Yet another revelation brought on by (not) tidying my room! I was trying to work out why I was so stuck on this task, and I realised it was a growing-up thing.
I grew up in denial about growing up. Ridiculously epic denial. So when my parents decided I was old enough to tidy my own room, I did not take it well. As far as I was concerned, I was exactly the same person I’d always been and they’d just arbitrarily decided to stop taking care of me.
And then recently, a close friend decided to stop taking care of me. Intellectually, I agreed that was healthy. Emotionally, all my stuff from then was coming right back up. I realised part of me believed that if I tidied my room, I was accepting that I deserved rejection now just like I deserved rejection then.
When I find a part of me that believes something like that, I know I’ve got a monster.
Because I was freaking out about this monster, I asked Big Sister to negotiate with it while Little Sister and I hid our scared asses.
Me: Little Sister, would you like to be in a safe room for this?
Little Sister: I am not ONLY in a diamond igloo, I’m in a diamond igloo lined with cuddly dogs and bits of paper and MESS LOVELY MESS!
Me: Okay darling. Have a good time in there, you’re totally safe.
Little Sister: (slams door)
Me: Big Sister, can you do this negotiation for me? I’m really scared.
Big Sister: Do you want to be in a safe room too?
Me: Eeeeeeer… Yes and no. I still want to hear what’s going on. And I kind of want to know what the monster looks like too. I just don’t want it to be able to get at me.
Big Sister: Sounds like bulletproof mirrored glass is needed here.
(Big Sister conjures up a shelter for me that looks like a mini-Gherkin.)
Me: (laughing) Are you trying to tell me some Freudian thing here?
Big Sister: It was just what came to mind!
Me: Okay, thank you! (I go in and peer out through the diamond-shaped window-panes.) Please help us, God. Please guide us and help us all. Including the monster.
(Big Sister begins to glow gently.)
Big Sister: Hey, monster. Would you like to come out?
Monster: (big scary voice off) NOOOOOO!
Big Sister: You know what you just sounded like?!
Monster: (normal voice) Can we not go through a single monster negotiation without a Star Wars reference even when THAT guy isn’t here?
Big Sister: (smiling) You tell me, Mr. Big No.
Monster: (roaring into the picture on all fours, mostly mouth, like a cross between Taz and a giant Fizgig) NOOOOOOO!
Big Sister: Wow, you really can do a very big no!
Monster: (preening) Can my name be Big No?
Big Sister: Sure! So it seems like you’re alternating between being really friendly, and really angry and resistant. I’m noticing that you’re fine unless I ask you or tell you to do something, and then I get a big no. Is that right?
Big No: N – uuugggh.
Big Sister: I’m also noticing that you don’t much care for questions.
Big No: I just, I just, I just, aargh! I exist to say no, so I don’t know what I want! I’m like Antigone, you know, ‘I am here to say no and to die!’ Except I don’t die!
Big Sister: Well, sometimes saying no can be really valuable. No can be an incredibly sovereign thing to say. I think Eve really needs you.
Big No: BUT I CAN’T SAY ANYTHING ELSE!
Big Sister: You’re saying plenty!
Big No: But when someone tells me to do something, or asks me to do something, or asks me a question that’s supposed to have the answer ‘Yes’ – I CAN’T SAY ANYTHING BUT NO!
Big Sister: Ah, yes. Yes, I remember that feeling.
Big No: Of course, you were her. (looks about to tear up)
Big Sister: Yes. I understand.
Big No: Where is she? She’s hiding from me, isn’t she? (Big Sister nods) WHY HAS IT ALL GONE SO WRONG?
Big Sister: I’m so sorry. It’s going to be okay. Can you tell me what’s gone wrong? If you’re upset that she’s hiding from you, does that mean you wanted to be her friend?
Big No: OF COURSE, I’M HER BIG NO! Every toddler has one, don’t they?
Big Sister: Yes! (smiles) But, um -
Big No: You can’t help but notice that it’s been a lot of years and she’s not a toddler any more and I’m still around.
Big Sister: Yeah. Well, being around is fine. Being around is great! Where would an adult be without the ability to say no?
Big No: I don’t have to disappear?
Big Sister: No, of course not! Please don’t disappear. You’re absolutely vital.
Big No: But it seems like I just cause trouble. I mean, without me she’d lose the ability to say no. But with me, she’s lost the ability to say yes. She wants to do this thing and I don’t know how to let her because all I am is a Big No. I can’t be other than that. The only way to let her do it would be to disappear, and I can’t do that. So I’m stuck and she’s stuck and she’s hiding from me because she hates me so much. (crying)
Big Sister: She doesn’t hate you!
Big No: People don’t hide from people they like!
Big Sister: Sometimes they do. She’s actually pretty proud of her ability to say no, but she’s scared of her inability to say yes.
Big No: I heard that most monsters are really the opposites of themselves, but I can’t imagine that I’m really a Big Yes.
Big Sister: Well, saying No to something is saying Yes to something else. For instance, saying No to helping someone is saying Yes to having time for yourself. Saying No to tidying is saying Yes to mess.
Big No: (enthusiastically) Yes to Mess! Hey, I just said yes. Theoretically.
Big Sister: What else could saying no to tidying be saying yes to? What was it saying yes to back then?
Big No: Yes to childhood. Yes to time to grow slowly instead of all at once. Yes to support – well, yes please to support, but there wasn’t any. The room just stayed messy.
Big Sister: That was hard.
Big No: Yes. Yes to wildness. Yes to cosiness. Yes to SELF. Yes to imperfection. Yes to spontaneity. Yes to freedom. Yes to sovereignty! Yes to not giving a damn what other people think because you are the king or queen of your life!
Big Sister: Those are all really good yesses!
Big No: But why doesn’t she get those things when I say no to tidying?
Big Sister: Well, a mess can’t make someone a child or give them support. A mess can’t make someone free or sovereign. Not by itself. It’s just a mess. Refusing the thing you don’t want is only half of it. You also need to say yes to the thing you do. Otherwise you just get a nothing.
Big No: Mess isn’t a nothing. Tidiness is a nothing. Tidiness is being all scrubbed away till there’s nothing left of you.
Big Sister: So you’ve understood that there’s a ‘no’ of tidiness. Tidiness involves rejecting some things. I don’t think it necessarily involves rejecting yourself. What could tidiness involve saying yes to?
Big No: Your parents. Bossy people. Society.
Big Sister: Not who, what! Think about a sovereign person who is also tidy. Think about Mary Poppins. What qualities is her tidiness saying yes to?
Big No: I… Sovereignty, somehow. I don’t understand that one at all. I don’t understand how tidiness could possibly be sovereign. I guess… order, control of her environment. Serenity, crispness, cleanness. Safety? Tidiness can be safe as well as mess. Perhaps. I feel a bit anxious about that thought. Maybe tidiness isn’t safe for everybody.
Big Sister: Maybe it depends if it’s yes-tidiness or no-tidiness.
Big No: Ooh! Yes. So how do I – what do I do?
(Here I procrastinated for a while)
Big Sister: I’m sensing some nervousness around the answer to that question!
Big No: I just know you’re going to tell me to turn into Big Yes, and I don’t want to lose my Big No-ness! I want to be both!
Big Sister: Good, because you need to be both. Even Havi has her ‘What I don’t want’!
Big No: Oh – like this? (The brown fuzzball divides like a cell into conjoined-twin fuzzballs, one red and one green, both with equally huge mouths.)
Red Twin: NOOOOOO!!!
Green Twin: YEEEEEEESS!!!
Big Sister: Awesome, awesome, awesome! Big No and Big Yes! Now this is what you do. Big No, whenever you say No, I need you to work out what you’re really saying No to. So when you say No to tidying, what are you really saying?
Big No: No to being bossed around! No to shame! No to obliteration! No to other people’s stories! No to other people’s stuff! No to boring! No to cold! No to lonely! No to always being sensible! No to always being a grown-up! No to always working! No to obedience! No to giving away my space! No to giving away my sovereignty!
Big Yes: YEEEEEES!!!
Big Sister: (applauds) That’s wonderful. Now, Big Yes, if Big No is saying No to all those things, I need you to work out what you’re saying yes to.
Big Yes: Yes to freedom! Yes to self-respect! Yes to being! Yes to MY stories! Yes to my-energy-back-to-me! Yes to fun! Yes to warmth! Yes to friends! Yes to silliness! Yes to childhood! Yes to play! Yes to autonomy! Yes to owning my space! Yes to sovereignty!
Big Sister: That’s wonderful! Can you feel how wonderful that is?
Big Yes: YEEEEEES!!
Big Sister: Okay! So now we’ve done all that - do these qualities require a mess?
Big Yes: YEEEEEES!
Big Sister: Do they require a mess all over the floor of her room?
Big No: NOOOOOO! Just…
Big Yes:… a willingness to make creative messes and play messy games, and not mind if things aren’t perfect as long as you’re having fun, and…
Big No: …not be clinical about things.
Big Yes: YEEEEEEES! We could play with that Mess book. And we could shout out our Yes-es and Nos while we’re tidying, so we don’t forget! YEEEEEEES!
Big No: NOOOOOO! We must definitely NOT forget! NO forgetting!
Big Yes: YEEEEEEES!
Big Sister: I love it! Well done, both of you! Round of applause! (claps for them)
(Big No and Big Yes clap for themselves. Being conjoined twins, they’re clapping with one hand each, in perfect synchronicity.)
Big Sister: Awwww! You guys are so cute!
Big Yes: YEEEEEES!
Big No: (simultaneously) NOOOOOO!
Big Sister: Would you younger ones like to come out of your safe rooms? It’s all good out here now!
(At this point I come out of the mini-Gherkin and the fuzzballs start bouncing up and down, slightly out of sync with each other. I crouch and open my arms to them as if welcoming a friendly dog and they bound into my arms. There are tears and doglike kisses.)
Me: Thanks, guys! I love you!
Big No: (overjoyed, can’t quite believe it) NOOOOO!
Big Yes: (triumph) YEEEEEES! We love you too!
Big No: We definitely don’t hate you! Where’s -
(We all look at the small diamond igloo where Little Sister is still hiding. A long silence.)
Me: She hasn’t heard any of this. (Knocks on the igloo) Little Sister? It’s safe to come out. They’re friendly now.
(Door cracks open and a very nervous and dishevelled Little Sister peeks out, with bits of things in her hair from being in the mess.)
Big Yes: It’s okay!
Big No: We don’t want to scare you!
Big Yes: We love you!
Big No: We don’t want to hurt you!
Big Yes: We want to make your life more wonderful!
(Little Sister just bursts into floods of tears. Real uncontrolled snotty crying. The fuzzballs snuggle up to her and let her wipe her face on their fur. Big Sister and I just stand back respectfully and let this happen. After a while we realise that the fuzzballs are crying too. The effect is of three children crying together with their arms around each other. They’re all about the same size.)
Little Sister: This was a really big thing… (cries more)
Big Yes: We’re very important monsters!
Big No: Except we’re not monsters any more!
Big Yes: We’re just fuzzballs that love you!
Big No: Except we’re not just fuzzballs!
Big Yes: We’re fuzzballs with VERY LOUD VOICES! (This shout blows Little Sister’s hair back and she giggles.) We can speak for you!
Big No: So you DON’T have to worry about not being heard! NO to not being heard!
Big Yes: YES to being heard!
Little Sister: (excited) I can shout too!
Big Yes: Can you?
Little Sister: YEEEEEEES!
Big Yes: Can you shout as loud as us?
Little Sister: YEEEEEEES!
Big No: NOOOOOO!
Little Sister: YEEEEEES!
(Big Sister and I give each other a big grin and walk off arm in arm, leaving them to it…)