Today is a big day, one that has been circled in red marker on our kitchen calendar
for months – the last day of school. Woo hoo! There will be cheers, tears, parties,
speeches, goodbyes and, for me and most of my mama friends, there will be an
enormous internal sigh of relief. No more volunteer requests for 12 blissful weeks.
Even the prospect of a long summer filled with whiny complaints of boredom and
bug bites pales in comparison with the scheduling demands of saying “yes” to the
big V or the guilt and shame of saying “no.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Some (maybe even most, depending on the day) of us
really do enjoy participating in our children’s school experience. We chaperone
field trips, teach enrichment programs like Wordmasters and Continental Math,
help with art projects, organize parties, and on and on . . . But, by the end of the year
(which is particularly insane) we suffer from a volunteer fatigue so intense that we
wander dazed and confused from house to car to school. We are Mombies.
And, by the way, I’m not even talking about the hard-core volunteers -- the PTA
people; that’s a whole other category of crazy. Those saintly parents who have
the patience and organizational savvy to handle the fundraising and negotiations
involved with the PTA are in a class by themselves. They are the people we should
send to handle the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Anyway, my friend Caroline called me to vent yesterday between her third
grader’s puppet show and her kindergartener’s walking field trip to the Children’s
Museum, “I can’t take it anymore! I haven’t showered in 4 days. I just want school
to be over!” Meantime, just as Caroline was losing her mind, her husband was
chaperoning our third graders’ adventures at the Swim Center. As soon as my son
learned that Huck’s dad was going, my son shot me the aw-c’mon-mom-please-
don’t-be-lame look begging me to join in some peepee pool fun. No way; I was
done. I steeled myself, looked him in the eye and told him that I had plans (basically
gasping my last few breaths of mama freedom before summer).
I hold to the theory that it gets easier to Just Say No as our firstborns get older.
Those veteran moms of middle and high school kids don’t feel the same kind of
pressure to participate by the time their second or third child hits elementary
school. They’ve done their time. You can see it in their eyes and maybe even smell
it on their breath (is that vodka?). That’s why we thank our lucky stars for the fresh
meat that each new school year brings: those bright-eyed do-gooder moms who
just can’t wait to get involved. I’m sure the teachers feel the same way. What with
NCLB, the various demands coming down from the state and federal government
and increased class sizes, the teachers really do need our help.
And this leads me to the big question: What about those parents who can’t regularly
volunteer because they have full-time jobs or babies at home or any other of life’s
many demands (take your pick). Those of us who have (or create) the flexibility to
volunteer are indeed fortunate to be faced with the choice. As my pal Caroline so
succinctly put it:
“There are the moms who can and the moms who can’t; and the moms who can that
do and the moms who can that don’t. How big a difference does it make in a kid’s
life? I have no idea.”
It all comes back to being part of a community like Bozeman, where most of us do
what we can when we can and are thankful when someone else steps up to the plate.
Was I glad that Caroline’s hubby was there to hang out with Charlie and Huck at the
pool yesterday? You bet. And next year I’ll be happy to step up myself – just as long
as I don’t have to put on a swimsuit.
And so, on this momentous day, I ask fellow parents, grandparents, family members,
teachers, or administrators to share your thoughts (however big, small, petty, happy
or cranky) right here with us.