Learning To Say No…to Me.

Summer School“I need to learn to say ‘no’ more.”

Those words, spoken by a friend of mine this past January, were like a tiny pebble in a small creek. They resonated, but I already knew, or thought I knew, what I wanted to focus on in 2017, and the word “no” wasn’t it.

But as the year has gone on, the ripples from that tiny pebble have been spreading and ricocheting off each other, gaining momentum, and I’ve realized this is what I am supposed to be doing this year: learning to say no.

The thing about being type A is you tend not to set limits for yourself. In fact, often you choose not to accept that you have them. You see a need, you see an opportunity, you see that you have the appropriate skill set, and you say, See? I can manage this too. Then you find your nights chasing your mornings and your schedule crammed with activities for 4 kids all at the same time in opposite corners of town while DH is otherwise occupied, and you can barely breathe, but by golly you get everybody where they’re going and you still manage to make some minor progress on editing That Novel. And you think, See? I can do this.

But at some point you start thinking, Okay, I CAN do this…but what am I doing to myself in the process? And WHY?

I’ve been thinking about m y friend’s words a lot, the past few months. And I’ve been practicing saying no. It feels terrible. Terrible. I’ve said no to a couple different volunteer opportunities for causes I’m passionate about. No to a couple of teacher appreciation lunches at the Catholic school and the request for volunteers in the classroom. I feel dirty and somewhat guilty about this. Who am I to say my time is more important than that of any other parent in the school? Still, I did it.

But here’s the thing I’m discovering: as important as it is to learn to say no to outside commitments, sometimes it’s myself I have to say “no” to.

I don’t always have to fix dinner from scratch. It’s not the end of the world to grab fried chicken from Kroger on a baseball night, or to heat up chicken strips at home some night when I’m wiped out. It’s not even the end of the world to grab fast food once in a while.

I don’t have to make every single loaf of bread from scratch. It’s okay to buy one from the store once in a while. (Even if it’s not nearly as good.)

I don’t have to increase the number of Jazzercise classes I take every single year. The important thing is to exercise; if I get to three classes a week and fill the rest of the time with gardening, biking, running, lawn mowing, and swimming, that’s fine. I don’t need to pressure myself to make that 20-minute drive to and from the center four or five times a week when I can do different exercise based around home.

This is what I’m working on now. How I’m trying to love myself. And it is a particularly important lesson to keep in mind today, because this morning I am turning a page: All my kids wanted to go to summer school.

First, I feel a need to explain this. I am beginning to realize that summer school in my town is a very different experience than it is in most places. It’s all day, every day. And it’s fun. The kids are doing a couple hours of core learning and then they’re doing units on bridge building, gameology, puzzles, and technology. So they all wanted to go, and that means instead of waiting until August to have an empty house with all four kids in school, I get a one-month sneak preview.

Last summer, a friend of mine whose kids are a little older than mine gave me some advice. I was sharing how hard it was to write with Michael getting older and being ready for kindergarten but too young to go—how bored he was at home, and how much I was looking forward to the 2017-18 year. “Kate,” she said, and I braced myself for the usual annoying don’t wish it away/enjoy it/you’ll miss this when it’s gone advice. Instead, she said:

“When the time comes…pace yourself.”

Words to live by.