Thursday, August 09, 2007

Volunteering and how it can suck

For most of my girls' lives, I've been a stay at home mother. When Elegant was four, I went back to work part-time, but only during the hours she was in preschool, and that job was cut due to funding after only nine months, so I went back to my SAHM status. About a year ago, I started my current job, which is also part-time, thereby allowing me part-time SAHM status.

Throughout all this, I've also been a volunteer. That's what parents do. We volunteer at our children's schools, coach soccer teams, lead Brownie troops, and so forth.

The most intense volunteer gigs I've ever had were at my children's preschool and just about swore me off volunteering forever.

When Graceful was two, we started looking around for preschools. I researched the various kinds and thought that Montessori sounded good. Then I found out HOW MUCH MONEY these schools charge just for the privilege of teaching your child how to finger paint and make necklaces out of macaroni. It was seriously on par with private school tuition.

Not being made of money, Pete and I looked around further. There are two cooperative preschools here in town, which sounded interesting to us, so I made appointments to visit both. Ultimately, we chose one that we liked. (Because the other one? The registrar couldn't be bothered to return our calls.) We enrolled Graceful, followed shortly thereafter by Elegant. We were so excited that we could be so intimately involved with our children's preschool education. Ah, we were so innocent back then.

In case you don't know what a co-op preschool is, let me enlighten you. A co-op is where the parents (mostly, the moms) do every fucking thing except actually teach the children. For starters, the parents take turns assisting the teacher (a real live paid professional) in the classroom, about one a month. On a parent's co-op day, she comes to the school early and helps the teacher prepare for morning's activities. Then she spends the next three hours trying to interact with a dozen or so other children, while her own child clings to her legs and refuses to share Mommy with anyone else. This is known as "Co-op Kid Syndrome," which isn't actually recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics, but it should be.

After all the joy of the morning is over at noon, the co-op mom should be able to go home and collapse with a glass of wine. (Hey, it's 5:00 somewhere people.) In reality, the co-op mom instead gets to do Part 2 of that day's duties: CLEANING. That's right people, we parents paid tuition just so that we could then spend a morning with all those children AND clean up after them. Typically, cleaning entailed wiping juice off the tables, vacuuming the rugs, mopping under the art/snack tables, emptying the trash cans, cleaning up art supplies, de-germing the bathroom, and so forth. Novice parents usually took 1-2 hours; by the end of my three year stint I could fly through my chores in 30-40 minutes and be home by 1:00 for a much-needed nap. And Happy Hour.

In addition to all that, each family (again, mostly the moms) has a job, such as president, treasurer, fundraising committee, maintenance committee, housekeeping committee, etc. Our first year there, I was tapped to chair the annual spring festival, largely because I had previous professional fundraising and event planning experience. I did an excellent job -- thank you very much -- and was "rewarded" with an invitation to become co-president for two years. Actually, the way it was presented to me was, either I do co-pres or I'd be stuck on festival duty for another year. I took Door #1, thinking "How bad could it be?"


The co-presidents really and truly run the school. Everything comes under their notice, from the budget to the children's shot records to the teachers' contracts. The co-presidents are the administrators. It's such a big job that there's a break in the tuition to help mitigate things a bit. It's not worth it.

The first 11 (out of 24) months went reasonably well. It was a lot of work, but there were no real crises.

Then there was the week that I had to go to the sheriff's department and get a "no trespassing" warrant against a known sexual predator who regularly came to our school to pick up his younger relatives. Given that his mug shot was in the paper that week and that he was accused of crimes against women, and the preschool mothers were really uncomfortable around him, I felt that this was all in order.

From there, it seemed that there was crisis after crisis. Every time the phone rang, Pete and I flinched, because we knew trouble was coming down the pike:
  • Parents calling to bitch about other children who were unruly.
  • Parents calling to gripe about one of the teachers, who was lazy, a poor teacher, and just generally sucked. (I was totally with them on that one.)
  • Parents raising hell over any little thing that irritated them slightly. (Put your big girl panties on and just DEAL with it, okay?)
  • Parents complaining that the school wasn't academic enough. (Not academic enough? This is preschool, not Harvard.)
I cussed so much in my second year as co-president, it's a wonder the girls didn't pick up my potty mouth. Actually, Elegant did experiment once or twice with things she heard, including the time Pete told her to do something and she responded with, "You can stand in line to kiss my butt." At least she didn't say the original version, which is, "Well you can stand in line to kiss my fat white ass." And I certainly used the big F a real whole buncha lot that year. (Okay, still do.)

All of this is a very long explanation about how I was so very burned out by the end of the school year. Pete too. We were exhausted. We wanted nothing more to do with the school. Ever. Again. In fact, it kept me from volunteering for the P.T.O. at our elementary school the first year we were parents there.

My friend Melissa, the better half of the Dynamic Duo of Shoe Shopping, is currently one of the co-presidents of the preschool. She keeps me up to date with what's going on at the school and I occasionally offer advice on how she can keep her sanity. (I usually suggest that she tell the offending party to fuck off and die, but I guess that's not really constructive.)

The anniversary of the preschool's founding is this fall and it's a big round number. Parties will be held. Speeches will be made. Much planning will be needed. Melissa was telling me all this today and I was encouraging her to form a committee and not handle all this herself. We brainstormed a bit, because I'm a good friend like that. Then, I found myself suggesting that she could invite some alumni parents to serve on the committee and help with the planning.

Heh heh heh.

A message to my husband: No, I didn't volunteer for the job and swear on the holiness of our marriage vows, the goodness that is our daughters, and my love for My Precious that I will not. And if I break this promise, which I most certainly will not, you have my permission to deny me any new shoes for the rest of this year.


kristi said...

All I can say is what a nightmare!

Dan Dright said...

Funny stuff. Volunteering is the worst. It's even worse when you volunteer to do something you're actually good at (or, god forbid, have done professionally). You know how something ought to be done, and nobody appreciates you enough to fulfill your (admittedly unrealistic) expectations and you just end up getting pissed off. Ask my wife about how that is.

Hilarious post. Keep 'em coming!