Hell to the No

This post originally appeared on my tumblr site.  For the next week (while I sit on my bum and eat Doritos) I will run some of my favorite Mary Tyler Mom posts of yore written before moving to my shiny new digs at ChicagoNow in April 2011.  I hope you enjoy them.  I think they’re awesome, but only three people read them.  Also, this post is best experienced when listened to with a soundtrack.

Mary Tyler Son often comes home from his babysitter with some sort of arts and crafts project he’s done that week.  Stickers on colored paper go straight to the recycling bin after I coo over it sufficiently in his presence.  Holiday items go into holiday storage to be brought out the following year.  The really amazing stuff goes straight to the “gallery” in our kitchen room (a sun room Donna named the “kitchen room” as we eat most of our meals in it) or on the front door.  And some of it is amazing.  Like this traffic light.  It’s recognizable.  It’s clear Mary Tyler Son made it and not the babysitter.  And it lends itself to a pretty cool mothering methaphor. 

Stop Light

We teach our kids that green = go, yellow = slow, and red = stop a/k/a Hell to the No.  I love Mary Tyler Son’s traffic light.  It was classified as a ‘straight to the front door.’  It makes me happy.  And there is not a chance in frozen hell that I would have ever thought to break out the glue and black paint required to make it.  Hell to the no.  I pick Mary Tyler Son up at the end of my three work days and I embrace that there are benefits for him that I work.  He is an adaptable kid, by nature, comfortable in lots of different social situations.  He likes being with the other kids and his babysitter.  Parenting him has been a joy to date and honestly, pretty easy. 

But what’s this I typed about the mothering methaphor?  Ah, yes, the mothering methaphor.  Art projects with my kids have pretty much been not high on my list of priorities.  It shames me to type that, but Mary Tyler Mom is committed to honesty, so there it is.  I cringe, more than a little, with the thought of finger painting.  And a two year old finger painting?  Hell to the no.  Not on my watch.  Mary Tyler Dad excels at this.  And one of my favorite moms excels at this – – I would visit her with my daughter and our two girls would make beautiful and amazing art together and the whole time I would be hyperventilating into my elbow while this favorite mom friend was cool as a cuke with paint on the floor, fridge, easel, hair, clothing, you get the idea.  I am simply missing the art at any cost gene.  I wish I had it, but I don’t.  Hell to the n – o, I don’t have it.  And I’m okay with that. 

It speaks to the pressure we put on ourselves as mothers — not just working mothers, ALL mothers — that we want to be everything to our kids, for our kids.  It ain’t possible, ladies.  If we try it, we’ll be miserable, and everyone knows that when mom is miserable, the family thing just doesn’t work like it should.  So my advice to us all is to know our goes (green), know our slows (yellow), and know our hell to the nos (red).  Here’s mine:


  • art projects that involve sticky glue, liquid color, sloshing water, spillage potential, etc.
  • clipping finger or toe nails; I’ve not done this once, not ever, for my kids
  • playing in the snow or rain
  • we’re not there yet, but selling things for fundraisers, like popcorn or gift wrap or crap no one wants, but feels pressured to buy; trust me when I say I will be throwing down $100 per fundraiser to not hit up a single facebook friend or colleague or brother-in-law’s sister to buy something they don’t need or want.


  • cooking and baking; Mary Tyler Dad has shown me the light on this one.  Whereas I was once fretful over flour and sad about sauce, I strap on an apron, hoist my kid into the learning tower and get busy.  I love it now, though clean as we go
  • taking Mary Tyler Son to the dentist.  Personally, I haven’t been to one since I broke a tooth eating a peanut MandM in 2004.  I haven’t chewed on the left side of my mouth since 2004 either.  You may think I jest or embellish, but you would be wrong.  Dentists freak the freak out of me.  And yet, somehow, I bring my boy to the dentist, lean back in the chair with him on top of me, and let those sadists have their way with his mouth. 


  • letting two year old Mary Tyler Son walk on city streets without being chained to me; I trust him in the urban environment.  I trust that when he gets close to the curb he stops.  I see you, disapproving parent in front of the Old Town School, working hard to stop yourself from leaping forward as Jay nears that curb.  I got it.  He knows and I know that he is trusted,  We’re cool, move along.
  • dance parties at The Candy Bar, or as most folks call it, the kitchen.  I like music and I like to dance.  I teach my kids to do the same.  Dancing in a club is fun, loud music is fun, Stevie Wonder singing about Superstitions is fun.  We dance a lot at our house.
  • discipline.  Super Nanny taught me everything I know.  No joke.  I love and respect this woman.  I grieve that her last show aired tonight.  I mean, how on earth am I going to handle the next stage of parenting without her showing me what to do on a weekly basis?  What were we talking about?  Oh yeah, discipline.  Kids need it even if they don’t want it.  My kids know the terms “non-negotiable,” “unacceptable behavior,” and “time out” from the age of two.  And with Donna reaching four and Mary Tyler Son at two, I can count the tantrums they’ve had on one hand.  Actually one finger.  (NOTE:  This was written 6+ months ago.  I can definitely no longer count tantrums on one finger, one hand, or all extremities combined.  Wow.  Toddlers without cancer can be real pills.)
  • the extra toy, cookie, desired thing of the moment.  I try not to abuse this, but with the knowledge Mary Tyler Dad and I share, that kids die, and there is not a damn thing you can do about it, dessert every night and an extra hot wheel is not going to hurt.  I indulge knowing that with the indulgence comes the responsibility to teach and appreciate and savor. 

So there’s my goes, my slows and my hell to the nos.  And somehow, I hope, I’ve deepened the significance of toddler art.  Hats off to all the parents out there who mix it up with their little ones with the glue and the glitter and the dripping color on the new berber.  For me it will always be a hell to the no.  And that’s okay.

11 Replies to “Hell to the No”

  1. HA HA! Love this!! My RED aka HELL to the NO has arrived. My daughter just turned 15 and desperately wants her permit and to learn to drive. I ca’t and won’t teach her to drive. I can’t even let my kids push the cart in the store without grabbing the cart in fear they will hit something. I have assigned driver’s ed to dad. His RED aka Hell to the NO was bathing them when they were infants. That scared the crap outta him so I handled that part. So in turn he gets to teach driving. 🙂 fair is fair, right?


  2. I’m so glad to know that I’m not the only Mom with my hell to the no’s. There are some things that I simply can deal with-even on the rare occasion that we do artsy stuff. Plah-Doh is a big red light. I only dealt with finding that neon colored crap smashed into my carpets twice (and this was me relenting-I said no Play-Doh ever when they were born) before I reenacted my No Play-Doh Unless You’re At School ban. We also don’t do anything that requires cutting unless they are willing to cut one at a time (which never happens). I’m all down to bust out some crayons (so long as they promise to not draw masterpieces on the wall) and coloring books and color right along with them. I wish I were more of an artsy-fartsy mom, but I’m not. Plus, Hurricane SethColtonSilas is never fun to clean up after!


  3. I have a son with sensory processing disorder, and a toddler daughter who is referred to as the “little teenager” in our house. I have been having such a hard time lately as a mother and reading your blog has really helped me put things into perspective. Really- I feel like it is so challenging and there is so much pressure as it is being a parent these days and that I have the sign “FAIL” on my forehead by 9am each day. I envision someone waiting at the end of my driveway waiting to hand me an Olypmic medal just for getting out the door every morning. But after reading this entry I realize how much of that pressure I put on myself. Yesterday I took my kids to the lake on the Museum Campus and we just laughed and played and rolled down the hill, we acted silly, we played at the Planetarium, we took our time, I bought them each a toy at the gift shop (which I am usually against). I feel like I am finally getting more “joy” again out of being a mother and learning to let some of the less important things go, or in this case, being okay with my “hell to the no’s” and embracing the “go’s”. Recently I saw a quote that said “Just another day in paradise- minus the paradise” which I found so humorous it helped my get through some tough moments. But your line about “Toddlers without cancer can be real pills” , while I know it comes from a difficult place, really made me laugh and I feel like that will be my new mantra when my daughter has her meltdowns to help put things in perspective. Thank you for being so open, honest, and sharing your story with grace, courage and a witty sense of humor.

    On another note, I recently started a neighborhood group. Your stories inspired me to start a community craft project. I called our local hospital and learned there are over 100 patients in their Cancer Center on a daily basis. We are going to decorate pumpkins and bring them to the patients. The Head Nurse of the Center said that any little item will help brighten their day. I hope it is only the beginning of a partnership between our community and the patients at the center to make a difference in their lives, and I thank you for helping to make that happen.


  4. i love this. knowing your comfort zone is so important. why do an activity with kids if you will be tense and screamy the whole time? that creates a negative memory and that doesn’t do anyone any good. you rule, mtm. you know your stuff.


  5. Fun post. My red: any bus during any time of day even remotely resembling rush hour; my yellow: the stairs (I have a 7-month-old who crawls and stands and climbs and I am trying to instill a fearlessness in her, but the stairs are a mental mountain for me); my green: everything else, including uncleanable messes and unquietable noise.


  6. You just made me feel so much better, I am so glad I am not the only one that sucks at crafts, is not a wiz in the kitchen, but tries, and dances so much that my 2 year old knows that when I start singing, she has to grab her tutu because its dancing time! Thank you 🙂


  7. Well spoken! 😀

    My hell to the no’s include Caillou, Dora and 99% of the cartoon dreck out there. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I made the executive decision that if there was going to be a cartoon theme to her infancy it would be Winnie the Pooh (and friends!). They don’t give me hives or make me want to stick my head in a gas oven (unlike Elmo).


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