by Joanna M. Eng

Photo: Mish Mish (Flickr/Creative Commons)


One of my earliest memories is of yelling no at the top of my lungs.

At recess in kindergarten, there were a few boys who would chase girls around the schoolyard every day and “capture” them for a few minutes. It was basically like a game of tag (albeit a disturbingly gendered version, looking back), but I was terrified. So when it came my turn to be captured, and I felt those kids’ arms reaching around me, I screamed so loud and so sure and so long that the two boys chasing me gave up altogether. I think I set the tone for the rest of my time in our small school system, because boys pretty much steered clear of me through the end of 12th grade.

I haven’t yelled anything that loud and that sure and that long since kindergarten. I quickly learned to be embarrassed to do that. I learned that some things are supposed to be universally fun and that saying no makes you NO FUN.


Now I know that every NO FUN no becomes at least one yes to something else. No to cable TV for our entire childhood until after we left for college. Yes to outdoor adventure camp, where I could say yes to spelunking through a two-foot-high tunnel (something that even most of the other adventure campers said no to).

No to a job where I’d have to face people all day long. Yes to a hundred random freelance projects, yes to writing a book, yes to wearing pajama pants every day, yes to befriending the mail carrier.

No to getting drunk in loud bars that make my ears ache and my stomach churn. Yes to a hot air balloon ride at sunrise, yes to ripping out invasive plants in the forest preserve, yes to biking to a temple in the middle of suburban Queens.


As a new parent, each no gets filled in with so very many yeses.

No to long bike rides, no to lazy Netflix Sundays, no to any evening event ever. Yes to to-do lists that include items like “take a shower,” yes to singing till I’m hoarse every day, yes to spending more time in rest areas and parking lots than I ever thought possible, yes to smushy kisses on smushy knees, yes to preparing food way ahead, yes to venturing out anyplace I can reasonably transport the kid, yes to picking one non-kid thing that’s important to me and sticking to it every week, yes to getting this little flailing arm into this sleeve. Yes to right now.

Find more of Joanna’s writing here.