"When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You'd be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside - walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It's the saddest thing I know. "Last week on Dear Soul Sisters, the advice column I write with my sister, someone wrote in to ask us about the Law of Attraction. We said, among many other things you will no doubt want to click over and read, " If we ask for more peace in our life, what may arrive initially is more turbulence and upset, in order that we may learn peace."
--Laurie Halse Anderson from her novel "Speak"
Last Friday on this very blog I wrote about letting other people off the hook for our happiness. In true Universe fashion, a few days later I was given a test of my willingness to walk my talk.
On Monday my younger son had a playdate scheduled. He had asked that the playdate be at our house, which I had happily arranged. The day of the playdate, my older son woke up lethargic and feverish with a sore throat. Crap.
I called to rearrange things for the playdate and the mom in question was more than willing to have the playdate at her house. She even agreed to pick him up so I wouldn't have to leave my sick child or drag him along.
About five minutes before she was due to arrive my younger son announced that he did not want to go on the playdate after all. He had really been looking forward to playing at our house and he just didn't feel like playing at their house. Double crap.
I was totally thrown off by this announcement. It immediately sent waves of fear and anger emanating through me. Now I would have to cancel the playdate. Now I would have to explain to this parent that my son did not want to play at her house. Now I would have to disappoint. (This may seem an overreaction to some, but if you were raised in the mid-west - where disappointing others is a crime punishable by death - I have no doubt you'll understand.)
I started down the road of questions: Why did X have to be sick today? Do I make Y go on the playdate anyway? Do I call the mom quickly and lie, telling her that he is feeling sick as well?
Or, do I do what I would want someone else to do, what I would encourage someone else to do, what I believe with all of my heart is the right thing to do? Do I speak up for my son, tell the truth and let that be okay - as I believe that it is and should be?
In other words, do I (can I?) trust them to be responsible for their own happiness?
I couldn't think straight and I didn't know what I was going to be able to do in the moment so I ran into the bedroom to scream into my pillow. The doorbell rang.
I walked out into the living room, still not knowing what I was going to do. Luckily, I didn't have to do anything.
I answered the door, the mom and her son came inside and she asked my son if he was ready to go. He shook his head, No. She looked at me confused.
I got down on my hands and knees and asked my son what was going on. In a small but clear voice he said, "I don't want to go."
She looked at me again. I asked him, "You just don't want to go today?"
"No," he repeated.
"Okay," I said.
I stood up. I apologized and said goodbye, wishing them a good day. The mom was still confused and said, "Maybe he's coming down with something."
"Yes, maybe he is," I said. Still hoping with some part of me for an "acceptable" excuse.
After they left I went over and gave my son the biggest hug I could muster and told him how proud I was of him that he spoke his truth and stood up for himself. It was something I could never have done at seven and would not even have been able to do at thirty seven. Maybe following his example I will have mastered it by the time I am forty seven. I hope so.
I don't want to diminish the value of honoring your commitments and following through, but as we said on Dear Soul Sisters this week, "Sometimes [saying no] is necessary despite causing upset to others." When saying yes would dishonor yourself, you really have no choice but to say No. And to trust that the other person can handle it. That they can be responsible for their own happiness.