the park will go back to being cool just before he dicides it's un-cool by virtue of being spent with his dad. Still, he announced that today was the best day of his life. If I force him to relive that a dozen more times before he goes off to college, that doesn't make me a bad parent, does it?

Because it was one of the best days of my life, too.