We need volunteers for this committee: can you help?
Could you be the room mom?
Would you consider a board position?
Are you interested in being a group leader?
Yes, yes, yes! A thousand times Yes!
I’ll do it all! I love to help! I love to be involved! I love to be useful! (And I’m a first child, so I’m naturally qualified to be in charge of stuff).
Oh wait. Shoot. I’m sorry – No.
No. I can’t. … I want to, but I can’t.
Why? Well, you see, even though I want to, I can’t right now.
I can’t because there are days when I still don’t have time to shower.
I can’t because, even if it’s written on my calendar, I forget.
I can’t because I regularly lose really important things – like my patience and my wallet.
I suffer from a temporary condition called Disorganized Amnesia, caused by a coalescence of my personality and my stage in life. It’s not a disease so much as a condition with an infinite spectrum of behavior and ability. For me, this condition limits me significantly while I have little kids.
I know there are legions of parents – stay at home and working – with big and little kids – who GET THINGS DONE. They have titles and legitimate responsibilities. People to whom they didn’t give birth or marry rely on them for important things. This high functioning bunch is capable of follow-through.
They do not forget the dentist appointment at 10am that they saw on the calendar at 7am.
These people head committees, volunteer regularly, and are usually showered and dressed in actual (non-comfy) clothing on any given day. For no apparent reason.
These people Produce. Execute. Accomplish. Finish.
These are people who remember birthdays of their sibling’s kids. And call. Or even send a gift. (On time!)
I’ve convinced myself they are more organized, smarter; I often feel that they are better than me.
(I do wonder, though, could these people just be different than me? Does their Disorganized Amnesia condition just look different than mine — considering our unique personalities mixing with different stages of life and parenthood?)
Accepting my limits came the hard way. I dropped too many balls, disappointed too many children (usually my own), and felt flushing embarrassment too many times as I scrambled to do (whatever I agreed to do) at the very last minute.
All of this could have been avoided with just one little word.
No, I can’t. No, I’m sorry. No, not now. No (not ever…!)
Until all of my people can get themselves dressed, pour their own milk, wipe the parts of their own bodies that need wiping, and do not fit sweetly into my arms, I’m not going to be volunteering for excessive amounts of extra work.
Until “helping mommy” means something like “do independently” rather than what it is now: a prolonged exercise in patience and re-washing every formerly clean, now-licked utensil coming out of the dishwasher.
Until “clean your room” looks more like actual cleaning than children scooping armfuls of barely worn clothes and dumping them dramatically into the hamper.
Until “I’m hungry” isn’t whined every two hours nor equals wearing a bite of each food eaten, creating even more (though this time, legitimate) laundry.
Our first summer here, I was wearing the baby and trying to corral my big (but still little) kids to leave the neighborhood swim meet. Baby on my front, enormous swim bag swaying with each stride on my left, right hand struggling with my jumping spider-monkey four year old boy. Thanking my daughter for walking nicely, I lumbered into the parking lot, in a scalp-to-ankle sweat.
I passed one of the very involved swim moms (her youngest was 9 at the time) and I confessed, “I wish I could stay and help, but I just can’t.”
And her reply?
“Oh! We know! And you will … just not yet. We were all in your shoes a few years ago! Don’t even worry.”
Without trying, she changed my life. I didn’t feel judged. I didn’t feel like I was letting-down. I felt relief. I felt grateful. She gave me the permission I didn’t even realize I was looking for, to take my time and join in when I can, which WILL be later.
So, THANK YOU Moms of Older Kids who understand that, right now, some of us cannot manage anything but the basics. Thank you for doing the things that need to be done. I look forward to helping you and learning from you. And—eventually—taking the reins.
If you ever find yourself feeling this way — inadequate and less than, frustrated with your Supposed to Be’s and I Should’s, please stop for a minute. Don’t place judgement on yourself or succumb to unnecessary pressure others (unjustly) put on you. Please don’t assume you need to be as busy or involved as the next mom.
Don’t feel bad about saying no or even about dropping a few balls when you try on a yes. Be patient with yourself, because finding a balance takes time. Know that saying yes will come.
Maybe instead of one word, we need five: “Yes! In about four years.”
This post originally ran on Spilling Over. For more of Sonya’s work, check out: