“I’m sorry I can’t help, but this is my year of saying ‘no’.”
This is not the answer I’m looking for when recruiting volunteers to help on a PTA project. Yet, I’ve heard it more than once, and it commands respect — especially when coming from someone who I thought was a shoo-in to help. I’d counted on a “yes” because they’d always said “yes” before. To everything.
“Sorry...not sorry” is what they’re saying.
Two women have looked me squarely in the eye and given me this prepared answer, sending me on my way to find someone else to help.
I listened in awe. I memorized the line, and stuffed it in my back pocket for future use.
I’m going to use that line, someday. I’m going to wear a “NO” badge proudly. I’m going to say those words and issue myself a ubiquitous “pass”. An unapologetic boundary.
Had it been another mom — one who already spent a lot of time on the sidelines — I might have been annoyed. Anyone can say no to a request, but not just anyone can claim the right to say NO across the board. Ubiquitous refusal rights must be earned.
I look back over my last few years of volunteering, organizing, and doing, and I see, I’ve made myself a strong case, I can now apply for the “NO” badge.
“NO, I can’t lead, or even be on, the committee.”
“NO, I can’t organize or coordinate or oversee that.”
“NO, I won’t be at the meeting. I have plans. I’m going to watch tv and have a beer.”
“NO, I won’t work the carnival infirmary booth where we splatter fake blood on kids and wrap them with torn sheets to give them grave injuries, while working on their stories of bear attacks and shark attacks and pogo stick crashes.” (Ok, maybe I’ll say yes to that one - it’s a hoot!)
I feel selfish - and a little empowered - just thinking about all those refusals.
Yet, saying “no” to one thing is saying “yes” to something else. To time. To energy. To rest.
I learned just the other day how valuable having a “do-er” lounging on the sidelines can be.
It was the week before our school’s auction. I was the co-chair, and had been running non-stop, tending to last-minute preparations, for literally weeks. On cue, my daughter got sick. Her usually under-control stomach condition went ballistic, and she’d been ill for days and days.
I attended the monthly PTA meeting, where I ran into one of the “NO” moms.
“How’s it going?” she asked me. I was frazzled, and I’m sure it showed.
“Oh, lots of last-minute stuff, and my daughter’s sick again,” I said. “We’ll probably be in urgent care by the end of the day.”
She walked away, and I rushed home to do more, more, more, clearing my afternoon to head to the doctor.
Not long after that, I received a text from the “NO” mom.
“I’m making a casserole, and I’d like to bring one to your family tonight.”
This text could not have come at a better moment.
I arrived in my driveway after our urgent care visit just as the “NO” mom was dropping off a huge Mexican dish with sides. It was hot, delicious, and fed my hungry family not one, but two meals.
Next year’s my year. I’m stepping back. I’m slowing down. And I can’t wait to see what I can accomplish with all that “NO” time I’ve regained.
Reach Overland Park mom Emily Parnell at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter:@emilyJparnell.