I loathe the beginning of school because the same thing happens every year: all the papers come home asking for parents to help at the school and for PTA and I feel obligated to sign up. Why? Because I’m crazy? Because I sit around wondering how I am possibly going to fill up my twenty-four hours in a day because I have waaaay too much free time? Or because that part of my brain with the capacity to say “NO” (in all capital letters) is constantly overridden by my boys chanting “Mommy! Mom! Mommy? Mom? Mommy! Mommy? Mom? Mommy!”?
Seriously, I know why I have a hard time saying no. I’ve been on the other side of those Parent Volunteer forms. I taught first grade for years before I had kids and I know the life of a school depends on the community that supports it. Part of that crucial community is made up of parents. The teachers, the parents, the district, and the students are all responsible for how the school functions from the classrooms to the entire campus. It’s up to all of us. That’s why I say yes. Every year. And it stresses me out.
I get stressed because I feel there is never enough of me to go around and the more tasks I take on the more disorganized I become and things get forgotten and I can’t find things and then I always have to do the laundry and all I’m trying to do is help but I end up disappointing people and most of all I get way too stressed out to just relax and enjoy my kids. <— That run-on sentence right there? That’s how my brain works when it has too much going on inside. It’s not pretty; trust me. It takes me about a month to crank my speed up after toning it down all summer long. And I hate to admit it, but the older I get, the harder it is for me to ramp up my energy at the beginning of the school year.
But still, I volunteer. I do it because if I don’t, it’s the same ten people who volunteer for everything that are going to get stuck doing it again. But wait. If I’m the one volunteering, doesn’t that put me in the group with the same ten people that volunteer all the time? Hmmm.
I draw the line at volunteering at the school. My boys are involved in sports and if I became involved in these communities as well I know my brain would ooze out my ears. I have a limit of what I can organize and juggle: school activities and family activities. That’s it.
But then I went to the football parent meeting at the beginning of the season. Last year I was so overwhelmed by this community and sport I couldn’t even keep the game and practice schedule straight. This year I have a better understanding of things. I thought maybe I could take a more active roll with helping this year. AM I CRAZY? Enough is enough. I volunteer at school. Just say no.
So we all stood around as the coach asked for a parent volunteer to coordinate the team snacks, concessions sign-ups, and communications for the team. We all stood there and stared at the grass. One Mom spoke up, “I did it last year. I really would like someone else to do it this year.” She balanced a darling five-month-old baby on her hip. She had earned the right to speak up, in my opinion. She graciously asked for someone else to do it because she, obviously, was a little busy.
No one volunteered. I didn’t. No one else did, either. Guess who sent out the email that week to coordinate everyone and tell them where to go and what to do? Yep. The Mom with the baby on her hip. She stepped forward because no one would. Including me. Oh, the guilt!
That’s another reason I hate this time of year: the guilt. “You can’t be all things to all people” everyone says. But why are the same ten people always having to be all the things for everyone? It’s not fair to them. Once you become one of “the same ten people” everyone knows it. Perhaps that’s a reason some won’t help at all. We all know if you volunteer once you will be asked to do it again and again. Just like the Mom with the baby on her hip.
Want to get people to help out? Here’s some advice from someone who has raised her hand a few times in the past:
- Be organized. People want to help and their time is precious, just like yours. Don’t waste their time.
- Be clear about the job. “It’s not that much” doesn’t tell me what you need from me.
- Break up the tasks to spread the obligations around. Smaller can be better.
- Pointedly ask different people to get involved and give them a specific job. Don’t ask the same ten people all the time.
- Remember no one is getting paid here. Volunteers are doing the organization a favor.
- Bring food or at least make it fun. Trust me. Bribery goes a long way. So does laughter.
As I dropped my boys off at school this morning, I hadn’t had my coffee yet, the morning had been a bit hectic and I felt beat at the starting line. This idea of volunteering had been on my mind all week as sports and school are in full swing and my obligations are filling up like a dance card.
My middle son turned back after he kissed me goodbye, “Hey, Mommy! Are you going to volunteer to help in my class again like last year?”
“Sure sweetheart. I will.”