Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Just Say No


By the time you read this column, I will have done it...or will be in the process of still doing it:


That's it. On Sunday, June 3rd, while my children are at their father's for the weekend, I am going to do absolutely nothing except wake up, eat and drink enough such that my blood sugar doesn't drop, and read in bed...until I doze off and start all over again.

I realized recently that my kids aren't getting to see me do nothing nearly enough. I'm afraid they are beginning to think of me as this loving but frantic cook /stylist /chauffeur /librarian /housekeeper /therapist /school volunteer / referee /drill sergeant who never sits completely still. I took a four-hour nap on Mother's Day, and they were worried. They kept checking on me, because I wasn't getting up, and Mommy is always up and going and going and going. Through a blissful fog, I heard:

"Mommy, I touching you. Why you not wake up?" (Peyton)

"Peyton! Leave her alone. It's Mother's Day, so it's okay if she takes a nap." (Taylor)

Five seconds later...

"Mommy? How long are you going to be asleep?" (Taylor)

That nap, interruptions and all, gave me the clarity I needed to see that it is just as important for me to model for my daughters the importance of rest as it is for me to model the importance of critical thinking, hard work, good nutrition, cleanliness, and compassion. Do the laundry and clean the kitchen, yes. Be mindful of the needs of others, give a hand, a shoulder, an ear, a home-cooked meal where needed, and yes, recycle and eat whole and healthy and don't waste and respect your body and read good books and laugh and sing loudly and dance...and...and...

And there's also this: A good night's sleep. And time to just be.

I'm having to learn this lesson (again) because I have such a wonderfully full life. To have such problems, right? I feel like the little, sleep-deprived girl I used to be, so full of enthusiasm and wonder, that my mother used to joke that I couldn't shut myself down at night because I was afraid I was going to miss something. These days, it's not that I'm afraid to miss anything; it's that I've jammed so much into my days and nights--writing opportunities, reading, friendship, love, volunteering, social butterflying--and I don't want to say 'no' to any of it.

'Don't want to' being the operative words. Years ago, during the early stages of Taylor's life, my problem was that I wanted to say 'no' to invitations and obligations, but I couldn't.

I should accept this invitation to have lunch/dinner/a playdate because it was so nice of her to ask, and I don't want to hurt her feelings or appear ungrateful or let on that I'd rather stay home and clip my toenails.

I should accept this volunteer opportunity because they really need help and it's good to help.

I should happily play Candyland and stack blocks with Taylor all day, every day whenever she asks because that's the nature of the stay-at-home mom beast and I'm lucky to be here, right?

I should return phone calls immediately because it's the polite thing to do. I should not screen my calls no matter how annoying or long-winded or whiny the caller is because that's not nice.

Nice--that was a word in heavy, disturbing rotation in my conscience back then. "Nice" kept me from saying, "I'm sorry, I just can't make it" when my cup runneth over with higher priorities and responsibilities. Most importantly, "nice" kept me from exercising my right to say out loud--even if just to myself--"I don't want to."

It wasn't until about five years ago, that my friend Laura rescued me from the Tyranny of Nice. In her inimitable way, she said, "Deeshaleh, short of a loved one's illness or death, don't ever be anywhere you don't want to be." This was no small feat, and while I've been able to follow Laura's advice about 98% of the time, I discovered a brand-new me, just by aiming to do so. I discovered that nice and honest are not mutually exclusive.

As if Laura's challenge wasn't enough, a mutual friend of ours, Jeri, offered another gem that she coined while battling her own "nice" issues. I could relate to Jeri's lifelong struggle to be a "good girl", to please everyone and in the process disappoint no one--but yourself. I could also relate to Jeri's newly minted motto: Fuck the Good Girl Stuff! Our little group of recovering Good Girls toyed with the idea of t-shirts. But of course, as we were in recovery, they would have read: FTGGS!

So now that I no longer live under the Tyranny of Nice or the burden of being anyone's "good girl" at the expense of myself, I just need to get out of my own way. The June 3rd hiatus will be a lovely symbolic gesture, but establishing a monthly Day of Nothing will have even more teeth. And most important is the daily challenge to remember this: Every fun, intellectually stimulating, hip, helpful, kid-friendly, neighborly, socially-conscious, health-conscious activity I could possibly do...doesn't have to be done. By me. Today. All the time.

So on Sunday, June 3rd, I'm starting my own personal revolution. It might even be televised, but unless it's on before my newly instituted bedtime, I won't see it. But my kids will have front-row seats to the real-time version. I'll even borrow a slogan from Taylor, who at age 4 told me her perfect day was to sit on the couch with me and cuddle "...and nothing, nothing else."

Deesha Philyaw’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, TueNight and elsewhere. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, her collection of short stories about Black women, sex, and the Black church, is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press in fall 2020.

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Oooo, even better. I thought about seeing Jeri at the airport just the other day, her sweatshirt blazing FTGGS! You are so on target here. One question that got through to me not too long ago was "Is it more important to be liked, or respected?" At the time, I thought LIKED! I was so wrong. You aren't truly liked if you aren't respected, because you are not truly KNOWN...more tolerated. Shakespeare is so right "This above all, to thine own self be true. It follows then that thou can not be false to any man." (Okay, not a perfect quote) Bottom line: Your writing is clear and fantastic, Deesha. Thanks for this one too. -Stephanie
I am right with you. It is so hard for us Moms to think of doing nothing. The worst part for me is that I secretly (sometimes not so secretly) get pissed when other people (namely my husband) walk around as they don't see all of the things that need to be done. I wonder if my family thinks that I have some special gift that makes changing the toilet paper roll/emptying the dishwasher/putting the towels away/sweeping the floor/etc some wonderous feat that only I can accomplish. I just want to scream sometimes. How can he sit there and surf the net when so many thing are going undone in the house? But, alas I have taken some time to do absolutely nothing this evening and I found this wonderful site. Thanks for sharing your thoughts--you have inspired me to rekindle my love of writing. My what a little nothing can do!
Thanks, Steph! My comments were so lonely... :-) Did Jeri really get the sweatshirt???? We are so overdue for a 'Vous. Genie will be here the last week of this month, fyi!!!
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