This week I was out sick with some version of the flu. Admittedly I got a flu shot a few months ago, so I’m not positive it was the flu, but it was not pleasant and had me coughing and sneezing in my bed for most of the week. I can only imagine that it would have been ten times worse if I had not gotten the flu shot. So at this point I am at a loss with how to qualify it, do I say “I have the flu” and provoke everyone’s sympathy and judgment (for assuming I did not get a flu shot) or just go with the generic “I’m sick” description to include any and everything and maybe leave some doubt as to how sick I truly am. The short and long of it is that I am really sick and should not be around the general public coughing and sneezing involuntarily and generally spreading my germs to innocent children, parents, preschool teachers and strangers alike.
I did find, however, there is a silver lining in this yucky sinus infection I am a victim to. That lining revealed itself with a “get out of jail free” card that I have been using like a madwomen on every single engagement and activity I have been assigned to this week. It has been nice to “just say no” and have no guilt for an entire week of getting out of an overbooked schedule of school volunteering, carpooling, field trips, gym classes, and even social engagements with friends. With the exception of getting my kids out the door in the morning to their respective schools and preschools and aiding with their homework and dinners in the evening, I largely have been at my own disposal for most of the week which has been nothing short of lovely. My husband has pitched in more to let me grab an extra 15 minutes or so of sleep in the morning. He has helped with my 4 year old’s transportation to preschool by re-arranging his business meetings. I opted out of the fieldtrip to the library, lunch with a friend, my scheduled workout at the gym, my hosting of a dinner with friends, a design meeting to redo my bathroom, volunteer ski coaching this weekend and some other volunteering at the school and church. Instead I have enjoyed some much needed time alone to read the news, a novel, a few self help books that I find interesting and insightful, some time to shop online for much needed furniture for the house and a great excuse to go to bed an hour earlier. Even my babysitter the other day took pity on me to do the extra dishes in the sink and vacuum all the kids’ rooms. Overall it’s been a pretty good deal. My mother even called worried about me and telling me “to get to the doctor right away!” I didn’t get to the doctor but I drank in the extra maternal attention and felt loved like child. Just this morning I felt like a real hero trudging to the bus stop with my kids. Wrapped in extra layers of clothes, hair array and clutching tissues in my hand, I greeted my fellow moms with my red nose and rasping voice, evoking sympathy and support from my neighbors for my mere effort of leaving my bed to accompany my kids out the door.
As a result of this greater restfulness and empowerment to make my own choices of spending time to recuperate I have felt like a better person and a better mom, more grounded than ever before. Why isn’t life always like this? Apart from the annoying hacking cough and nose drops throughout the night so I could breathe, it’s nice feeling more cared for and generally getting out of an overbooked schedule. It’s also nice to do this without feeling any major guilt, my main culprit in life since being a fulltime mom to three little ones and quitting my corporate job.
My take-away from this experience is that life goes on without me. I am needed and loved for what I can do and the relationships I have, but sometimes I overvalue my importance. I mistakenly feel that if I’m not fully present and perfect for every last demand made on my time, the whole world will collapse and my kids will suffer. The truth is that my kids learn a little more self-reliance when I am not 100% well and present in their lives and a little failure on their part, like forgetting to finish all their homework or practice their piano one week, may result in a lesson well learned- that of learning the ramifications of not doing their part and getting a bad grade or feeling embarrassed for not being prepared for class or a music lesson. The stakes are not high now, they are in elementary school and they can afford a few failures that may protect them from greater failures down the road when they do not have their mom hovering over them to assure they fail at nothing at all.
I also learned that saying “no” is very empowering. As a mom I often forget that “no” is even an option. Also, since I quit my fulltime demanding corporate job and work for myself , I often feel that I am at everyone’s disposal – any class that needs a last minute volunteer, that’s me. If the 3rd grade teacher needs an extra parent for the field trip, I’m there. If my friend needs me to carpool last minute and take her daughter across town to a girl’s scout meeting in the evening that’s totally inconvenient to my Friday night, sure I can do that! (We’ll just eat dinner a little later!) If my son’s preschool teacher needs someone to pitch in last minute for snack day, I can do it! In order to prove myself the ever mighty mom and community helper, I am generally at anyone’s disposal anytime of the day or week. Being sick has forced me to say “no” and surprisingly no one is angry about it, in fact they are quite sympathetic and caring about my condition. I can really lounge in bed all day and feel good about it. I just got my first full night’s sleep in over a year the other night as I woke up feeling slightly better. Then I thought, “oh no”, I’ll need to go to that PTC at the school tomorrow night and cook for that homeowner’s potluck on Saturday. Maybe I’m still sick enough to stay home?
I now realize how silly this all is. Does it really take coming down with the flu where I am not physically able to do as much to figure out that “no” is a word we are all capable of using when we need to/want to. Although it is good and admirable to pitch in over and beyond the call of duty now and then, it should not be a habit. Just being a mom is going beyond the call of duty every single day and just because we don’t get a paycheck or a pat on the back for that all consuming, most important job in the world, does not mean we don’t get to say “no” when we feel like it and take time out to refuel before we really are physically sick and emotionally drained. “No” is a privilege and a right we should remember to employ anytime we need to as it will allow us to draw boundaries to protect ourselves and make our own voluntary decisions more wholeheartedly. It also allows our “yeses” to be more real, more enjoyed and more purposeful. Yes, we do still have the right to choose what we do and don’t want to do, just maybe not when it comes to helping our kid in the bathroom!
Pregnancy is great time to gain experience at saying “no” if that’s something you need a little more practice at doing. Pregnancy affords you all kinds of luxuries you can and should take advantage of – like a more doting partner, unfamiliar men opening doors for you and giving up their bus seats. Morning sickness is no picnic, but it does afford you the right to say “no” to your well meaning family members who want you to attend a certain family wedding across the country or participate in the weekly family potluck. It even allows you the privilege of saying “no” to your employer regarding working overtime, travel or working at all. You have your doctor’s permission if need be to enforce that “no” to guard your health and that of your developing baby’s. Believe me, those “no’s” are worthwhile and will be excellent practice for you when you are a mom and find yourself becoming a professional juggler more often than not. If you want to be a really good mom, learn your “nos” now and make it a useful word in your vocabulary. Your friends and loved ones may be a little shocked at first if they are not used to hearing you say it, but it gets easier over time for them and you. My 4 year old knows about this magic word already and I guess he sees it works for him from time to time as he keeps using it unabashedly, maybe I should take some lessons from him!