2011.08.03 No means "no" except when it means "sanuk"

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

I’m more popular than Anonymous—but not by much.

That’s the conclusion I reached after analyzing a little book of Life’s Lessons Maddie created for a class assignment in high school.

Out of 25 quotes, my motherly wisdom is included four times compared to only three bits from Anonymous. Atticus, the father in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is the big winner with 10 quotes.

I came across the little gem when cleaning the upstairs bedrooms for Ben and Sarah’s weekend visit here with Icchi, the Japanese exchange student Ben was paired with 14 years ago as part of the Lenawee-Moriyama Japanese Exchange Program sponsored by the Lenawee Intermediate School District.

Icchi is now working in Cincinnati for a Japanese company that supplies parts to Toyota. He and Ben haven’t been in contact for years, but the stars were aligned for this visit to occur soon after Icchi wrote thinking Ben might still be living at home.

What I remember most about Ichhi’s Fall 1997 visit was his propensity for falling asleep in the car. Every time we drove somewhere I’d try to make conversation and point things out along the way, and he’d just be nodding off.

He told Sarah and Ben that he was tired all the time and couldn’t speak any English when he came, that he had no idea what was going on most of the time, and that he remembers getting up early in the morning with Ben to go running, but not understanding why they were running, running, running through the woods and around town. 

We all laughed about the befuddlement he experienced not knowing about practicing for cross country meets, but it makes me cringe thinking about how confusing it all must have been for him.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...Until you climb into his skin and walk around it it.

– Atticus

Maddie started off her little book with that quote. I would have been squirming and cringing like crazy if I had walked around in Ichhi’s skin 14 years ago. It was nice to get a second chance to make his stay in Morenci a little more enjoyable.

I only wish I could get a second chance with my own kids. Maddie quotes one of my harshest statements, one I recall saying repeatedly when my kids were growing up: “No means no.”

“No doesn’t always mean no,” I wish I could go back in time and tell my kids. Sometimes it means you have to make a better argument or find another way. But back then I’m sure I lacked patience and “No means no” was the final word on a subject—a “don’t push me” attitude that was probably followed by a threat to count to three. 

I still can’t figure out why my kids always responded to that threat. What did they think I was going to do when I got to three? We didn’t believe in spanking so they weren’t going to get hit, we didn’t have a time out chair, and I can’t recall ever using “grounding” as a threat, but I don’t think I ever made it past “two” before they did what they were told to do. 

At least Maddie tempered the “No means no” quote with another from me that I hope has had a more lasting impact: “If you’re going to live, you might as well have fun.” 

I sure wish I had said that a lot more than “No means no,” especially since I’ve been reading “The Geography of Bliss: One grump’s search for the happiest places in the world” by Eric Weiner. It’s really David’s book, one he interloaned through melcat.org, but he started reading the book I was reading so I started reading his book.

Weiner travels to 10 countries in his search; I’m with him in Thailand right now and wishing I had actually fully lived according to the philosophy Maddie quoted me as spouting. In Thailand, fun, or sanuk, is very important.

“If it’s not sanuk, it’s not worth doing. People will resign from a good-paying job because it’s not fun,” an architect tells the author.

“You Americans take your fun very seriously. We Thais do not. We don’t believe in this work-hard, play-hard mentality. Our fun is interspersed throughout the day.”

It sounds like a good plan to me. I would have deeper regrets about having been too stern with my kids if not for the spirit of hope in another of Maddie’s collected quotes:

“Yesterday has gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

– Mother Teresa

And let the good times roll.

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