I learned a new word this week:

No (noun): An act or instance of refusal.

More importantly, I can now put it in a sentence, such as: “No, we can’t attend.” Or, “No, we’re not signing up.” Or even, “No, I won’t be able to help.”

Brutal, isn’t it? It is if you’re like me, a bleeding-heart joiner of joiners. But I need to do it, just as surely as I need to exercise in the mornings and sleep enough each night and always have a pint of ice cream in the freezer. While I’d like to think I’m pretty good at keeping my life, and the lives of my children, simple by the organic, we eat whole foods, stay in touch with nature, and keep possessions minimal definition, I utterly fail at simplifying our schedule and protecting our time.

Something snapped this fall. Somehow, despite many happy years of participating in just the right amount of busy-busy-busy, I failed to navigate the fine line between actively-involved-in-a-healthy-way and chicken-with-its-head-cut-off-always-in-a-rush-snapping-at-the-kids.

On a daily basis.

It wasn’t just the day job, which is still pretty new. It wasn’t just the increased travel schedule for Nate’s soccer team.  It wasn’t just Toby’s season, or Calvin’s season, or the annual fundraising auction, or the travel-writing commitments. It wasn’t just this blog. Or just family responsibilities. Or any one of the volunteer positions I’ve been suckered into. In short, it wasn’t just anything. It was all. All of the above and more piled on top of one another with daily laundry and cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping and tweeting and field trips and permission slips and hospital bills and reviews and articles and workshops all combined to bubble over on the stove like a way, way too busy soup of overcommitment stress.

I got less sleep (because who has time for that), which resulted in less patience in an already fast-paced daily life. Both of these factors resulted in less attention–already spread too thin–for three kids, one husband, two jobs, two novels, one dog, and one disgruntled cat (but of course, he’s always disgruntled, and doesn’t give a flying flip how many commitments we have). And finally, by November, it resulted in something else. A brick wall. A breaking point. A moment in which I was finally able to admit it’s too much.

And so we’re scaling back. (Of course, much like starting a diet in January, when all the good eating is behind you, I’m starting this after the can’t-say-no-to-you-soccer-season.) As of this week, we’re home in the evenings, and we have enough free afternoons to foster good bouts of ‘Mom, I’m boooored’. We’re together as the sun goes down (at 5 freaking pm). We eat dinner together in a relaxed manner…all at the table, no one scarfing down their food while a car pool parent honks in the driveway.

As of now, the kids only have one weekday evening commitment, but others are already knocking at the door. Turns out, you can start ski season early with extra gym training. It’s two nights a week from 6:30pm-7:30pm, and God help me, I’m itching to sign them up. Because it’s exercise! That’s good, right? Our church is hosting a great series on Wednesdays from 7pm-8pm, and I so want to attend. It will nurture our spirituality during what would otherwise be Survivor hour! But wait, that’s when Calvin has karate, our supposed sole commitment. And oh no! Both conflict with ski training! But I could just drop Calvin off at–


See? I can do it.

Just barely, but still.

In closing, I want to let you all know that Christine at Coffee and Commutes recently launched a new series on her blog called Simply Living, inspired by the writings at Minimalist Moms. If, and only if, you don’t already have too much on your plate, I do encourage you to give it a read and follow along.

This post has been added to Finer Things Friday and the Writer’s Workshop at Mama’s Losin’ It.

15 thoughts on “Simple.

  1. I’m with you! I hit my wall a few years ago, after quitting my part-time job (that felt like a full time job) to be a stay at home mom. I dove into volunteer activities and kid activities that I’d never had the time for before, and soon was working harder than I had previously been. More hours, but zero pay. Actually spent a surprising amount of money on printer ink, paper, snacks that other parents had forgot to send, etc… When I started biting the heads off of my kids because of the stress I knew I had to slow down. Now I don’t even attend PTA meetings, b/c I know I’ll get pressured into something. Same thing with scouts. Gave that up. No more ski club for us, thank you. You get the picture. But it’s such a liberating life and I have more time to fun things that I enjoy with my kids! Good luck!

  2. My kid isn’t old enough to be over scheduled yet, but last summer I hosted my eight year old cousin for two weeks and when I asked her what she wanted to do while here some kind of camp maybe, she said she was so tired and just wanted to do nothing…it’s kind of en epidemic this over-commitment thing isn’t it?

    • I used to feel sorry for some of the kids I helped lead groups for. They’d spend after school with me, then their parents would pick them up and head out to another evening activity. They’d be SO tired. Many of them didn’t even WANT to be in the activities I was leading. I think it was free childcare for their parents. But kids just need to be kids sometimes. Boredom is just a lack of creativity, or something like that… Totally not a bad thing to be bored. In fact, I long for boredom at times 😉

    • It is an epidemic! And I’ve noticed that some kids just don’t even know how to entertain themselves anymore. Mine are usually good that way, but I see it in them when they’ve become overscheduled. They start walking around the house aimlessly when something isn’t planned. Now that I think about it, I do that too…

  3. Yahoo!! Proud of ya!
    Hint – another way of very quickly learning the word ‘No’ is to move countries – that way you stop all commitments all at once and get a fresh start at things that you can say ‘Yes’ to. Or – my other handy hint – have another baby!! That gets you out of heaps – should you choose to! 😉

    • Yes, heading to a new country would give us a clean slate…hmmm…but having a baby only invites more work, trouble, and sleepless nights! I’ll just admire yours, thank you! 🙂 By the way, I did go to the church activity (Wed night Advent), which is a fail for my plan, but was really good! We’ll go again, and just cut something else out!

  4. I don’t know how you’ve done this for so long. I would have just crumbled under the pressure. Yes, take it easy, stop chicken-head-cut-off running, it can’t be good for your heart!

    • We get bored easily, and like to distract ourselves with shiny things. But even I have lost some energy! We’re enjoying this new style of life…who knew you could opt out of things?! 😉

  5. Well of course you know I understand. All of it…and our kids are both under 5. I feel as thought we’ve barely gotten rolling with this parenting gig. I too have a great fear of saying no, of missing something, but that brick wall is hard. So hard. So I’m proud of you for taking this leap. I suspect, like for us, it will take constant reminders to actually do it. But in time, it will just because old hand. Good luck Amy! We all deserve a little less in our life.

    And thank you for the shout out!

  6. I have become strongly protective of my kids’ time. Football’s ridiculous time commitment crept up on me, but otherwise, we are a one-commitment-at-a-time family. For the kids. I am currently president of a local leadership organization, managing the city’s holiday parade, working four different freelance contracts, participating in two collaborative blogs, and building up a hyper-local blog/business. Why am I so protective of their time, but not my own?

  7. I think NO is a very very good word to learn. I see so many kids frazzled and tired and families that just rush around missing all this time together because they don’t use this word enough. Good for you for seeing it and trying to make changes. Good luck.

    Visiting from Mama Kats.

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