My dad is not a huge advice guy. He has never been the, come and sit on the edge of my bed while he tells me his thoughts on life, kinda dad. MINUS, the one time he decided to try that very thing….I was 20, home from college for the weekend, and had just had my hair dyed a very unfortunate shade of pink in a serious salon mishap. I was crying in my room about the disastrous trifecta that was my freckled Irish skin, plus pink hair, plus bright red crewneck sweatshirt (circa The Gap), and was wondering how my life would be able to continue, when my dad came in and took a seat on the edge of the bed… all father/ daughter chit chat style. Through my mess of snot and tears, and against the glare of my obnoxiously bright sweatshirt, I remember wondering if he was coming to comfort me in my low moment. Instead, I watched his lips move in horrifyingly slow motion, as he started asking me about whether or not I was taking birth control, and whether or not I was being “intimate,” with my then boyfriend. A safe sex lecture had indeed reared its ugly head. In that moment. When my hair was pink. Thanks to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I have no idea what happened next. The fact that I lived through that afternoon, and am able to talk about it, basically puts me on par with the survivors of the Titanic, or the people that crawl out of tsunami rubble. Anyway, aside from that day, my dad is not a huge advice dispenser. Every now and then though, when he feels really strongly about something (i.e my birth control practices), he’ll throw a life lesson out there. When he does, I take it pretty seriously because I know if he’s going so far as to bother me with it, then he’s given it a lot of thought. My favorite and most valued lesson from him is simple and amazing, and I have appreciated it more lately than ever before. Always Say Maybe. It’s actually pretty brilliant. Unless you’re a 911 operator or something….then don’t do it. For the rest of us, always say maybe, and avoid firm commitment whenever possible. Now, the flip side of this can be annoying…like when I ask him over for his birthday, or Christmas, and he says maybe instead of yes even though I know he’s going to come….but, due to the immense value of this lesson, I forgive him.
There are too many obligations in life. Too many things to do, too many demands on our time…sometimes it’s hard to remember not to over commit. It’s ok to take a pass when you need it. There is always internal pressure to say yes. You don’t want to disappoint your friends, your neighbors, your family. You’re a nice person damnit! And if you’re a mom, and whatever you are asked to do would be fun for your kids, then you have the additional bonus of mom guilt, because of course you don’t want your kids to miss out on a good time. But here’s the secret, they won’t. And neither will you. They like free time just as much as we do. And if we go through life like a bunch of yes-men, we’ll never get any. I think it’s important to try and leave room in your life for simply being. For waking up, and seeing where the day takes you, or for seeing if it takes you anywhere at all. And it might not. The Italians in all of their infinitely cool, laid back, euro-style, have a phrase for it. I remember first reading of it in “Eat, Pray, Love,” and being struck by how much I loved it. ‘Il bel far niente’ means ‘the beauty of doing nothing.’ My dad would not like to know that he connects to Italians in such a cultural way, as he only claims the Irish part of his mind and of his heritage, but the two lessons are one in the same. My dad has mastered keeping his schedule clear and as a result leaves room in his life to relax, to make things, to be creative, to look out the window, to garden, and to enjoy his time however it is that he wants to. I’m working on finding a balance with that, and I think I’m getting there, since instead of being home writing this I was actually supposed to be on a family ski weekend (sorry guys). I’m letting go of the phrase the kids use these days FOMO, and saying no when I feel myself getting stretched too thin, and craving freedom from obligation. It’s even sort of addicting once you start…it gives you the same feeling that you had when you were a kid and found out you had a snow day. All of a sudden the day seems sweeter and full of immeasurable possibility. I’m embracing the days I choose to do nothing and am finding some pretty great things come out of them. Those are usually the days my kids play the best together and wind up laughing the most, and when I end up having time to write, or read, or make a great yoga class. I don’t have to go to every single party, sign my kids up for 3 sports a season, or take my family to every kid-friendly community event with a clown and a bounce house. Sometimes everyone is happiest when you start with maybe, move into no, and just see where the day takes you. And if you get really lucky, it might just take you nowhere.