The Easy No is the wrong answer

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Grafton, who turns five mid-December, visited Eileen and I this Veterans Day. We had not seen each other in weeks.

Our weekly day to babysit each other ended months ago when Grafton and his mom moved to Brunswick, and he started pre-K school.

The youngest member of the Camp Marlene swim team, Grafton and I are in the water much of our time together. The pond — in warm and almost-warm weather — and in motel/hotel swimming pools when cold outside.

Monday, Grafton was standing in the living room looking out the windows at the Pond.

“Let’s go swimming, Papa Fish,” he declared.

“I don’t know, buddy. It might be a little cold for swimming in the pond,” I said. Perhaps Grafton wasn’t seeing the skim coat of ice out on the pond near the tall grass.

“Let’s get our bathing suits and see. Okay, Papa Fish?” Grafton replied.

For a split second I thought of saying “No”; of — in my best mature adult voice — giving Grafton a reasonable explanation for us not going out in our bathing suits to see if the icing Maine pond, mid-November, was too cold for swimming.

Instead, I said, “Let’s go out in our regular clothes first. We’ll feel the water temperature. Then if you don’t think it’s too cold, we’ll change into our bathing suits.”

Growing up, my father’s default answer to his kids’ requests was “No.” Soon I just stopped asking. Knowing my dad’s answer, why bother?

In my early sixties I asked my dad about that. “Why did you always say, ‘No'”?

He thought for a moment and said, “Because it was easy.” A direct “no” ends the discussion.

When I’m with Grafton my “No” experience with my father sometimes gets triggered, and I defuse it. Yes, a direct “no” can sometimes be the best response. But not just because it’s easy.

Squatting on the sand at the pond shoreline Grafton and I push our hands into the water.

“It’s not bad,” Grafton decides.

What? I stick my hand back into the water, asking Grafton to do the same.

“Hold your hand there for a few moments,” I say, feeling my submerged hand numbing.

Grafton stands, raising his hand from the water. I’m certain my “show, don’t tell” lesson has proved my point.

He looks across the pond and declares the water, “not too bad. Let’s get our bathing suits and go swimming. Remember we always go swimming together, Papa Fish? D’you remember?”

Rising from my Grafton eye level squat, shaking water off my right hand, drying it on my blue jeans, I say, “Partner, it’s too cold for Papa Fish to go swimming. But if you want to get on your bathing suit and go swimming, I’ll wait here.”

Grafton dashes across the beach, up the wood staircase, into the house. Surely his grandmother, Eileen, will talk some sense into him.


Minutes later, Grafton, in blue-and-orange bathing suit and white rash guard, bolts barefoot from the house, across the lawn and beach to the water’s edge.

I’m shaking my head, laughing. Now what? The “Easy No” is back with a vengeance. I suppress it while Grafton is still on the beach considering his options.

He steps into the water and starts walking. I’m ready to yank him out if, true to past behavior, he dives in. With the water level just below his knees, Grafton stops.

Eileen is now on the beach holding open a thick blue beach towel. Grafton runs toward Eileen, stopping halfway and looking back at the pond. He runs back in up to his knees, then races out again to Eileen, who wraps Grafton in the towel.

Papa Fish lifts Grafton into his arms, carrying him into the warm house. Eileen dries him and serves him a mug of her best hot chocolate.

An all-around success without the “Easy No.”

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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