Maybe you should say ‘No’

Someone told me this morning that the word ‘No’ is a complete sentence.

Whatever … I didn’t really care grammatically if it was or wasn’t. My mind was drifting to the day that was beginning to unfold in front of me. There were too many things to do and not enough time.

This someone pressed on and elaborated further … obviously recognizing my distraction.

“If someone asks you for your time, commitment or efforts, you can just say ‘No’. You don’t have to offer an excuse, explanation or justification. ‘No’ is a complete answer. You don’t owe the other person an explanation … ‘No’ is enough.”

Okay, now you have my attention. I know that I can say ‘No’ but the ‘ah-ha’ that hit me was that I rarely do. When I do decline, I offer up a detailed report that justifies my answer.

Last night was a perfect example.

Some woman: “We are short on bake sale volunteers. Are you available for a couple of hours this evening to help the 4th graders with their booth?”

Me: “I have this meeting but I am fairly sure I can change it. Go ahead and put me down for the 5 to 7 shift.”

Some woman: “Perfect, I will put you on the list. Thank you so much!”

Me: “No problem.”

Well there is a problem. I had plans to meet up with a friend after work for some appetizers and drinks. Immediately my mind says … you can’t pick cocktails over helping little children sell their cookies and cupcakes in order to go to choir camp.

So I call my friend and ask her if she can push our meeting out a couple of hours (I can’t say no to her either) and try to shove both activities into one evening. I am fully aware of the consequences of my decision … home late, late dinner for my own kids, late bedtimes … the list goes on.  Yet I suck it up for a woman I don’t know other than through classroom emails.

Do I always bend over backward to help and please other people? I think for just a moment even though I already know the answer. Yes, I always do. My motto is “If I Can, I Do”.

It’s not that I don’t want to help others, it’s just that I can’t sustain this pattern of always being able to help. I hate saying no and at my personal expense, I don’t. When I am absolutely forced to, I provide the person that I am “letting down”, a novel of reasons for my inability to provide.

How many times have I planned to just lie on the couch and have a date with Netflix only to give away this time to a request made by friends and family?

More times that I can count and I always feel cheated afterward.

The thought of actually saying ‘No’ to some of these requests has sparked something in me but I know that a change like this is a journey. Years spent rearranging my time for others is not easily reversed. In all reality, it is very difficult to say ‘No’ because I feel guilty … I feel selfish when I do. Changing this thought pattern is the key.

In hindsight, my conversation should have been something like this.

Some woman: “We are short on bake sale volunteers. Are you available a couple of hours this evening to help the 4th graders with their booth?”

Me: “I’m sorry, I am not available tonight.”

Or …

Me: “I already have plans, sorry about that.”

Or just simply …

Me: “No.”

Saying ‘No’ in this respect is so much more than keeping your schedule in check. It is a declaration of the importance of your time. It’s a declaration of the importance of you.

Order In

Chaos will sometimes catch me off guard. Just when I have things moving in an acceptable direction, it comes out of the closet to remind me that I am getting a little too sure of myself. I trudge through back to back football / basketball practices and dry tears over a ratio quiz that has gone terribly wrong. Fall leaves need to be collected and pressed and the sweaty mini-athletes need showers. I need a shower. My task list doesn’t seem to be changing is size and I don’t want to answer any more text messages from close friends who want to chat. I should make a dentist appointment and I don’t know what to make for dinner. Sometimes I can breeze through days like this but sometimes I can’t. I wish I could be more consistent.

Tonight I made a pivotal decision to order in dinner. The kids are elated and I wonder if it is truly their excitement over Japanese food or could it be that my spirits have noticeably lifted because I gave myself some time that would have been previously spent cooking. The energy in the room has immediately shifted.

Reaper celebrates by watching dance videos on YouTube and Gila is talking me into learning how to fish tale braid. We are braiding each other’s hair with our new-found skills and Reaper is breakdancing on the floor in front of us. We are together, we are talking and we are laughing. I barely remember any piece of my day before this moment. This moment is the only thing that matters and it’s the only thing I need to remember.

Our food order. Transcribed by Reaper.

Transcribed by Reaper.

Good Fortune

Reaper has had a particularly rough week that’s been plagued with yelling, foot stomping and complete refusal to do his fair share around the house. Where did this little beast come from?

He decided he was going to eat an old crumbled up fortune cookie for breakfast. He will show me.

He thought it was stupid and I thought about taping it to his forehead and making him wear it all day. He seemed intrigued by the idea and I realized I had lost again.

From The Eyes Of An Ant

Reaper often sees common situations with the most unique perspectives. I find this incredibly revealing of the big person that resides in his little body.

He took these two photos and told me that they were from the “eyes of an ant”.

Whether he feels like an ant existing in the hectic morning space of his sister and me or he is just really empathetic to the tiny creatures of this world, his words combined with his photos make me realize just how important his little thoughts are. This is a great reminder for me to be more present with him when he speaks.

 

The Morning Space

The morning space

The most important meal

The most important meal

 

Beginning Concepts

9/2/2014 – The beginning of a journey

I am on a mission to guide my eleven year old on a journey that will aim to teach her the fundamentals of business ownership and management. She has always shown interest in making and selling things. From hand drawn pictures and rubber band bracelets to lemonade and Popsicle stands at yard sales, her mind is always churning out ideas to make money.

In the past, open-pocket grandparents (and parents) have always been her customer base. She would sell countless crayon masterpieces of bunnies to family members that would ooze with excitement and praise her talents. She really ate it up. In the end, she had a pocket full of coins that she used to buy dollar store stuffed animals.

This is all good and fine when you’re four, but now that she is a bit older, I want her to see a more realistic vision of entrepreneurship. I want to make a lasting impression.

It all started at the Denver airport over lunch at Rock Bottom Brewery while waiting for our flight out. She was just sitting there eating her mac and cheese …

Gila: “Mom, I want to learn how to make candles and soap and sell them to people.”

Me: “Okay … really … that sounds fun, should we really do it?”

Gila: “Yah, I love lavender candles and we should make a little shop where we can make stuff together.”

It only took a few minutes for this to sink in and become apparent just how great this little idea could be on so many different levels.

-          Time with my daughter

-          Learning new skills and making things that we both love

-          A strong opportunity to develop valuable life skills

SOLD! We started talking and brain storming and my head started spinning. We came up with the concept of boutique style soaps, candles and lotions made with natural high-quality ingredients.

Yes, I know … there are thousands of those types of businesses out there. With the boom of the ‘stay-at-home mom bloggers’ doing the same style of crafts, I knew our idea was far from unique.

It doesn’t matter because it’s the experience that I am after and a journey like this with your tween is worth its weight in gold. Each time we meet, I bubble over with the excitement of the possibility of watching her learn about logo design, inventory sheets, cost of goods sold and creating a quality product from hand.

We have an open canvas right now … I am excited to document the creation of our concept and the production of our products. Whether the end result is monetary success or failure, I can already see the success in personal development. I will take with me the quality time spent with a child that is growing up way too fast and if we are lucky some mad soap making skills.

Reaper Picks an Outfit

Reaper had carefully chosen an outfit for the first day of second grade. It was on his body all of 45 seconds before his sister let him know that green camouflage cargo pants paired with a red and white striped t-shirt was a horrible idea. I think the words ‘a candy cane on a Christmas tree’ were involved.

2nd outfit:  Reaper went back to the drawing board. Keeping with the camo cargo theme, he replaced the candy cane with a plain white t-shirt. I told him he looked like Vin Diesel in The Pacifier. That sealed the deal for him until his sister pointed out a grease stain the size of a quarter in the lower left quadrant. With a pirate’s groan, he sauntered back upstairs for round three.

3rd outfit: In keeping with tradition, the green camos stayed and a plain black t-shirt replaced the stained ‘what were you thinking’ white one.

Reaper (showing off his newest ensemble):
“Mom, check this out. Do you think it looks too goth?”

Me:
“It looks really goth.”

Tyler (sighing):
“I thought so.”

— I was actually joking… oops —

Gila:
“Does he even know what that means?”

4th outfit: Green camo cargos (was there any doubt?), and an off-white t-shirt with skateboarding graphics.

Reaper (pointing to his pride and joy pants and then to the new kid on the block):
“Okay mom … see, it’s a good balance of dark and light”.

Me:
“Looks great! I just want you to be happy.”

Gila (looking like she is ready to give her opinion):

Me (cutting her off):
“Don’t even.”

Gila:
“What?!”

Reaper:
“I am so happy.”

and one time … I was a ninja

Most every week I mow my lawn. I mow the back yard first and then finish with the front yard.  When I have a little extra time I go the extra mile and weed whip. Sometimes when time is tight or I’m feeling lazy, I skip a week. When it’s really hot, I tell myself that I shouldn’t mow because I want the grass to grow taller in order to maximize water retention. Right or wrong, it’s just how I justify a break from mowing. I am fairly consistent and my yard looks pretty good, minus the few brown patches caused by poor sprinkler coverage and nuclear dog pee.

With spot-on consistency, my older-gentleman neighbor man from across the street will walk his snowball puff dog right past my house while I mow. His timing is uncanny. Each week he graces me with a snide comment about my lack of skills as a mower and caretaker of grass. Sometimes he just shakes his head as he walks past, silenced by something so horrible that words must escape him.

He likes to complain about my noisy lawn mower and the poor judgment I show by mowing at 8 o’clock at night.  He hates when I leave rouge blades of grass on the concrete of the sidewalk. It didn’t really occur to me to clean the sidewalk of organic material that would shrivel up and disappear in a matter of days but I tried to be better and took a blower to sidewalk after mowing. It really made a difference in how the sidewalk looked but he just seemed substantially more irritated. Come to find out, my blower is louder than my mower (that sentence kicks ass) and the next week he handed me product fact sheets about the benefits of using electric powered yard machines.

He was always able to time it so that he walked past just as I was mowing the outer perimeter of the lawn closest to the sidewalk. Always looking at me with a contorted frown expressing his obvious inconvenience, he detours his walk into the street in order to avoid the area of disorder.

His antics began to weigh on me and I started to internalize our interactions by trying to come up with quick-witted comebacks that I could use for retaliation but none of them sounded very intelligent. I tried to put this guy out of my mind by talking to friend, drinking, even meditating. I even thought about hiring a service to come by and take care of the lawn, but deep down that felt like defeat.

The final straw came the day he walked by without his dog. In my entire experience with this guy, this had never happened. My mower was stopped and I was bagging grass into giant black lawn and leaf sacks … a cumbersome task for one person, but I had it down to a science. Stopping no more than two feet away and staring me down from the sidewalk with the same contorted expression, he says,

“You know, if you had a husband around he would know to apply a grass and fertilizer mix to those dead areas. Mowing over them doesn’t magically make grass grow back.”

A single drop of sweat slid down the side of my face and in one deliberate and unexpected move I took him by the neck while using the bottom of my foot to bend the back of his knee causing him to easily go down and allow me to pin his body firmly on my half-mowed yard. Gratification flooded through me as I straddled over him with my hand still firmly gasped around his neck … feeling his struggled breath.

My next door neighbor, a guy with great tattoos and muscles, flew out of his front door and raced over … obviously he had been watching the drama unfold. As I saw him approach, my grip grew tighter around the old man’s neck. I bent my face in close to his so that I could be sure he would hear every word that came from my lips.

“Make no mistake, the only reason you are still alive right now is because there is a witness.”

I looked up at muscle man and he just nodded at me, making some comment about how all the years spent in the boxing ring wreaked havoc on his memory.

A panicked sound escaped from my prey’s constricted throat and I released him keeping my focus on his horrified eyes.

He scrambled to his feet and without a word or hesitation he uneasily walked away.

I looked at my neighbor … he gave me a single nod and walked back toward his house.

Then I woke up.

a Morning, a Story, a SHIFT

It was a demolition-style morning of maneuvering through episodes filled with children fighting, me lecturing, me lecturing and me lecturing. It was the morning of lost back packs, unfinished homework, tears, yelling, running late, bad outfits, tangled hair, an empty gas tank light that had been glowing for two days and a near collision into the back of a truck pulling into a gas station as I frantically searched through my purse for a wallet that was left at home.

Sitting here at my desk, I am trying to muster up the courage to write … to write anything.  I have failed this morning. I am not getting through to my kids. They don’t listen to me but maybe I don’t listen to them quite enough either.  I lecture too much. Is it possible that I put too much responsibility on them? I ask them to keep their rooms clean, pick up after themselves, feed the pets, keep track of their stuff and I am tough on them when they don’t. No one is perfect, but I do expect them to try. I wonder if I need to be more definite, create a more defined schedule … I need to stay calmer. I lose my shit when my youngest argues with me and throws fits … especially during the stringency of morning schedules. I feel frumpy and carelessly pieced together.

An email from Facebook containing a link to a post from my cousin happens to be my only unread message. Something big in her life is changing. I fight to urge to click the link but once again I fail because curiosity is getting the better of me. She is professing sadness over leaving her current place of employment for a new job. I keep scrolling through the posts to find news of deaths, pictures of abused and neglected animals, friends going through complicated surgeries, a husband and wife having a very public online argument, lost luggage, a Swifter commercial and a single post that simply said ‘I’m sad and tired’.  No … this was not my post, although it could have been.

I leave Facebook and scroll through a news site that I check from time to time when I need current event information. It’s worse than Facebook.  I am trying to hold back the weight of tears that are brimming behind my lower lids. My emotions are starting to spark and I imagine what it would feel like to tell jabber-jaw next to me to stop talking about meaningless crap. Maybe I should just tell her that I simply don’t care about her 30 percent off coupons.  I really don’t care.

A headline catches the attention of my blank stare that permeates the  computer screen sitting in front of me.

“World’s toughest job turns off applicants”

I don’t get it, so I click the corresponding link and it takes me to a video that I watch.

Now I get it. I hear the faint clicking sounds of every piece of me—that had fallen to the floor—rise up and snap back into place. The Director of Operations starts again.

 

(the video)

 

 

Spinach Needs Weapons

me (talking to Spinach while he sits in the bath tub): This weekend we need to buy you some new shorts … like athletic ones that actually fit you and that will maybe last more than a month.

Spinach: — silence … stillness … staring intently at the water faucet —

me: What do you think?

Spinach: — still silent … very still … still staring at nothing —

me: So we will do that this weekend, okay?

Spinach: (finally looking at me)  We also need to get me some more weapons.

me: — silence —

Spinach: And maybe some headphones.

… what's the frequency?