I had to cancel on my friend.  The opera season is opening tonight and she was pumped to go rush for tickets to see “Othello”.  At first, it was going to work out perfectly.  My new job gets me home earlier, so being downtown by 5pm was not too difficult.  Mr. Apron’s new job often has him leaving work by 3pm, so that would work, too. 

And then Mr. Apron reminded me that his work changed his schedule so he’s now working till 4pm on Fridays, which makes it harder to come home, and then head downtown.  Or, if he were to head straight downtown, but I had to come home first to walk the dogs, and we met downtown, we’d have two cars downtown in expensive garages. 

So maybe I go anyway, and Mr. Apron could just suffer without me?

Then my father called.  Through the usual brand of my family’s craziness, he wants to spend Friday and Saturday night with us this weekend, because he’ll use our house as his home-base for his trip down to Silver Spring, MD, where he lived when he was a small child, and still has friends.  So although our floor installation with him is still slated for Sunday, we’ll still be hosting him Friday and Saturday night.  And unless he wanted to arrive close to midnight, we’d be out at the opera.  Assuming we got tickets, that is.

Last time we tried to rush for opera tickets, it was almost too easy. By some miracle, I arrived downtown by 5pm on the train, and Mr. Apron was already downtown for a meeting.  We showed up at the box office a trifle early (though the website had said it opened at 5pm, they wouldn’t open doors till 5:30), waited, and were the 3rd or so group to buy tickets for “Orphee et Eurydice”.  “Three please,” we’d said.  He handed over 3 tickets, we paid our money, and we headed out to dinner.  After a pleasant dinner, we returned to the theatre, where we finally looked at our tickets, and they glaringly said, “Showgirls.”  So that was why it was so easy.  But the website had said that was where the operas were playing.  Stupid website.  At least they took our tickets back, in spite of the no-refund, no-exchange sign by the ticket window.

This time I can just picture the insanity.  I somehow arrive downtown and have to pay $20 to garage my car.  I have a cardboard cut-out of Mr. Apron to hold his place in line, and he’ll finally arrive after we’ve already gone through the ticket window.  He’ll wait in line and get a seat, but it’ll be an obstructed view nowhere near my friend and me.  Or, worse, none of us get seats at all, and our attempts to score cheap opera tickets cost us $40 in parking, with no opera. 

Or else we go see “Showgirls”.  I’m sure there are always seats to see “Showgirls.” 

I texted my friend to cancel last night.  I felt awful doing it.  Not only did I really want to go see “Othello,” I hate cancelling on people.  I feel like I am letting them down.  I worry I will get a reputation for being a wet blanket, as one who always cancels, never shows up, can never be bothered to haul her ass downtown for fun events, and who treats any outing as a major ordeal.  I have a friend in New York City who will be celebrating her birthday Saturday night. I briefly entertained ideas of going, as I’d been able to attend another (mutual) friend’s birthday back in August in New York.  But then Dad will be coming in, and Mr. Apron will be working, and I’d have to get myself on a bus or train, and it just seems like too much bother.  I’d rather stay home and just feel bad about it.  Mr. Apron will still be working that night.  My dad will be coming back from Silver Spring at some indeterminate time.  I’ll be staying home, feeling bad about it. 

I doubt anyone at the party (I’ll basically only know the birthday girl) will be concerned about that girl from Philly who couldn’t be bothered to get on a bus to come celebrate her friend’s birthday.  But I’ll still feel bad.  I just don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I think aside from the anti-social whackos out there who are bent on causing pain and destruction, that few of us try to hurt feelings, and I hope most of us try to avoid it most of the time. 

But does there come a point where the worry about hurting feelings becomes more worrisome than the actuality? Am I overreacting to the daily disappointments in life, or to my fear of disappointing others?

Mr. Apron’s sister knows, unequivocally, that she is the most important person in the world. As such, she seldom worries (or even realizes) how her actions affect those around her, specifically her family.  It breaks my heart when Mr. Apron or his other sister tries to “make nice” and make plans with Bianca, and she cancels.  They are never karmically rewarded for their efforts, unless you count the effect it has on their parents, who must be thinking, on some level, “Thank goodness the kids all (pretend to) get along now.  We can finally finish parenting our 30+ year old children.” But, in terms of personal satisfaction, they get little.  Bianca is a chronic canceller.  She’s not really terribly organized in her personal or work life, and I’m sure there are honest cases of “Oh, I had a work meeting I forgot about,” or “Something came up,” and “Yeah, Tuesday’s not really a good day for me,” in addition to the frequent cancellations with no real excuse.  At least Mr. Apron is used to it now, but Bianca has basically become a joke in her truancy from family events.  Even if they do arrange and carry out a meeting, it’s inevitably a miserable event where Bianca talks about herself for 2 hours and offers “advice” to her siblings on how they’re ruining their lives. 

Even though I know instinctively that I am not like Bianca, and I do care how my actions, thoughts, and words affect other people, I am still afraid that others will judge me when I cancel or turn down an event or opportunity.

As such, I have a tremendously hard time saying no to people, and I often find myself overextended.  One semester when I was teaching preschool full-time, I found myself not only teaching sewing in the evenings at a friend’s arts center, but also teaching creative movement in the afternoon to school-age kids.  It’s hard to recall, but I was probably also taking online courses in preparation for grad school.  I was barely home, I was miserable, but at least I was meeting my commitments, and upholding people’s expectations of my abilities to, um, show up?  I’m not sure what their expectations truly are.  I just know it’s important to be accountable, to cancel appointments in a timely manner, to try to show up on time, or call if you’re late, and, in general, to be there when you say you are.  Having signed up for any number of commitments, I feel it’s important to do what you say you’re going to do. 

I guess I just like to say yes in the moment, even if it causes me agita later down the road.  It’s at the very least flattering to be considered.  Pleasing to the ego to be asked.  Satisfying to my sense of self-worth.  My mother asks me to decorate cakes when I come home, a skill I picked up at age 14.  Though I’m by no means a pro, it still feels good to be asked, even if I usually feel put upon and annoyed that she waited for me to take a 300 mile trip to visit with her, and I’m being handed an apron and a pastry bag instead of a hug and a kiss.  Mom calls me from the road, asking if I’m near a computer.  This is code for, “I’m lost in some Boston suburb.  Can you map me home/to my destination?”  I’m either enabling her to perpetuate her lack of planning if I rescue her, or I’m dooming her to an hour of frustration and possibly missing an appointment.  Is it my fault?  No, but I’m doing it anyway.  I’m annoyed she can’t/won’t use her GPS, or map the destination, or call one of my siblings.  Or she calls, unable to find the Jewel lullaby CD at her local Target store.  Oh, and while I’m at it, could I look up the Putumayo Picnic Playground CD since that one is hard to find, too?  Will you pick up a couple copies for me and I’ll pay you back? 

Yet it feels good to help, to be the one with the know-how, to have the time and the computer at my disposal. 

A local theatre arts program for children routinely asks me to do make-up for their spring and fall shows.  Though I’d never done make-up for anyone before (save my own make-up as Piglet in a high school production of “Winnie-the-Pooh” – pink base, outrageous eyebrows, and a little black nose), I was asked solely based on my qualification as being “creative”.  My “creativity” was first called upon to do the quick-change make-up for the principals in “The Wizard of Oz” back in 2007, and since then I have wrangled myself (through passivity, mostly) into the intractable commitment of doing make-up for each and every show.  My responsibilities have grown from doing the few principals, to helping load sets, organizing make-up, coordinating the parents volunteers thrust upon me, and overseeing the make-up for every person in the show, which can often number 80 or more, including preschoolers.  As they say in “Oklahoma”, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no.”  In spite of the fact that for every show that comes along I grumble and complain, I loathe doing the inevitable crowd control of impulsive children, and I swear that next time will be different.

This time truly will.  Mr. Apron has withdrawn 95% of his involvement with the performing arts center, and I’ve sworn that the last show was my last show. 

Saying no is not easy.  It’s bound to disappoint some people.  But saying yes seems to breed resentment or at least annoyance.  How is that a fair price to pay for the intention of not hurting someone’s feelings if I end up grumbling and sniveling and being angry at them? 

I used to put up more of a fight, at least where my mother is concerned.  When I was an angsty teen, and even into my college years, I let my resentment show.  I was rewarded with the guilt-trip of the ungrateful child: for the many things she’d done for me, can’t I do this one for her?  Yes, this one and the millions like it.  “Are you bored?” she’d ask, hankering for an opening.  “I have a project for you.”  My sister and I learned very quickly to look busy and always deny boredom, (a skill that also serves us well in the word world).  I have forbidden the use of the word “project”. So now she comes at it with a smirk and a twinkle in her eye, “Do you need a P-word?”  It’s easier to be complacent in the short run.  I sewed her some sample tea-wallets for X-mas gifts for her friends.  I order a gift for my father on-line when she couldn’t find it in the stores.  I looked up the CDs for her, told her they were very much still in print.  And yes, it would be very easy for me to pick up a couple on eBay or Amazon, but I didn’t.  I could have but I just didn’t want to.  She can do this crap.  If it’s important to her, she can Google it and she can find it, and she can order it.  I called her back and told her that they CDs were still in print and she could go to Wal-Mart if their labor practices didn’t bother her as they do me, or she could, all by herself, go to amazon.com, and pick up a few so as to get free shipping. 

Mom’s reasons for asking me to do Projects for her are her own.  I will never truly know whether she feels she isn’t truly competent; or she wants to exploit me; or she feels I owe it to her after her years of tantrums and diaper changes; or she wants me to feel flattered that I am “needed” for my skill set.  I have to learn to draw limits, say no, and only submit to her often ridiculous requests when I truly want to do the Project, when I will truly, personally derive pleasure from the act.