Saying no is not easy for me. I always knew that. Now I know why. I just finished The Motivated Life by Paul Martens and the author explains, in detail, why various personality types act the way they do. I am, without a doubt, the very essence of a Type 3 personality he discusses in the book. We have a difficult time saying no because, the author explains, our boundaries are weak. He’s right, of course, but I keep trying. Yet, it’s been tough.
O Magazine reminds us in Learning to Say No that, every time we say yes to something, we are saying no to our priorities. Defining those priorities was the first step for me. I could not get what I wanted unless I knew what I wanted. And I want to focus on a few areas in my life and I am learning that I have to let go of a lot of other things. I feel guilty doing that; but in order to obtain my goal of a balanced life, I need to start saying no. In the process of setting boundaries, the article suggests creating an “Absolute Yes List.” I love this idea. Weed out the unnecessary and compile your list with the areas that are of the utmost importance in your life.
This takes practice, backbone, boundaries, belief in oneself, and a little bit of diva attitude. I’m not talking the type of diva who has all green M&Ms in a dressing room or one who insists on being carried out on stage like Mercedes Jones on Glee the other night. I just mean that little diva oomph of “I am important, I am worth it, I make my own decisions because I am “me”. But becoming a diva also means taking some risks. Some people aren’t going to like your boundaries. They aren’t going to love it when, after you’ve said yes, yes, a thousand times yes, that you are suddenly saying “nope.” We have to become willing to accept that these folks might decide to walk away.
I’m willing to take that chance.
Last week, I was running around like an anxiety-riddled basket case. I was reading texts on the go, scheduling appointments I couldn’t keep and running myself into the ground. I said “enough” but then again, I said that before and did nothing. Would this time be the same? Would I complain a little bit (or a lot) and then go right back to the way things were?
Nope! Not this week anyway.
Since last Monday, we have made a few decisions of extra-curricular activities that the girls are going to quit. They each chose one activity that they enjoy thoroughly and they are going to concentrate on those. Rachel chose drama and Emily chose art (which she doesn’t even do now but wants to explore.) So that’s it then - besides music lessons which are non-negotiable - everything else stops once this semester is over. It will be a difficult transition. Rachel has played soccer since she was four years old but it conflicts with her acting and that is the path she wants to follow. Emily has danced for more years than not but she wants to take art classes instead. Emily insists on volunteering at the shelter so we are going to try to continue as best we can.
On Thursday, Emily had a medical appointment until 5:30. We arrived home at 6. I realized that there was still time to rush off to a 7:00 commitment that I had previously made (before I realized that we had the late afternoon medical appointment.) Then I stopped and remembered my plan. I needed to cook dinner, go over homework and take care of my dogs and the house. No more rushing off like a mad woman. That wasn’t on my list of priorities and I stayed home.
This weekend, we did very little outside the house. We shopped a bit and bought some herbs and plants for the deck. We visited an antique shop after church on Sunday. We ate in - every single meal! I went on a three mile walk - every day. I stopped along the way to play with neighborhood dogs. I meditated and did 30 minutes of yoga twice. I made portabella mushroom soup…from scratch. I sat on the deck and tossed a tennis ball to the dogs.
I worked from home today and after my work was finished, I shut off my blackberry. The constant red-blinking light, indicating a call, a text, an email, annoys me to no end. I am on a self-imposed Facebook hiatus. I need a break from the clutter of social networking, the never-ending barrage of electronic messages, the noise. I need the time and the quiet to reflect and be open to what’s meant to be.
Truthfully, it’s not easy. I felt anxious the first few times I sat on the deck doing nothing. I feel guilty about the obligations I am veering away from. It’s not my nature to just be. Or maybe it is and I never really gave it a chance. We’ll see…
I worked all day Monday and then left work to drive to the pharmacy. I have been carrying a prescription around in my day planner for several weeks and it needed to be filled…now. I also had two other prescriptions at the pharmacy for my youngest daughter. They needed to be picked up now as well. After dropping the prescription off at the drive-through, I got a text. So I was trying to read it before rushing off to pick up my oldest from play rehearsal at school. It was Em’s piano teacher asking if she could come earlier than 6:30. Sure, I replied. I’ll be home at 5:30. It was all set. Picked up Rachel, rushed home for piano, forgot about the prescriptions because I answered a call from Rachel’s guitar teacher who wanted to come Wednesday instead of Tuesday. Fine, I answered, just come after 5:15 because Rachel has play rehearsal. It was all set. At 6:00, I realized the piano teacher never showed up. What the heck? I checked the text. She wants to come tomorrow, Tuesday, at 5:30. Sigh. I put dinner in the oven and remembered the prescriptions. I raced out to pick them up at the same time realizing I wouldn’t be home for the guitar teacher on Wednesday because Emily has a doctor’s appointment. Sigh.
Sadly, this is not an extraordinary day. This is every day. My weekends may as well be another week day. There is a constant round of ballet practice, soccer practice, soccer games, acting classes, religious education classes that the girls attend and I teach and the end-of-the week errands like grocery shopping, yard work, house work, and laundry. Plus I freelance quite a bit and get the bulk of it done during the weekend. And then there is the volunteer work. Good grief - the blog that’s supposed to help me stay sane is even stressing me out!
I look at my day-planner and I want to toss it out the window. ‘Cept I can’t. ‘Cause it weighs 20 pounds and would knock someone below out. This is ridiculous and I want it to stop.
So on Monday night I called a family meeting. We discussed our excessive obligations and extracurricular activities. I asked the girls to make a decision about the activities they are involved in. Decide whether they truly love the activities because, if there is the slightest doubt, we need to let them go. I will support my girls in the endeavors that they love; but those that are just so-so…well, not so much anymore.
I told them that I thought we should call a moratorium on volunteer work temporarily. I really hope that nobody whom I volunteer for reads my blog because I haven’t gotten around to announcing that bit of news yet. But I will. Because I am serious. We volunteer at a shelter for the mandatory 6 hours a month. It’s really nice and altruistic and good for the animals and for Emily; however, what about the fact that I have a mini-shelter right in my dining room? There sits two rescue dogs that we adopted and brought into our family. And while I’m walking dogs at the shelter, mine are sitting home alone. While I am doing pet laundry, my kids’ clothes overflows the hamper. While I feed the homeless and exhaust myself volunteering for one tremendously great cause after another, my refrigerator has nothing of value in it this week. And what’s more - it’s looking like that week after week. And Emily is an insulin dependent diabetic. She needs fresh, healthy food. Every single day!
So that’s it then. We are in the process of weeding out. We agreed to slow down and look at our schedules over the next several weeks and make some tough decisions as to what stays and what goes. And then we are going to enjoy our free time and use it wisely - to cook healthy meals, to garden, to exercise, to live a little.
I know a lot of women, and a few men too, who go through the same thing as us on a regular basis. And we all need to slow down, and reap the benefits of a calm, uncomplicated life. So while I am simplifying the tough things and making over our schedules and ultimately our lives, I am going to blog about my journey here. ‘Cause I’ll have the time now.
I can’t remember where I read it; but it went something like this: A patient of Dr. Carl Jung walked into Jung’s office and morosely announced “Dr. Jung, I just lost my job.” The doctor replied “Congratulations!”
Dr. Jung knew that acceptance is the key to serenity, the key to joy, and the key to peace. It is often difficult to grasp that, whatever is happening right now, is exactly the way it is supposed to be. Sometimes we experience acceptance with resignation. We might say “ah, well, it is what it is” and sadly resign ourselves to our fate. But I think there is a better way.
We can choose to experience acceptance with a sense of amazement. We don’t have to dread the unknown as long as we have faith and trust that everything will work out as it is supposed to. When people come in or out of our lives, accept that sometimes we have people for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Those who are here for a reason or a season will come and they will go. If we are lucky, we will hear the message that they were supposed to bring.
We will be hired, we might be fired. Companies will lay-off and perhaps close down all together. We might be lucky and find one lifelong love. We might be even luckier and find several. Love might come in strange packages - a pet we rescue (maybe two) or from a child who had been waiting to hear the most wonderful words “you are being adopted.” Or from new friends or old, estranged family members or a next door neighbor whom we never had the extra minute to get to know.
How marvelous it is to wonder where the next good thing might come from instead of peeking around corners with dread because we are always expecting bad news. Expect the good instead. Practice acceptance with amazement and let the good times roll!
Well, it’s settled. I’m not a Tiger Mom. I don’t demand that my kids practice their instruments for hours on end. I don’t generally make them practice at all. I let my kids spend the night with friends. I let them go online and text. I let them have whatever it is that constitutes a boyfriend in middle school. And, gasp…I let them watch TV.
That’s it then. I failed as a mom. My kids bring home Bs now and then. One dances and one plays soccer. I shuttle them to the School for the Performing Arts every Saturday for acting class. Even worse - I shuttle back down to pick them up afterwards!
My daughter reported once that her friends were amazed that she had never been grounded.
Such a horrible mom should end up with wild, undisciplined kids, don’t you think? Slovenly ones who rarely bathe, fight all the time, talk back to authority figures and consistently show up at in-school detention because they never do homework and fail each and every test. Surely my kids will end up in a juvenile facility as they won’t learn how to control themselves since their mom didn’t rule with an iron fist.
Interestingly, in spite of making very little effort to force my kids to grow up to be upstanding citizens, they seem to have gone and done it anyway. I have a twelve-year-old whose mission in life is to protect abused animals. She insisted we volunteer at the SPCA and bring home our second rescue dog. She gets As and Bs on her report cards. She also single-handedly manages her Type 1 diabetes, testing her glucose, counting her carbs, remembers to change her pump inset every three days without fail and gives herself the right dose of insulin every single time. Her music teacher says she is one of her best piano students. This is a child who will grow up to be a success, in spite of the fact that she studies dance, watches television and only practices about 15 minutes each day. She will grow up to be successful because she already is.
Her sister is consistently on the honor roll despite having soccer practice and games throughout the week. She asks to audition for plays and practices her songs on her own. She’s now writing her first novel and when I say writing, I mean writing. She works on it daily and has over 6,000 words. As a writer myself, I know this is quite an accomplishment. After several years of piano, she asked if she could switch to guitar. She now plays Beatles songs beautifully without any prompting from me. She will grow up to be successful because she already is.
Emily did all of our laundry Saturday - without being asked. Rachel just came in from taking the recycling bins up to the curb and taking out the trash - without being asked. This was not part of their daily chores. They do those without fail and because it is expected. But they also go the extra mile because it's part of who they are. They always hand in their homework without my hovering over them, managing their study time and work. They are motivated, interested, energetic and intelligent. They live trouble-free lives with positive attitudes.
My children learned at a young age that they are expected to help out, be polite, go the extra mile, stand up against injustice, take care of their bodies and always make good choices in every situation. They learned this because we often discussed consequences of making bad choices. They want to perform well in school because it makes them feel better to bring home an A than an F. They want to live in a nice, clean home so they help to keep it that way. They want to feel good physically so, for the most part, they make good choices. They are still kids, you know.
But they discerned this on their own. My role is to guide them and to teach them with love. I cannot make them turn out the way I want. I can only guide them while they head toward the vision that they see for themselves. I can only support them in the goals they set for themselves.
So, my role, thank you very much, is more like a sheep dog than a tiger. I’ll gently nudge them toward good decisions with no loud growling, bared teeth or blood-shed but with ongoing open communication about choices and consequences.
And I’ll know soon enough if what I did was right. The proof will come when they’re living their best lives without resentments. And when I’m living mine without regrets.
It’s hard, sometimes, to see the forest for the trees, isn’t it? In the midst of the goings on in our lives, the hubbub, the chaos, the drama and the noise, it can be tough to find the wherewithal to take notice of things directly in front of us that may be motivating, may serve as a pleasant reminder or that may bring us peace.
A program I have participated in for the past seven years always begins with a spiritual reading. I know this reading by heart and, because of this, I often use this time to plan a work project, create grocery lists, and think about deadlines, schedules, finances, my kids or all of the above. Obviously, I hear the words in the background but I’m too busy focusing on other things to really listen to the message…and it gets lost. The sad part is that I really need to hear the message because it is has tremendous impact!
Yesterday, during the reading, I was thinking about important things - okay, well really daydreaming - and two women sitting nearby were using this time to catch up with one another sotto voce. I snapped to attention; however, when one of my closest friends sitting to my left, looked at the offenders, raised up her hand and shushed them saying “I need to hear this.”
Besides being amazed at my friend’s tenacity - doesn’t she worry that these women won’t like her for speaking up - I realized the impact of her statement on my own self. Instead of thinking of mundane distractions, I should focus on what the reader is saying. Even though I’ve heard it many times over, something is bound to jump out that I need to hear today. I, too, need to hear that message and not just by accident. I need to strive to put my mind’s chaos on the back burner and turn my attention toward the outside world once in a while.
And why stop there? Why not pay attention to the scenery when driving, the joyful noise of kids laughing delightfully on another floor, dogs playing, passersby, all of the beauty of the world that is just waiting to be noticed? In the Buddhist tradition, this is called mindfulness - that state of being aware of one’s surroundings, feelings, and emotions. I’m pretty sure that getting my mind off of all the things I need to do is a good thing - so why not distract myself from myself by listening and by seeing all the wonderful things happening around me. Why not pay attention and make the decision to see the forest AND the trees??
Remember the old AT&T Commercials that said “Reach out! Reach out and touch someone. Reach out! Call up and just say hi.” (Or something like that!) This year, in the midst of what has been the busiest year of my life, I made sure I took the time to connect with my family. It’s more important to me after dealing with how fragile life is this year.
After our annual Christmas lunch at work, we were able to go home early so I took that hour to send out Christmas cards. It is rare for me to do that - find cards, write them out, find the address book, have sufficient stamps, get them to the mail box on time. But I did it - I wanted to make sure that people in my extended family knew I was thinking about them and wishing them Christmas blessings this year.
We also did a group Skype on Christmas Eve with family in four different states. It was chaotic with lots of talking over one another and screens freezing up but it was wonderful to see my family on such a special night. The next best thing to being there.
Then, I had the good fortune to talk to my 95-year-old grandmother in PA by phone. She wanted to sing a Christmas Carol - so we did. My grandmother, my daughters and myself all sang “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” across the miles. It made her night. It made mine too.
Finally, this year, I wanted to make something special for my parents - a traditional nut roll that my mother made every single Christmas from as far back as I can remember. I searched the internet for a recipe that sounded close and my mom said it was even better than hers. It was just as I remember and I’m glad I took the time to recreate it this year.
My daughters and I have our own Christmas traditions - decorating, baking cookies, singing carols, watching It’s A Wonderful Life each Christmas night. But this year I was fortunate to be able to reminisce and reconnect with the past. I’m thankful that we have the technology to meet up with those far away through the computer and find long-lost recipes on the Internet. It’s not like it used to be but it’s what we have today. And for that I am grateful.
A friend’s grandmother died recently. At the graveside service, family members were memorializing this 95-year-old lady who had quite a life. Of course, plenty of people were saddened by the loss. But my friend’s little girl asked if she could say a few words. At the side of the grave, while all was still, she piped up in a clear voice saying “don’t be sad because it’s over, be glad because it happened.”
I am unsure whether this child recognized that this was a famous Dr. Seuss quote or she just decided that it made sense on her own. Either way, when an 8-year-old has this type of perspective, I’m reminded that I can do the same. I can look at the glass half empty or half full, the silver lining or the grey cloud. I can bemoan what I don’t have or write a gratitude list for that which I do. I can say thanks for what’s in front of me and the things yet to come. Because whether life is doling out lemons or lemonade, my attitude and perception of what’s going on around me is going to determine how the day turns out.
Take a minute during the week to adjust your attitude and perception so you can see the good in everything. And when things don’t go just right, keep in mind “this too shall pass.” The grey will eventually clear up and those blue skies might be right around the corner. Don’t let a bad mood get you so down in the dumps that you miss ‘em.
I recently attended a Covey Seven Habits seminar. It reminded me how necessary the planning process is for me to stay balanced. I’m not talking about just time-management; although that is a very big component. I can’t be balanced if I’m missing appointments or running out of medical supplies for the Type 1 kid, if I can’t remember whether or not I paid the cable bill or if I’m constantly wondering “what’s for dinner”. Organizing my time is important but I’m more concerned with planning to ensure I’m internally balanced.
For me, internal balance means that all four components of myself – spiritual, mental, emotional and physical – are aligned properly. I remember once hearing it described as the four legs of a chair – if one is broken, the whole chair becomes wobbly. I personally need all four aspects to be pretty closely aligned.
In order for this to occur, I need to plan. I need to make sure I incorporate time for exercise into my week. With our crazy schedule, it’s too hard to get to the Y for Zumba so I go on walks instead. I make sure I incorporate daily prayer and meditation. Sometimes life gets way crazy and my prayer is simply “help!!!” but for the most part, I talk to God every day. And I try to always remember to say thanks.
So, you get the picture. In order to stay balanced, work on the four legs of your chair. Take time to do some good for yourself spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally as best you can through the week. Treat yourself well – you’re all you’ve got!
I spent December 31st with a group of close friends. Before we went out to ring in the New Year, we had dinner together and sat around making resolutions and thinking a lot about the past. Someone brought a list of questions to use as a guide and one of them resonated with me until this very day.
The question was “What do you want God to say to you when you meet in Heaven?” Isn’t that the most powerful question? As a kid, I grew up with the notion of a very judgmental God. The nuns in the Catholic schools were quick to tell you how your sins would, literally, “bring you down”. I never thought I would come close to making it to Heaven so I gave absolutely no thought to what God might say. As a young adult, I spent a lot of time trying to make up for the past - buy my ticket in, if you will. (That doesn’t work!) But I thought if I would always put others first, at the expense of my own happiness and peace, I would ‘x’ out the sins of my youth and Heaven would be mine.
It took a long time for me to find a sense of peace and balance by taking care of my own needs. I learned, often the hard way, that I must practice self-care and that doing so is not selfish. I need to have internal balance in order to be a good mom. I can’t come home fatigued and stressed and magically transform into a loving, understanding mother. I must take the necessary steps to rest, eat well, meditate and prioritize my life in order of what is of utmost importance, so that I can do the job God gave me to do - being a mom.
Motherhood is my life’s work. I have a career that I love and have had great jobs in the past. I love the freelance work I’m doing now as well; but, ultimately, being a mom is my main job…the one I was created to do.
My cousin, a Catholic priest, said once that people would ask for advice on their missions in life. He would tell them they are doing their mission - being a husband/wife/father/son/daughter/mother. Not so glamorous, is it? When I think of ‘mission’, my mind goes straight to working with lepers in India or something. I don’t look at giving out hugs, helping with homework, dispensing advice and Band Aids as a mission. Yet I think that my cousin was right - this is what God has in mind for me. And I only get one chance to do it right. While I might not be saving the world or helping tons of people, I do matter most to two girls in RVa who are counting on me to show up with my game on and be a great mom - every single day.
So then, what was the answer to the question in December? What do I want God to say to me when we meet in Heaven? The answer is simple.