Home Education Parenting

How a mistake taught us to say “no” to one more thing

Confession Time: We abducted Flat Stanley.

We didn’t mean to do it.  It all started with the best of intentions.  I should have known better.  We enrolled on the world-wide network of home educating families to exchange laminated cutout characters with one another in a sort of pen pal experience.  If you are familiar with the Flat Stanley stories, you know what I’m talking about.  

This is the not-so-well-written, but very imaginative tale of Flat Stanely. He inspired all this flat traveler exchange business.

The road paved with good intentions

We shipped our flat traveler all the way to New Zealand.  Shortly after our package hit the mail, we received the exchange traveler from Down Under.  We were meant to take him everywhere – exciting and informative places – while photographing our journey.  The two-week exchange included a journal where responsible homeschool children could document the adventures of this flat character for their exchange family to read when the traveler returned home.

All well and good on paper.

Enter real life.

I honestly can’t remember if we got sick or busy or both.  All I do know is our flat traveler seemed not to fit into most of our days.  We either weren’t going somewhere noteworthy, or we went and left him safe and snug in the bottom drawer of our school workboxes.  Pathetic, I know.

The two weeks zoomed by and I still hadn’t taken any pictures.  Not one.  My son hadn’t sat with me to write about the adventures we were having with this flat friend because, well, we weren’t having any.  To remedy this, we took our laminated friend to Trader Joe’s.  Just don’t.  I was desperate.  My son happened to be wearing his Jedi cloak that day because he was feeling his inner padiwan, so we have some classic pictures of this flat character lying beside bags of baby carrots and my son holding him up in the frozen food aisle.  

This is not me, not holding our flat traveler, never been to Egypt … so, yeah. (photo courtesy of flatstanley.com)

I need more

It dawned on me I couldn’t send back our exchange traveler with so little documented evidence of having had a fabulous trip stateside.  I needed more.  We had to schedule a trip to the zoo or the beach or something.  Another week passed.  I went to work out of town.  I took the flat ambassador in my computer bag and shot a few pictures in LA.  This was getting at least passable.  The trouble was, my son wasn’t in those photos and he couldn’t really journal about them.  Back into the drawer went the traveler.  

Weeks continued to roll by.  This burden of coming up with the perfect experience for our traveler weighed on me – not in such a way as to make me actually take action, mind you.  Instead, it felt more like having to return a favorite jersey to an ex-boyfriend.  I needed to get to it, just when?  

We received a friendly email from the mom of the boy who had unwittingly sent the traveler to us.  Of course, they had sent back our character, along with pencils, maps, souvenirs and a photo book.  Each photo was attached to a page with elementary school writing describing the details of what our papery friend had done in New Zealand.  We had Kiwi bird gifts galore.  They had nothing but hope – and, thanks to me, that was dwindling.  

Thankfully, our escapades have not impacted global relations with New Zealand. (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Guilt, the great motivator

The email spurred me into consciousness.  I had to get serious.  We were scheduled to go to the coast for a weekend camping trip.  I decided to pack the flat traveler in the car so I wouldn’t forget him.  We got a few shots in a kayak along with some pictures in a pine forest overlooking the sea.  Whew.  Now we were getting somewhere.  

When I sat down to start our return package, it still looked weak to me.  I mean, a few pictures at Trader Joe’s, some photos without my son in LA and a few camping photos.  All this without one USA souvenir.  I had to up my flat traveler game and quick.  It took me a few more weeks to get to another fun spot – our local zoo – and then a few more to get to the local chamber of commerce to collect maps, postcards and a pencil.  

In a last-ditch effort, somewhere between eight and nine months after we took on this flat freeloader, I took my son to Barnes & Noble.  We bought a lego set with a USA theme and another toy.  Call it bribery, or a guilt offering, either way, I felt I had done damage and penance was in order. 

Logging onto an online photo book site, I made a full-blown album of the flat traveler.  We were going out with a bang.  This was going to be the best flat traveler return ever!  I turned the album into the story of how the traveler had come to us but been kidnapped and unable to return.  The story told of his many adventures, ending with how he finally escaped and made his way home to New Zealand. Being a writer comes in handy sometimes. 

A page from the flat traveler story I wrote to compensate for totally botching this commitment.

The deed is done

When I finally popped that package in the mail, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I don’t think I felt this much freedom when I submitted the final draft of my Master’s Thesis!!  The family sent us a thank you email.  They were blessed by my final gesture and grateful to get their traveler back before their son graduated from elementary school and no longer had any interest in this kind of exchange program.  They didn’t say as much, but I knew.  

Embarrassing and painful as this ordeal was, I learned a huge lesson. 

We are surrounded by a world of opportunities.  The allure of all the choices makes us want to say “yes!” to every single one. 

We just can’t. 

Two things tripped me up throughout the whole time we held this poor traveler hostage.  One was my perfectionistic standard.  I couldn’t settle for good enough.  I had to get this just right.  In the process of trying to achieve perfection, I got it all wrong.  I caused myself undue stress and I made a boy in New Zealand look forward to something way longer than he should have had to wait. 

The other pitfall in this crazy ordeal was my initial lack of assessment.  Whenever we take on something new, we need to ask ourselves a key question.  Can we give this opportunity the space and time it deserves?  In this case, the answer was a glaring “no.” 

These days I’m learning to count the cost.  

How about you? 

Have you ever taken on more than you can handle? 

What do you do when you realize your expectations have set you up to fail? 

I’d love to hear about it.  I’d also love to have you join Hearts Homeward so I can send you my weekly letter of encouragement and inspiration as well as including you in specials and freebies when I offer those.  Would you give me the privilege of pouring into your motherhood?  

Yes, Please!

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  • Reply
    March 30, 2018 at 3:37 PM

    This reminds me of two things, one our grandson and sending us Flat Stanley, and we were actually going on a trip up the West Coast and it’s interesting but as a grandmother I had plenty of time to interact with Flat Stanley cuz I didn’t have to try to work it into a school day! The other thing it reminds me of is all those Pinterest ideas for the Elf on the Shelf! We never did do Santa Claus but if we had I would be so overwhelmed with the concept that I needed to do this amazing thing called Elf on the Shelf! I mean, seriously, I was doing my best to get a christ-centered Christmas and some responsible Christmas gifts for five kids! I did not need to keep track of some stupid elf on top of it! But to be honest, if that had been part of my Christmas tradition, I would have been OCD about it!
    Oddly enough, I’m not even sure I grandson ever saw the book that we put together for Flat Stanley, he just sort of went back to Ohio, and we never heard any more from him! Flat Stanley I mean, not our grandson.

    • Reply
      March 30, 2018 at 4:35 PM

      Christi! I just love you. That last comment made me laugh out loud! I have friends who do elf on the shelf and do a lovely job of it. One is an elementary school librarian and she’s used the elf to promote reading through the month of December. So cute. Another friend is so very good about all these fun things like leprechauns upturning the house on St. Pat’s day, etc. I used to go over the top like that, but I have had to scale back. I think I drove myself nuts with it all. If someone can pull it off and remain at peace and not frazzled for their family, more power to them! I love that you got to do Flat Stanley for your grandson. What a sweet grandma thing to do.

  • Reply
    April 3, 2018 at 10:32 AM

    What a fun story and post with a very real lesson at the end. I love being entertained and taught a valuable lesson at the same time. I am also frequently guilty of the same pitfalls you highlighted. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      April 3, 2018 at 11:16 AM

      Dawn, we start with the best intentions! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I had fun writing it. This gal mentioned Flat Stanley in a thread on FB and it reminded me of this story and I thought, “This will make a great story” … I haven’t written anything this light in a while, so it felt fun to share this way. You are an awesome mom, Dawn, so to know you have the same pitfalls comforts me. We all stumble. Blessings, Friend. 🙂

  • Reply
    Lila Diller
    April 3, 2018 at 1:29 PM

    Even though I homeschool, I hadn’t really heard of Flat Stanley before this. I definitely won’t be taking this on, because we never go anywhere! I realized last week that I only had made it to church, the grocery store, and the library. That’s it, for two weeks! 🙂 I appreciated the humor throughout this story,but more importantly the inconvenience of the perfectionist syndrome I’m prone to, as well.

    Btw, I wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award! You can see the nominations and the rules at http://www.liladiller.com/blog/mysterybloggeraward. Congrats!

    • Reply
      April 3, 2018 at 4:43 PM

      Awww, Lila, thank you! Yes, perfectionism can be so suffocating! Sometimes life at home can be the best of all worlds – just not exciting enough to send overseas, right? Thanks so much for your sweet and fun comments and for the nomination.

  • Reply
    Crystal Twaddell
    April 5, 2018 at 6:59 PM

    I remember doing Flat Stanley with my kids!! You brought back such fun memories, although our Flat Stanley never made it out of the U.S. I’m so glad you shared on Fresh Market Friday, and I love your heart of intention…we are kindred spirits:)

    • Reply
      April 5, 2018 at 8:24 PM

      Thank you, Crystal! It was a fun project (once we did it). We had one more traveler (slightly more successful, but still totally story-worthy) that went to Ohio while we took their Ohioan around CA. I learned my lesson well. Take on only what we can chew and make room for what we take on. I love your blog. It is soothing and refreshing and full of wisdom and grace. Thanks for visiting Hearts Homeward.

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