Big No and Big Yes

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.

Me: Yes!

(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 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 Sister: Okay! So now we’ve done all that - do these qualities require a mess?


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 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 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!


Little Sister: YEEEEEES!

(Big Sister and I give each other a big grin and walk off arm in arm, leaving them to it…)

Introducing LITTLE SISTER!

I was still stuck on tidying my room, despite doing lots of work on it. It occurred to me that I needed a monster conversation, but there was no obvious voice of doom making its presence felt. So I thought maybe it was a wall (a wall! In my room!) What would this wall be protecting me from?

The mess in my room is one of the main ways I keep myself stuck. No matter how much I achieve during the day, I always come home to this sty. A huge ever-present reminder of my stuckness, shame, and despair. It’s like a big sign saying YOU WILL NEVER CHANGE. And yet it’s also curiously reassuring.

The mess says YOU’LL NEVER CHANGE, and it’s reassuring.

Oh, right. The wall is yet another thing protecting me from growing up.

Me: Oh, wall. I understand how desperately you want to protect me from growing up. I’m sorry, but you can’t protect me from that, because I’m already an adult. But I can have all the best qualities of being a child, like playfulness, curiosity, fun, wonder, a strong sense of self, safe boundaries, comfort in my body… and you can help me have those things by letting me through.

Wall: No! Not good enough. You have to actually stay a child! Not just pick and choose the best bits. I have to keep you as a literal child!

Me:  I’m so sorry, I know this hurts, but you can’t keep me as a child. It’s too late. I haven’t been a child for years. I grew up long ago.


Me: I couldn’t help it.

And the wall turned into a little girl screaming and bawling her eyes out. It wasn’t really a wall at all, but a sad scared self. She was about four. I picked her up and she continued to howl.

Me: Hey, what’s the matter?


Me: I’ll never let you disappear! You’ll always be part of me and I’ll always love you!

Her: Waah!

Me: Just like I have a big sister who’s a future me – you’re my little sister. You’re just as important.

Her: Waaah!!

Me: I need you to work with me to help me tidy my room. I promise you’ll be safe.

Her: I’m scared!!

At this point I called in Big Sister, who appeared at her most radiant and Mary Poppins-ish. Little Sister stopped crying and gazed at her adoringly.

Me: See, there’s nothing to be frightened of. You’re not going to disappear. You’re just going to get more big sisters!

Big Sister held out her arms and I passed Little Sister over to her, and we walked along like that.

Me: How about if we find a different way for my room to make you feel safe? How about if, instead of mess, we just make it really childlike and playful?

Little Sister: Maybe…

Me: And restful. Make it look like a place for resting and not working all the time. A place where you don’t have to try hard…

Little Sister: Yeah!

In saying this, I reminded myself of Kyo and Asu from  the anime Poor Sisters Story. These two characters are young sisters struggling to survive without parents, and each wants to be this for the other – ‘the one place where you don’t have to try hard.’

It’s occurred to me before that I’d like my relationship with my inner child to be more like Kyo’s relationship with Asu – one of loving, supportive teamwork - but now I realised there was a third dimension. This radiant spirit guiding the two of us. For Kyo and Asu it’s the spirit of their dead mother, for us it’s Big Sister, our future self. This is my new phone wallpaper:

Kyo and Asu hugging with the spirit of their mother holding both of them. Caption: 'Because I've left you two... a small promise.'

(At this point we had a long digression about the Japanese words for big sister and little sister and how they’re used. I was surprised that Little Sister seemed to know Japanese as well as I did, and she said, ‘I have access to everything you know. I just see it differently.’)

Me: So I’m tidying my room with a child. A scared, four-year-old child. And I need to make it fun and non-scary for her. Big Sister, do you have any ideas?

Big Sister: *just shines*

Me: Okay, more God. But anything else?

Big Sister: *shine, shine*

Me: Well, yes, I guess I could ask Little Sister. What would make tidying more fun for you?

Little Sister: Ice-cream! We have to have ice-cream when we’ve finished. And when we’re half way through!

Me: Okay! Anything else?

Little Sister. Colours. I need more colours!

Me: Like how?

Little Sister: You’re the big sister, you work something out!

Me: Okay, I’ll work something out.

Little Sister: And I want the dogs to help.

Me: Right. How about each dog gets to be in charge of a category of stuff, and the dog who ends up with the most bags and boxes packed wins?

Little Sister: And the dog who wins gets ice cream!

Me: Okay, but let’s try not to get it in their fur…

Little Sister: And I want you to put your posters up NOW! Not after we move!

Me: That’s fine. I kind of want to as well.

Little Sister: Yay! And please brush your hair less.

Me: Huh?

Little Sister: I don’t like hairbrushing. I like messy hair! I don’t feel like me otherwise!

Me: Hmm… maybe we can find another way instead of being messy? Would it help if I wore pigtails?

Little Sister: …I don’t think I’d like that. You wouldn’t look like my big sister. (Pause) I’m realising that it’s my hair I don’t want brushing. Not yours. You can brush your hair. (Pause) I need to think about what this means.

How about that?!? At this point I arrived at work so we had to stop, but I’m sure she’ll inform me of what it means when she’s ready… I suspect she’s realising she doesn’t need me to behave exactly like her to feel secure in her own existence. Whew!!