Saying ‘Yes’ to Kids Goes from Nightmare to Daydream

What do you call a day when every answer is “Yes”? Whether you’re a parent of a toddler or a teen, you’d probably call that day a nightmare. But fear not, parents! As a Yes Day survivor, I’m here to tell you that with some planning and clear guidelines, a day without “No” can be a lot of fun for the whole family.

I first encountered the concept in Yes Day!, a picture book by New York Times best-selling author Amy Krouse Rosenthal. The story follows a young boy on his favorite day of the year as he’s granted requests ranging from pizza for breakfast to staying up really, really late. It sounded like a fun idea, with the potential to go very wrong in the hands of imaginative children. After seeing a couple of friends try a Yes Day with no ensuing disaster, I decided to give it a shot.

Can we pet a puppy at the pet store? YES! | Photo by Jen Hockney Bratton

Can we pet a puppy at the pet store? YES! | Photo by Jen Hockney Bratton

Because I’m a planner — and because I didn’t want things to get out of control — there needed to be some ground rules for the day. A quick Google search resulted in a number of Yes Day stories with suggestions for how to keep the requests within reason. After a little research, I created a few rules:

  1. Any activities had to happen near or within city limits (no traveling to visit their cousins in Chicago, for example).
  2. Each child had a $20 spending limit for the day (this did not include meals and didn’t mean they could go pick out a toy at Target).
  3. The kids had to work together to come to decisions on the activities.

As summer drew to a close, I presented the idea to my daughters, ages 10 and 7 at the time. “Would you like to do a Yes Day on the Friday before school starts?” I asked. They were all for it and promised they would come up with some great ideas. During the following week, my husband and I frequently reminded them that Yes Day was getting closer — we couldn’t wait to hear what was brewing in their creative minds.

The day arrived, a beautiful end-of-summer blast of sun and blue skies. “So what are we doing first?” I asked. I was prepared for ice cream for breakfast, pajamas and TV time ’til noon, anything that’s normally off-limits. Instead, I was met with blank looks and shrugs. “Seriously? You guys have had a week to come up with ideas and you’ve got nothing?” So we brainstormed a bit, and then we were off!

Can we go to The Village Deli for breakfast? And sit outside? YES!

A trip to our favorite breakfast spot, and sitting outside on a gorgeous day? This one was a “Yes” for parents and kids alike. And even with everything on the menu as fair game, the girls opted to share an order of lemon blueberry pancakes. We were off to a great start.


Can we go to the library? DEFINITELY! | Photo by Jen Hockney Bratton

Can we go to the library? DEFINITELY! | Photo by Jen Hockney Bratton

Can we go to the library? DEFINITELY!

After eating breakfast within sight of the library, the girls were inspired to stop in another well-loved spot. They spent some time happily wandering the aisles and picking out books, while my husband and I patted ourselves on our backs for raising such lovely, literate children with superb taste in breakfast joints.

The next request was more in line with what I was expecting: Can we go to Campus Candy? Alas, we came to our first bump in the Yes Day road — the shop didn’t open until noon. Then, as we walked back to the car, I got a little piece of Yes Day for myself. I stopped to look at a necklace on display outside of Cactus Flower, and the girls asked, “Can we go in?” Yep, let’s go! Two necklaces later, we were on the road with a new plan.

Can we go to the new park? SURE!

The girls had been closely watching the renovations taking place in Park Ridge Park all summer. Now that it was open to the public, they were ready to try it out. Nicely shaded and full of new challenges, it was a perfect place to burn off some energy. At this point, I was feeling pretty smug. This Yes Day thing was a breeze!

And then it all fell apart.

It was getting hot outside, it had been a while since breakfast, and no one could agree on what to do next. Given the freedom of choice, these kids had nothing — I was frustrated, and so were they. So we went home. I sent them off to the living room with an ultimatum: Come up with some more ideas, or Yes Day would come to an early end. They cooled off, refueled, and presented a new plan.

Can we go to the new park? SURE! | Photo by Jen Hockney Bratton

Can we go to the new park? SURE! | Photo by Jen Hockney Bratton

Can we go get a cookie at the mall? OF COURSE!

We were back on track. Off we went to the mall, where each kid got to pick out her own giant, frosting-laden sweet treat at Blondie’s Cookies. This might have been the highlight of the day for them, since this shop is never a “Yes.”

As they blissfully enjoyed their sugar bombs, the girls decided on their next activity. “Can we go on the bungee jumper?” Now this is what Yes Day is all about! I’m never going to shell out money to jump on a trampoline in the mall on a regular day, but on Yes Day? You betcha! But then, Yes Day bump in the road number two — the operator was going on break. Backup plan: Can we go shop at Claire’s? Okay, let’s go kill some time. Thirty minutes later, still no bungee operator, so we hatched a new plan.

Can we pet a puppy at the pet store? YES!

As long as you know we’re not going to GET a puppy — just pet one.

Can we go swim while you sit poolside and drink sangria with your friends? HECK YEAH!

This was not their actual question, but that’s how it played out. The next couple of hours were spent with the kids in the pool and some quality Mom time in a lounge chair under an umbrella.

As the day came to an end with one child off to a sleepover (“Can I?” “Yes!”) and the other happily staying up past her bedtime with popcorn and a movie, I sat back and reflected on the girls’ Yes Day choices. Overwhelmingly, they opted for experiences over material things — a great reminder that while kids constantly ask for stuff, sometimes what they really need is free time to find their own fun. We stayed way under budget, thanks to the closed candy store and skipping the bungee jumper, and the day didn’t suffer. I know we got off easy this time, though. The planning has already begun for next year — now that we’ve been through it once, I’m sure next year’s Yes Day will be even bigger and better!

Jen Hockney Bratton
Jen Hockney Bratton started her career in television, working on everything from local PBS productions to the Kentucky Derby. When the Internet came calling, she went to work for Oprah Winfrey as a content producer for Oprah.com. One move to Bloomington and two kids later, Jen followed another passion and now teaches fitness classes at Bloomington Body Bar. She loves to write, read, spend time with her husband and daughters, and cheer on the Hoosiers.