Thursday, June 23, 2011

Saying yes to harmless fun pays great dividends

From today's Briefing:

Summer break had hardly begun when our air conditioner stopped working.
Of course, major appliances don’t follow a routine schedule. Ours broke on a Saturday, giving us a 48-hour window to suffer before a technician could arrive. (Our suffering wasn’t so severe that I was willing to pay overtime fees.)
The first night, we all slept as normal. By the second night, our comfort was majorly compromised. So Cooper claimed the sofa in our upstairs bonus room, where the A/C was still working, and Katie slept on a pallet on the floor next to him.
Katie especially loved the adventure of sleeping upstairs, surrounded by bookshelves and an old television and arts-and-crafts supplies. So much so that she was disappointed when the downstairs unit was repaired late Monday.
“Can I sleep upstairs anyway?” she asked.
I could think of no reason to say no.
“Can I sleep up there all summer?” she continued, certain that my answer would be no.
“Sure. Why not?”
This was just too much for words. Her jaw dropped, her eyes got big, and then she started bouncing and squealing.
Katie’s enthusiastic response sort of made me wish the A/C had conked out last summer. I had no idea how much a change of scenery would mean to her.
Her level of happiness increased exponentially — without buying anything or going anywhere.
A few days later, Cooper finished Camp Invention, a weeklong day camp devoted to solving problems and creating new things from old things, including a clubhouse from recycled materials.
The clubhouse was a group effort, but only one child could go home with the cardboard structure. When Cooper asked if we could take it home, my first instinct was to say no. Our house has no room for more projects.
Then I remembered how happy Katie was sleeping upstairs. Maybe the clubhouse could go up there, too, out of sight. It was time to say yes again.
Cooper wasted no time dragging the taped-together boxes to our minivan and then dragging the pieces upstairs. He and Katie reassembled the clubhouse in front of the television and added a few extras — blankets on top, a cardboard shelf, a mail slot.
Now when Katie sleeps upstairs, she sleeps in her “room” of the clubhouse, curled up with blankets and pillows and Pillow Pets.
Again, instant happiness from something simple.
This week, we met my sister and her daughters for dinner in a shopping center we’ve never been to. The restaurant was near an outdoor play area — fountains for splashing and a huge sandy expanse for volleyball and horseshoes, playing and digging.
After dinner, Cooper and Katie were drawn to the sandy playground.
Now, if I had known we were headed to a giant sandbox, I would have packed a bag for the occasion. Flip-flops to change into. Towels for cleaning sandy legs and feet before climbing back into the car.
Without these things, though, my instinct was to say no. We’d play next time.
Then I remembered that saying yes to sleeping upstairs and saying yes to the flimsy clubhouse cost me nothing and delivered more joy than I could have anticipated.
So I said yes. Cooper and Katie took off for the playground, where they spent 30 minutes running and climbing and digging and building. And getting tremendously dirty.
I remained remarkably calm (for me, at least) and told myself that summer nights are made for impromptu adventures. That children are made for giant piles of sand (and that they wash easily). That minivans are made to be vacuumed.
And that saying yes cost me nothing yet yielded huge smiles and cheerful spirits.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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