I recently read that the key to happiness is breathing. Ha!
I think the RADICAL minimalists might have taken things just a bit too far with that statement! ‘Cause if it was that easy I’d be living on Happy Street! But I’m not! Oh, I’m breathing, but it’s the see-sawing between laughing and hyperventilating kind of breathing as my stress-levels rise and fall and my good humor ebbs and flows with the chaos of my life. Change can be good but it’s not always healthy!
Years ago, I read a book called Women Who Do Too Much. Anyone remember that one? I don’t recall the exact qualifying conditions or the recommendations… only that I was then and am still now one of those women. Back then it was probably because I wanted people to like me. Boy have things changed! NOW… I don’t give a rat’s…. ah, tail… whether someone likes me or not. NOW there’s only one word that describes why I do too much…. KIDS! The Boys need…. The Old Soul needs… The Hubby… well, unfortunately, he has needs too but he’s on his own ’cause the kids need so darn much from me. Add special needs to those needs and us gals have got stuff on our plates that we really just sorta CAN’T say no to. And when the good ‘ol catholic guilt kicks in regarding how much — or how little — I do for my kid without special needs, I end up saying yes to a bunch more things I have no time to handle. And who’s addressing my needs? Seriously!
My now school-age kids come with a whole new set of professionals pressuring me to do more. The CPSE/CSE folks, teachers and therapists all want support through parental involvementt at home and in meetings that usually require preparation and cause added stress. Then there’s the PTA, SEPTA and don’t even get me started with the Girl Scouts who demand their chunk of us Women Who Do Too Much but offer a triangular badge instead of a little support. And if my poor husband wants a piece of me, he has to negotiate for it against school, sleep and the paying jobs — yes plural — I now hold to help our family financially instead of leading that leisurely life you see left-coast Hollywood Wives enjoying. The one that usually includes morning workouts with her private trainer, liquid lunch with the ladies and afternoon mani-pedis before calling to remind the Nanny to pick up her kids after-school! Yeah, that’s not my life. I unintentionally limit contact with friends to grabbing a salad at Fridays once a year and, thankfully-rare, late-night girlfriend-to-girlfriend phone calls to ward-off those inevitable near-collapses when life hands you the last straw and the camel drops to his knees. Besides those luxuries… Ive barely seen my friends in ages or done something good just for me.
A man goes to work, comes home, maybe watches a little news before dinner, a little baseball after dinner and goes to bed when he gets tired. On weekends, he mows the lawn and watches some football. If it’s on the calendar and his lovely wife-who-does-too-much has the time and energy leftover from all her other commitments, she might even let him take her out to dinner. That’s living a simple, minimalist life, isn’t it? And that’s why the name of that book isn’t Men Who Do Too Much! YES, I recognize that this is an over-simplified view that does not accurately represent the Sarge’s role in our family — though I’m sure he’d LOVE it if it did! This is absolutely NOT a DIG on my hubby or men in general but rather a DIG ON ME and Women Who Do Too Much! It’s an outright honest admission from this particular Woman Who Does Too Much that maybe the men have a slightly better handle on all of this… Let’s call it what it is… cr*p.
Maybe, my latest arrhythmia-causing last straw is a wake up call! The camel needs some life support and if she doesn’t get it, things are gonna get ugly!
The key to Happiness is one word…. But it’s not “breathe”… (THAT’S the key to staying alive, not to happiness.) For us Women Who Do Too Much the one word is “NO!”
As in… I could have said NO to the Social Worker at Mercy Medical Center, where The Boys were born, when she asked if could she give out my number to new parents of children with Down syndrome. But that would not reinforce the love and acceptance I have for my beautiful children with Down syndrome nor help others who find themselves walking in my shoes. So I said YES. Not a big committment and one that fits itself neatly into the nooks and crannies of my life without interrupting. I could have said NO to the CPSE/CSE committee chairpeople when they asked if I would volunteer as a parent-member. But where would I have learned so much about how my district doles out services to children with special needs like my children? And how would I become a known entity so they deal most effectively with me and My Boys. So I said YES. I have the option of saying NO to the meetings that don’t fit my schedule (an option I need to learn how to exercise). I could have said NO to the Girl Scouts when my Old Soul’s former leaders up-and-quit. But then I’d be taking my lovely Old Soul on Mother-Daughter-brother-brother adventures instead of having fun with 9 screaming-but-very-happy little girls. Saying NO might have disappointed some of those little girls (unless some other Woman Who Does Too Much stepped up to deliver). But saying “NO” would have exacerbated the “I don’t do enough for her” guilt of having 2 OTHER children who have special needs. And the forced schedule makes me do the things she and I love to do together but might not otherwise get around to because I’m an over-scheduled Woman Who Does Too Much… So I said YES and am proudly fostering the positive self-esteem of 10 little girls — including my own daughter — so maybe they won’t grow up to be Women Who Do Too Much. And, more recently, I could have said NO to the two jobs that afford me not only a much-needed paycheck to help relieve some of my family’s financial stress in these tough economic times but also gifts me the extrinsic sense of accomplishment and professional recognition that being a stay-at-home-Mom never does…. Hey, I’m sorry for feeling that way… but it’s how I and a lot of women feel… sadly! Except for a Mother’s Day card once a year, the compliments that sustain us as viable and contributing members of this society are few and far between.
While those are all things I could have said NO to but chose to say YES, in re-examination, I think I have pretty good reasons for sticking to them. So I’m not really rethinking those decisions for now because they’re written in ink on my calendar already. But I am beginning to consider all the extra little unnecessary requests I’ve been asked to commit to! NO to the Class Photographer role. Just another scheduling conflict that presents prep and post-work I don’t want to nor have time to do! If I can get to an event with my camera, cool! If not, oh well! NO to the incessant donations and clothing pick ups for the War Veterans Fund, Lupus Foundation, National Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and any other callers. All great causes but I can pack up and donate on my own time versus theirs. NO to the PTA meetings and SEPTA meetings. NO to the Class Mother role or even the unofficial offer to “help out”! NO to the play date with the kid my child doesn’t really like. NO to the Salesman wanting to meet about Special Needs Trust Funds. (We have NO extra money right now anyway.) NO to the CPSE/CSE meeting that just doesn’t fit on the schedule that particular day. Saying NO doesn’t mean saying NO to every meeting request, but NO to the ones that don’t fit on my already too crowded calendar! NO to Facebook. NO to Twitter. NO to the cell phone. NO to texting. NO to the computer. NO to Netflix. NO to the telephone. NO NO NO NO NO!
My new Happiness Mantra is “Just say NO!” This fosters my happiness! Relieves much of my stress! STOPS the arrhythmia’s and strained phone calls to girlfriends. Stops the yelling. Eases the crazy schedule. And slows the constant race against time. It gives me a little wiggle room to relax and BREATHE! Ahhh, yes, the key to a long and healthy life! It affords me the time to watch a football game if I want to (LOL, I don’t). Tend to my overgrown garden if I want to (I do). Or maybe even to watch Lipstick Jungle. (I’ve never seen it but I think I might like it based on an ad I saw once.)
The first step is to contemplate the activities I’ve already committed to that I could drop without hurting my kids, myself or my family and to age-out my old YES requests off the calendar. Meanwhile, I have to plan for how I’m going to say NO to new requests that don’t fit within my YES criteria. That is, I have to find a voice, MY voice, that’s committed to saying NO to anything that doesn’t enhance my happiness and/or improve my health (with cautious attention to requests that enhance my children’s happiness and/or improve my children’s health without jeopardizing mine). NO to anything that can’t be finished inside of a random (read: one of my choosing) half hour time slot not currently filled by any other commitments already on my calendar. And, NO to anything that requires more than a half an hour of preparation or follow-up tasks. For example, attending my child’s class holiday party is OK but committing to baking the cupcakes or downloading my pics to the yearbook committee within 2 weeks of the event is a NO. These self-serving criteria should pretty much leave me with only the necessary stuff for my children’s and my health and happiness and might even allow a few impromptu dates with my elliptical machine. And, if I really embrace the NO, I might even find time for an opportunistic date with the Sarge or an ocassional lunch with friends. Now there’s a happy thought!