With the notions that pop into my sons’ heads every day, I’ve gotten good at saying “no.”
Too much “yes” and we’d end up with toaster pastries and spicy chips for dinner, truant officers at the door and a couple of sports cars in the driveway. (The cars, I grant, wouldn’t be so bad.)
But surprising the boys with a “yes” when all reason is hollering “no” can turn out to be a ticket to adventure.
When one of them, fresh off a Harry Potter movie marathon, asked if we could get an owl, I didn’t even pause to consider.
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“No, it’s illegal,” I answered, and I grabbed my phone to let Google back me up. Google had other ideas.
My boy pointed to the search result that said while it’s generally against the law to keep owls, it might be OK if you’re a falconer.
There it was, the thing a kid loves more than anything else: a loophole that Dad didn’t see coming! And this one brought an even better idea.
“Can we get a falcon?” he asked.
The question had all the ingredients to make a surprise “yes” work. It was just barely possible, clearly nuts and might carry us down unknown paths.
“Sure,” I said, “let’s see what it takes.”
We brought two falconry books home from the library and right away hit the bump that derailed the whole enterprise.
Training a falcon takes hours every day for weeks, and my son quickly figured out that a kid’s never going to become a soccer star with a falcon eating up all his playing time.
A surprise “yes” brought a better adventure one day last winter as the air was starting to warm toward spring. One of the boys and I were running an errand when we passed a trail that he knows I love.
“Can we see where it ends?” he asked.
It was a busy day stacked with obligations but I figured a “yes” was safe. I mean, with a stride as short as the little guy’s, how far could we get before he pooped out?
Four miles, I learned. But I also learned how much a 7-year-old’s curiosity adds to an unplanned hike through suburban woods.
A month ago, the boys sprang a question on my wife and me that should have brought an especially easy “no.”
They’d finally kept their rooms clean long enough to earn their first puppy, but when we got to the animal shelter to see a dog they’d found on its website, a sign said the pup was already being adopted.
They asked if they could at least pet a skinny black-and-white dog they noticed lying quietly in a kennel around the corner. This puppy was expected to grow a little too big for our house, and he wasn’t the sort of mix we’d all agreed we would hold out for.
But it was possible we could make it work, it was a little nuts to try, and we would surely be carried down unknown paths.
So we said yes, they could ask the shelter staff to take the little hound mix out so they could pet him. Then yes, we would pay the shelter to put him on hold overnight so we could talk about how this dog, sad and sweet and loving as he was, wasn’t quite right for our family.
The next day, of course, we told the shelter that yes, we’d take him home.
If they ever start requiring new parents to take classes, a couple of hours has to go to drilling home the message that you can’t let your kids pet an unclaimed puppy if you’re not ready to take it home for good.
But the syllabus also needs to cover the adventures in store when you choose a surprise “yes” instead of a sensible “no.”
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.