Make This the Military Spouse Year of 'No'

(U.S. Air Force/Gina Randall)
(U.S. Air Force/Gina Randall)

Last year, my word of the year was "yes." Inspired by Shonda Rhimes' book, Year of Yes, I took her mantra to heart. I said yes to everything.

I took on new responsibilities at work. I tried new foods. I volunteered more at school and in the milspouse community and even taught two weeks of diving camp at our local pool. I was named president of one board I was on and added to another as an advisor. I traveled to conferences, I took on more speaking gigs, I wrote more (I slept less), I took my kids on epic adventures, I painted and I sewed and I learned a little German. I went on date nights and friend nights, I had midnight FaceTime with my sister, I did 5:30 am workouts, I made new friends and connected with old ones and I even played in a tennis league.

It was truly a year of saying "yes."

And then I had a total nervous breakdown in November. During a tennis match. From all the yessing.

Yep. I cried.

Playing tennis.

And all I could think about was Jimmy Dugan--Tom Hanks--in A League of Their Own, yelling, "There's no crying in baseball!"

But there I was, playing my neighborhood tennis arch-rival, Pam, days before my husband left for deployment. I had left work early to play since I had to reschedule from the previous week because I had a commitment for my community magazine for which I write, and then I was sick because I was exhausted and had to reschedule again, and then I hadn't been to work for my day job, and I thought I could squeeze everything in ... but I couldn't.

I was late to tennis, which meant I wasn't going to be able to get the kids from school, so my husband had to (but he had a million things more important than a tennis match happening in his life, like defending our nation's freedom) so I knew I had to leave our match early and everything was a mess, and I didn't have any clean socks and I couldn't find my water bottle and I ran into tennis already defeated.

Consequently, instead of thinking about things like how to serve the ball, all I could think about with every swing was, "Why do I do this to myself? Why in the world" -- not the word I used in my head -- "am I playing tennis right now? I should be working. Or being a mom. Or a wife. Or doing laundry. Or making dinner. Or sending emails. Or literally anything else."

Exhausted and overwhelmed, I just started crying. Playing tennis. Tears streamed down my face, under my five-year-old's sunglasses that I found in the bottom of my car because I couldn't find mine because I was too busy doing everything else to have any sort of organizational system.

Because of all the yessing.

Poor Pam. She didn't know what to do.

I lost quickly, got into my car, sobbed like a child whose finger was slammed in a door, picked up the kids, and went home. And decided I would never play tennis again, and I needed to quit everything and move to a remote part of South Dakota where people don't have cell phones and you can wear the same clothes every day, and no one cares and no one plays tennis and everyone is happy and they all sing songs under the stars and life is quiet and easy and calm.

Nothing in moderation, right?

Friends, this year, my word is a big, old, giant two letters: NO.

I'm saying "no." Not to everything, of course (although I dream of South Dakota) but to the things that either don't add value to my life or cause more stress.

Here are three things I've committed to saying no to this year:

No: to paying a babysitter so that I can volunteer.

I can't tell you how many hundreds--maybe even thousands--of dollars I spent last year volunteering. I love giving my time, but I don't love having to take on more work in order to justify spending the money on a sitter while my husband is gone. I'm reserving my volunteering for school hours only, unless it's a mandatory obligation that I've committed to last year (which I still have about three of those, thanks 2017 me, ya jerk).

No: to overdoing it.

I like to think of my life as a plate, in some sort of compartmentalized, nutrition-type way. In theory, you have a helping of vegetables and that should probably be the biggest. And then there's some sort of whole grain, a little protein, some healthy fats. . . But for the last year I pictured my plate being a heaping pile of broken Doritos raining down with every step to the table. Every time I put something on my plate, I have to take something off. My veggies need to be my family. It's where I find the most joy. And also on my plate needs to be community and friends and giving, because I really do love those things. And finally, there needs to be room on the plate for me. Just me.

No: to putting myself last.

Last night, I had my big return to tennis after a two month sabbatical, and I remember why I loved it. Somewhere in deployment prep and kids and life and work, I've become my last priority. Making myself the number-one priority one day a week is going to fundamentally change my life. For me, that looks like a tennis game, reading a book, seeing friends and playing with my kids (and hanging with my husband if he's around). When we put ourselves last, we feel it. Emotionally, mentally, physically. Going forward, I'm claiming Mondays as my day, because I usually hate them.

This is the year to be kind to ourselves and each other. To be gentle and patient and to set and respect boundaries. This is my year to only take on only the things we can handle. There's no crying in tennis.

Sorry, Shonda: This is my year of no.

Keep Up with the Ins and Outs of Military Life 

For the latest military news and tips on military family benefits and more, subscribe to and have the information you need delivered directly to your inbox.


Story Continues

Military Spouse Videos

View more