Wednesday, July 11

writing {just say no}

I didn't know it at the time, but this nugget from a kindly GP changed my life: "They'll be contagious for 48 hours after the last poo or spew."

Until then, I'd done what I thought was right - mopped it all up as best I could, washed my hands like a boss, offered flat lemonade and sympathy, and then kicked them out of the house when they started skipping around like spring lambs again. 

Except, no.

I can't remember which particular gastro episode it was, but it must have been a bad one because we wound up at the doctor's surgery. And the advice given to me was that the virus was still alive and kicking for a whole two days after the last *ahem* episode. Oh. Really? Ummm... okay then...

So off I went and cancelled whatever it was that I had booked for the next two days. And then, because  we had another 'episode' (or five) I cancelled whatever was booked for the couple of days after that, too. Amazingly - and this will shock you, because it certainly shocked me - the world kept turning.

I KNOW! What is WITH that?!

I'm one of those people who is really good at getting stuff done, and hopelessly addicted to volunteering to get extra stuff done for other people. Until the gastro.

See, at roughly the same time that I learned of the 48-hour-get-out-of-stuff-free card, it also became apparent that my everyday life was unravelling. I was getting cross at my kids, snappy at my husband, disappointed in myself, and judgmental about my friends. I had too much on my plate. I got greedy at the Buffet of Life and the waiter was yawning and tapping his foot. Awkward, to say the least.

I figured I could do one of two things: I could either trick the kids into licking public toilets in the hope they'd develop a perpetual case of gastro {possible jail term?} or I could Just Say No to doing stuff. I'm proud to say that I chose the latter.

So how did I do it? Here are some handy tricks I use to keep my volunteering tendencies under wraps...

The Kids

I once heard Martha Beck say that she didn't do anything for her kids that they could already do for themselves. That was enough for me! The first step to lightening my load was to require my kids to pull their own weight. Consequently, my kids do chores. Plenty of them. Saying 'no' to your kids teaches them self-control and self-sufficiency. Would I lie to you?!

The Diary

This one is ingenious. It was all my own invention and I have to say, it's pretty darn good. Basically, you pop a calendar on the fridge and you refuse - REFUSE - to enter diary appointments into your phone. If you're out and someone tries to book you for something you can say with a straight face "I don't know if I'm free, I'll let you know when I get home." 

So what you do next is make a note of what they're asking - or better yet, ask them to text it to you - and when you get home you have a meeting with the fridge. In the cool confines of your kitchen you choose how to proceed. And then you calmly text your friend with "I'm sorry, looks like I can't do it this time. Hope you find someone else who can! {smileyface}"

The Vague Request

You know this one. You've probably done it yourself... "Hi Karen! Just wondering if you're free on Monday afternoon?" And there it is. An enormous pregnant pause in which you KNOW they want a favour but it could also be an invitation to coffee and you sort of are busy but you could also shuffle things around so you panic and say "Um, yeh, I think I'm free!" and WHAM you're now commandeering a playdate for seven and at least two of them have a funny rash and are still in nappies. How did that happen?!

Okay. Breathe. I will now give you the answer you seek. Courtesy of Oprah...

Next time someone asks "Are you free on Monday afternoon?" or "What are you doing on Saturday morning?" or "Do you have plans for the holidays?" You simply say "Hmmm... I have a few things on the boil. WHY?"

This answer vaguely hints that you have Important and Busy things to do {even if it's sitting on the back deck, eating Old Jamaica and painting your toenails} but cleverly requires the asker to 'fess up to what their actual motives are {to shanghai you into thousands of hours of unpaid child care, possibly involving medical intervention and an engineering degree}.

If, by some cosmic quirk, the Vague Request is for an actual coffee date with actual adults, you simply say "Oh that sounds great, I'll be able to fit in!"  And if it's for something a little less palatable you can say "Oh that's a shame, I already have something booked in then." Do not explain. Do not apologise. You have something booked in. End of story. 

If it makes you feel better, you can follow up with "But if you get desperate, call me back and I'll see if I can reshuffle" and I'll promise to not call you a pushover. Maybe.

The Charity

Oh, this is a no-brainer. "I'm a big fan of the work of {insert charity}. I'd love to support you but I'm on a limited budget and I already support a couple of other charities already."  I use this one all the time - don't look at me like that, it's TRUE - and the operators are always very friendly about it. 

The Domestic Crisis

Sometimes I have people asking about how to cook this or how to organise that or where to shop for something-or-other. This is where the blogosphere comes in mighty handy! There are some incredible people out there doing things WAY better than I ever will. Some of the best spots are ...

So refer, refer, and refer! Your friend will thank you for it and so will the blogger who benefits from the traffic. Winning? You betcha.

The Worthy Cause

Recently I organised a cooking session at my church. A group of us got together in the church kitchen and made a large batch of food each. We then divvied it up into plastic containers and froze the lot of it. Between 5 of us we made 100 dinners in 2 hours. And we had fun! The meals were left there for not-busy people to take to other people who were sick or otherwise unable to provide a meal for themselves.

It's the simplest of ideas, but it was a winner because it ticked so many boxes at once. We felt good about contributing, we had fun doing it, a genuine need was met, and it didn't take up weeks and hours and years of our life.

I'm sure you can think of your own ideas? I've heard of people hosting painting BBQs - everyone brings a paint brush and helps their host to knock over a job before sitting down to dinner. Or people barter babysitting services {I mind your kids this Friday, you mind my kids the next}. 

Whatever it is, making a meaningful contribution to the community with friends is so much easier than struggling to do something alone because you feel you "should".  Just remember that having fun while getting your hands dirty in no way diminishes the sincerity of your actions.

The Philosophy

I don't know about you, but I will always prefer a solid 'No' over a flimsy 'Yeeehhh prolly...'  A solid No enables me to get on with life and make a new plan. It might be inconvenient at first, but I always appreciate the time it saves me down the track. So if we're okay with accepting it, why do we feel so bad about giving the solid No? 

My own hunch is that it's because we don't know what our solid Yes is. The solid Yes is the thing that we actually on purpose are deliberately working towards. My cyber friend Kelly Exeter wrote a fantastic post about how saying No to one thing enables you to say Yes to another. If we have a clear vision of what Yes means in our own life, then No just trips off the tongue.

'No' becomes honest and freeing; something that actually builds trust as people learn that you really do mean what you say.

So, while I'm not exactly Gastro's biggest fan, I do have to thank him {yes, him - no woman would create that heinous virus} for my new, enlightened existence. Now, if we can make his pals Head Lice and Tinea a bit more useful I'll be mightily impressed.

How do you say No?
Have you been let down by a shaky Yes?


  1. Best post EVER!!

    Although I cannot believe you gave me permission to do this "But if you get desperate, call me back and I'll see if I can reshuffle"!! Deep breath Kelly "I will not be a pushover. I will not be a pushover!!"

    Also love the "extremely obscure site that helps in finding stuff, you've probably never heard of it"

    1. Woah! Hang on there! Back up, lady!

      That permission comes with some caveats! I *do* occasionally invite people to call me back, but only do if:
      1. I can easily reshuffle my commitments AND
      2. I trust that they're the sort of person who actually will try other options first AND
      3. I know they'll be significantly inconvenienced if I don't help out.

      I use it sparingly, and I've rarely been called back. But when I do, I know that the person really truly needs the favour so I actually feel good about having helping them - appreciation is a wonderful thing!

      And glad you found that obscure site, I'm not sure if it'll take off though ;)

  2. love this post! Very useful to know!!

    1. Thanks! Hope it comes in handy one day :)

  3. Meggsie4:06 PM

    Brilliant. Will use them all

    1. Thanks Meggsie - here's to freeing up your schedule a bit haha ;-)


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