Letter From The Editor: Finding Balance

Saying yes. In parenting, in life.


The other weekend, we were at a lifelong friend’s house for their son’s fifth birthday party. The mom grew up a few miles down the road from me, and in similar circumstances. Not a lot of money, and quite a bit of family stress. We both had loving parents that were doing the best they could in the face of huge obstacles. (The latter makes things easier, but not easy.) In our childhoods, the kids in our families heard “no,” a lot. “No, we can’t afford that.” “No, your mom’s sick.” “No, that’s just not an option right now.” It doesn’t matter how much your parents WANT to say yes if the money, and the time, and the resources just aren’t there. Where we grew up, “no” was a way of life.

But we also both had roots in the same countercultural community. And in that part of our lives, the answer was always, “I donno, can you?” There was never any money (unless you made it). But there was always opportunity, exemplified by one legendary kid, who sold invisible magic beans to audience members, for $10 a pop.

As we’ve become adults, we’ve both turned “I donno, can you?” into real businesses (that obviously traffic in their share of magic beans). For me, it’s APW. For them, it’s creating shows for tens of thousands of people, with live mermaids. And as we’ve grown those magic beans into magic beanstalks, we’ve both learned to say yes a lot more. Yes to the things we once knew you couldn’t even ask for.

On this early summer afternoon, we were there, in a big backyard, with our kids. The backyard was filled with an above ground pool, a swing set and slide, and a huge trampoline. Not to mention a homemade stage, and a grill, and a ride-along kid car. I wrangled my wriggling toddler from cake eating to mini-car pretend driving. And then I dove in the pool with the big kids (and the toddler), and spent a while jumping on the trampoline. None of it was fancy. It wasn’t a glamorous in-ground pool, or a state-of-the-art slide. But it was a giant series of, “Yes, why nots?” in a world that often seems filled with, “No.” It was an answer to the “I donno, can you?” with “Of course we can.”

As I fed my kid a lunch of strawberries, I listened to some of the other moms whisper, somewhat grimly, among themselves.

“Our kids are going to be really wired when they leave here.”
“I know. There are just so many things that they enjoy. And all in the same backyard.”
“My kids really want a trampoline, but we’ve said no. I can’t remember why… Oh, right, well. My husband is an insurance agent, and he says some companies won’t cover you if you have a trampoline in your backyard. I mean, some will, but some won’t, so we just think it’s a better idea not to have one.”

As someone with a childhood filled with nos, it was scary for me to dive into this gig of parenthood. Would having a kid mean going back to the same limitations of my childhood? But I forgot that one corner of my childhood was filled with an invitation to go for it, and that was the foundation on which I’d built my life.

It feels like modern parenthood often seems like it’s an invitation to say no, a whole lot. I think this as I’m telling a parent on a playground, “Yes, it’s okay if your kid shares their snacks!” I think this as I’m encouraging friends, “Of course you can step in if he’s doing something that looks dangerous!” I think this as I realize I’m the only parent waiting in line to “test out” the amazing bumpy slide winding down the hill in the fancy San Francisco playground. Modern parenthood pushes a cult of unnecessary nos, while never asking kids the open ended, “I donno, can you?” (Because of course they can, but we’re afraid it might be slightly dangerous.)

There are many times that I have to say no to my kid, or no to my family. No. He can’t run in the street, or bite people, or push, or touch the record player. But the rest of the time, I’ve filled my motherhood with a blinking sign that says, “Yes. Why not?” and when he’s older, I hope, “I donno, can you?”

Will my kid have the same kind of hustle I have? I hope not. My hustle is rooted in the rocky soil of “It can’t exist, unless you make it.” But I hope he’ll have a different kind of hustle. I hope he’ll have the drive to create backyard stages where there were no stages before. To say yes to huge slides. And to always, always try to sell a passerby an invisible magic bean.

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  • I really love reading your parenting(ish) posts. I have found myself craving baby for awhile now and really excited by all of the growth and mystery of parenting nowadays. My spouse’s friends all already have kids and watching them parent and still be as cool and funny as ever is so reassuring. And then, there’s you, of course :)

  • Kats

    Thanks for bringing the sanity. As we continue on our route to yes-we’d-like-to-have-a-baby-if-we-can-oh-god-maybe-what-if-ville, we are occasionally stuck wading through so many “Parenting is so hard/awful/exhausting/not-fun” posts and blogs out there, all emblazoned with various ways to Screw Up Your Kid. It’s really comforting to have APW reminding us that there are lots of ways to say yes to having kids, and to not lose your mind completely in the process.

    • Meg Keene

      I mean, I didn’t sleep much last night and he’s in a clingy phase and OH GOD, but he’s a ball of love and it totally balances out in the, “whoa this is awesome” way. Say yes. Get out of the house. Keep your friends with out kids. Stay a person with interests, go forth and do.

    • Another Kat

      So I’m only 8 months in, but so far for us parenting has been heaps of fun. Yes, hard; and yes, at times very sleep deprived; but when people ask me how I’m finding being a parent ‘fun’ is the word that springs to mind.

  • jashshea

    Love this so much. Both my parents encouraged us to figure things out on our own and let us (non-dangerously) fail. “I don’t know, let’s try to figure it out” was a really common phrase in our house. I don’t have kids yet, but that’s something we want for the future buggers. I generally try to treat my friends’ kids like I treat their parents (which I means sometimes I call out bad behavior) and support them as they grow into cool people.

    Somewhat tangentially…There’s so much negativity, judgement, and polarity in our lives these days. Parents who do this are good; those who do that are bad, etc etc. This is a good reminder that we could use some lifestyle positivity across the board.

    • Meg Keene

      Parenting is… basically an exercise in being constantly judged, as far as I can tell. Which can make it hard to even TALK about the weird culture of parenting we’ve built… because the last thing anyone needs is more judgement. But it seems to me that we DO need to discuss and think about it, and not follow blindly.

      • L

        No kidding about the judgement. I’m always afraid someone is going to refer to me as “grim.”

      • A-L

        Somehow my post got eaten. But I wanted to say (as an expectant parent whose due date is three days away), where are the places that we can talk about this stuff? Where are the parenting blogs/forums where things are still practical and sane (sorry I can’t remember the third part of the original APW slogan)? Any recommendations from those who have already tread this path?

        • Meg Keene

          I think the real issue here is that the more… whatever we want to call it… laid back parent types… don’t actually want to run websites about parenting (or even talk about it at great length). So the parenting sites that exsits run a little intense.

          It’s the same reason ever few months I CONSIDER the ongoing request for a parenting site, think about it for a few days, and then dismiss it. I can’t write/ read/ edit/ think about parenting all day every day! Particularly since my work time is my time to be ME, not a parent. It’s the same as when my editors ask me about parenting books. I’m like, “Look. I could give you a book of essays on parenthood, but I can’t give you the kind of prescriptive book that really sells, with a sane twist. Because the sane twist is that no one knows what they’re doing, and they’re just trying their best.”

          There are a few sites (Peonies and Polaroids, Girls Gone Child) that I read because their writing about parenthood is so on point (their real life parenthood/ awesomeness is also so on point). But again, they’re just essay sites, not really conversational or prescriptive.

        • Mikala

          I just discovered this blog and it seriously cracks me up:


          You might want to check it out :-)
          And happy birthday to your new little one! <3

  • Class of 1980

    “Would having a kid mean going back to the same limitations of my
    childhood? But I forgot that one corner of my childhood was filled with
    an invitation to go for it, and that was the foundation on which I’d
    built my life.”

    Thank goodness you had that corner of “Yes”. It’s my strong opinion that the worst thing a child in limited circumstances can internalize is that they’re helpless and stuck. It’s not easy to undo that conditioning.

    You may not have had a lot of excess money lying around, but the message that your efforts counted made all the difference.

    • Meg Keene

      Nope it’s sure not. I have friends still (possibly forever) stuck in the land of no. And a few friends who finally made it out, around 30. CHEERSSS!

    • KC

      How exactly to bring up a kid so that they really “get” that both:
      1. it generally takes opportunities (privilege, luck, whatever) to succeed and
      2. it generally takes hard work (perseverance, try-try-again, sacrifice) to succeed
      seems like an interesting challenge. But it seems like both are important to help kids have empathy for those who aren’t “making it” (potentially including themselves!) and for kids to not just quit as soon as something is challenging (either because “of course I can’t” or because it’s been so easy so far that they haven’t learned how to push through). (would love to read anything anyone has to say on this. Meg’s comment regarding it probably not being a little red wagon that’s going to “spoil” a kid, but rather not letting them learn to do things for themselves, seems like it’s spot-on. But I’d love more!)

      • Meg Keene

        I was thinking about this a lot over night, and in my experience, you don’t (can’t) effectively teach #1, you have to show it, in one way or another. I grew up around people who had it way harder than us, and in fact my parents intentionally bussed us to schools in the barrio / later gang neighborhoods, because they thought it was an important part of shaping who we were. It was. And I married someone who went to those same schools, because our worldview is fundamentally the same. We’re doing the same thing for our kid. He’s being raised in a place where a lot of people around him don’t have it easy, and he’s expected to respect those people. And he does.

        Every time I deal with people who were taught #1, but have never experienced it, it’s tough for me. Because there often isn’t that level of deep respect. There is a feeling that people who didn’t have privilege or luck are charity cases, somehow, and have fewer abilities than people with privilege, instead of realizing they have skills and abilities we’ll never know, and we should be honored to learn from them.

        I recently attended a fundraiser for kids in poor schools, and I almost had to walk out, I was so uncomfortable and angry. The assumption was that all of the (generally white, generally well off) crowd was INTERESTED in the under privileged, but had obviously all gone to excellent, well off schools, and we wanted to dispense our largess on people that needed our charity. And while giving money is, in itself, laudable, those “people that needed our charity” were hands down the ones in the room I respected the most, because those were the people who had taught me, and run the schools I’d come up in.

        And as for #2, I think our jobs are simply to teach our kids that it’s ALL hard work, all the time. That’s the thing that matters. It’s the work that matters if you’re somehow outwardly successful, and it’s the work that matters if you’re running a gas station and society doesn’t value what you do. The value is in the work, always.

  • ambi

    I love this post and it has given me lots to ponder today. I also grew up in a household where even young kids learned to process ideas like “we can’t afford that” and “No, we have to work this weekend.” I have already noticed that my tendancy with my daughter is to go too far in the other direction. I want to give her everything, do everything, make life wonderfuly happy magic perfection. I know, rationally, that my job as a parent is to prepare her for life by teaching her that she can’t have everything she wants all the time, but I can already tell that my biggest parenting challenge is going to be not spoiling her.

    • Meg Keene

      I totally feel you on that, though thank goodness he’s currently a little to young to really spoil. (He doesn’t really understand if you get him a new toy, tbh.)

      I try to balance that feeling with “why the hell not.” It’s helped to know some people with grown kids who focused on saying YES a lot. Their kids turned out pretty fabulously well.

      I always find that a nice reminder that kids show up as themselves, and our best goal is to get out of their way, and try not to warp them. IE, it’s harder to screw them up then modern parenting pretends. Is a new red wagon going to do it? Probably not. I’m actually far more concerned about the kind of hovering that’s hard NOT to do, because it’s so much a part of the culture (and we all model our parenting on other parents to some extent). Not getting to learn to do things on his own seems far more damaging then new wagons, and far more of a threat.

      • moonlitfractal

        “Kids show up as themselves, and our best goal is to get out of their way, and try not to warp them.” -I’m going to hang on to this idea.

        • Lisa

          That was my philosophy. Coupled with firm rules around bedtime, unless it was a special occasion, candy – 3 small pieces a day and if you want a big one then you have to do the math and choose just 1 other – and hitting. Oh, and no telling me you hate a food if you ate it yesterday.

          • Meg Keene


            AND BITING. No biting.

      • love this, and i’m not a parent myself, but i really believe the hovering that you speak of denies kiddos the development of their own self-trust..sending them the message that they can’t handle things and that the world is scary and they are small.

  • Lisa

    <3. Wonderful post. And I have told you that I bought myself a silver keychain charm that said, "YES," when my kids were little, right? As a reminder that I did not have to say "No" so often.

    • Meg Keene

      You did. I almost asked you for a quote.

  • Emma Klues

    Meg! You’re doing it! You’re posting about parenthood without being a typical mom blog or straying from APW’s mission whatsoever and with having super universal really smart observations and ideas but still with the slant of being a parent! YAY!

  • HD

    Meg, this doesn’t totally relate to this particular post (more to your comments on it) but I have to tell you that my very favorite thing about your posts, comments and this website in general is your awareness of class issues. Of all the blogs and sites I read, even liberal-slanted news sites (Slates, NYTimes) this is one of the ONLY places I’ve found a consistent frank discussion of class and class issues. As a teacher (from a family of teachers) working in a working class rural district of Maine, I am constantly disappointed by the condescension I find in others (middle class, educated, privileged and extremely well-intentioned people) when it comes to the work I do and the kids I teach. There is so much to say about this topic and I don’t have the energy to even begin saying it in this comment but thank you for being a person who talks about this stuff in a public forum.

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