Learning to Say, “Yes.”

Growing up, I was taught to obey. My father’s favorite words, when talking about child-rearing, were, “Discipline!” and “Obedience!” I was expected to say not only, “Yes,” but, “Yes,” with a smile, or at least with no expression of displeasure. If I happened to cry, I was told, “Stop crying right now, or I will GIVE you something to cry about!”

Many years of saying, “Yes,” when I wanted to say, “No,” trained me to say, “Yes,” reflexively, and without expression of displeasure or reluctance.

I must quickly assert that my parents never abused me, and never beat me beyond the acceptable spankings of the day. They remained steadfast, however, in their goal of making sure that I always obeyed willingly, with no sign of reluctance. Before I entered the teen years, this method of child-rearing trained me in self-control and respect for powers greater than mine. Once I hit twelve years old, and from then on until…well… until now, I said, “Yes,” and learned to like it.

Saying, “Yes,” to what my parents decreed meant complying with the “No,” they said to activities that would have been good for me, would have incorporated me into my peer group, and would have given me social skills I never really acquired. They raised me apart,  encouraged my independence by never allowing me to step too far inward from the periphery of my peer group.  I suffered alienation and then rejection, having to exclude myself from the cultural activities of girls my age. My parents said to me, “If the girls in your school  go jump off the cliff, do you think we should let you jump, too?” I never responded, “Yes, because that’s how we learn how to fly.”

I said no to my parents only once. I was eighteen. The resultant lashing out from my father didn’t actually injure me, but ripped a lovely new sweater that I’d just purchased, as well as my courage for ever again saying no to them or anyone else who could punish me.

Therefore, I said, “Yes,” to all manner of men who wanted me, regardless of whether or not  I wanted them. If I didn’t want them, I fooled myself into thinking that I did want them, so that saying, “Yes,” seemed like my own decision rather than a conditioned reflex.

Most of those men did me no good, and even some harm, but I did say yes to other life activities that lifted me above the din of the romantic relationships that pulled me down one after the other. I said yes to enlisting in the Air Force. I said yes to finishing college. I said yes to doing whatever I needed to do in order to work, support myself, and remain independent all my life.

The most important yes I said was to the offer of work in Saudi Arabia. Once there, I said yes to all kinds of experiences and ideas that transformed my life. I also said yes to several ill-fated romances before I said yes to marrying my husband. By that time, I’d already said yes to Islam, and then yes to helping him raise two girls– no, three girls– from his first marriage.

I said yes to plunging into retirement to resurrect all the wonderful talents I’d begun to hone during those adolescent years when my girlfriends were busy building social skills. I’ve returned to writing, doing photography, sewing, knitting, cooking, reading, and studying Italian and Arabic. The only no I’ve had to say is to playing piano and guitar again because my fingers have become too arthritic.

Best yes of all is to guiding my grandchildren as they navigate an adolescence I wish I’d experienced. They will never know the worst consequences of all the yes-saying I’d been compelled to do. That’s OK. They are lucky to have me.

My parents never understood that they, themselves, had set me on the road of saying yes even when I should have said no. My proclivity to saying yes resulted in the development of my character in ways that later mortified my parents,  but ultimately enriched me more than any of us had expected. I am grateful to them now, just as they always predicted I’d be grateful.

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
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