When Girlfriend started kindergarten, a friend of mine whose youngest child was also starting kindergarten asked me, “So are you going to volunteer now that everyone’s in school?”
“Oh!” I said, as if the thought had never occurred to me, because it never had. “Wow. I don’t know. I guess I could do that now, couldn’t I?”
But I haven’t.
It’s May now, so I’m probably not going to at all this year. I’m a terrible human being.
It’s not like I’ve never volunteered at school. I’ve chaperoned field trips for Mister Bubby’s class. I helped out at Aussie Day when he was in the second grade. I helped set up chairs for one of the (monthly) movie nights last year. I’ve…well, that pretty much covers it. A couple field trips, Aussie Day and movie night chairs. That’s the sum total of my school volunteering. So yeah, terrible human being is more or less correct.
I used to have what I thought was a pretty valid excuse not to volunteer at school: I had other kids at home to take care of, and I wasn’t going to hire a babysitter to take care of these other kids while I volunteered at school because that’s crazy. I know other moms who trade babysitting with other moms so they can volunteer at school, but this was never an option for me because a) there are very, very few moms willing to trade babysitting with me and b) I am not going to waste that good will on freaking volunteering at school–that is crazy. Good will is for emergencies. Anyway. For the record, yes, I did actually end up paying a babysitter all those above-mentioned times I volunteered at school. It was crazy. I wouldn’t have done it, but Mister Bubby really wanted me to. He’s, like, the only kid whose mother never volunteers at school or something. So I did that crazy thing those few times, but I refused to do it on a regular basis, because that’s just crazy.
Now that all the kids are in school, I could theoretically volunteer on a regular basis without it costing me anything. I have no excuse for not doing it, except that I don’t want to.
I might feel more of a moral obligation to volunteer at school if there weren’t so freaking many other parents who volunteer at school. The school is lousy with parent volunteers, such that if you want to chaperone a field trip, you have to take a number. In my friend OBL‘s world, lots of parents volunteering= more pressure to volunteer. I might feel this myself if I didn’t choose to be oblivious to so many societal expectations. I don’t want to volunteer at school, so unless I feel like I am actually needed, I would have to try really hard to feel morally obligated to do it–and I’m just not made of that stern of stuff.
Here’s another thing: I’m not good with children. I like children, but children don’t like me. I mean, my own children seem to like me just fine, but other children are afraid of me. I speak to them, and they will actually turn their bodies away from me to avoid interacting with me, hoping that I will set my scary sights on someone else. I really don’t get how I can be so scary to other people’s children with no effort whatsoever on my part, and yet my own children aren’t afraid of me at all, no matter how scary I try to be. I don’t like feeling socially awkward. I feel socially awkward most of the time, but it’s bad enough feeling it around adults. I don’t like feeling it around young children. (I especially don’t like feeling it around teenagers, which is why you’ll find me volunteering at a prison before you’ll find me volunteering at middle school.)
Volunteering at school seems to me like one of those above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty things. Probably because my own mother never volunteered at school. (Probably because she had other children to take care of and couldn’t afford to pay a babysitter and anyway, that would have been crazy.) I don’t remember seeing a lot of parent volunteers at school when I was young, other than on field trips. Those must have been the halcyon days when public education had all the money it needed and class sizes were smaller and teachers had less to do. Oh, wait. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened to public education, but between the time I was going to school and the time my kids are going to school, things changed so that parents are now an integral part of students’ education, even during those hours while the school is supposed to be educating them. It’s not enough to help with the homework, which is intrusive enough; now we also have to be there at school helping the teachers do their jobs for free. I mean, we’re helping for free. The teachers are still getting paid, albeit not enough. But I digress.
It’s not that I don’t believe the teachers really need the help. I believe it; I just choose to live in the past when nobody did anything about it.
Here’s another dirty secret which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. My feeling is that the school is there to take the kids off my hands for several hours a day. That’s why I pay my taxes. I mean, I pay my taxes because the government will put me in prison if I don’t, but even if there were no government schools, I would pay money for someone else to educate my children so that they could go be away from me for a few hours a day. No offense to them, I love them, but we can only take so much of each other. I get them full time for the first five years. Kindergarten takes them for only two and a half hours a day during the school year. I just got rid of them–why would I turn around and volunteer at school so I can see more of them? It just doesn’t make any sense.
(Just so you know, I also send my children to school so they can interact with adults they’re not allowed to walk all over. I think that’s important. But secondary, I admit.)
And there’s this final thing. I had a very bad school experience with my oldest child. From the moment she started kindergarten, Princess Zurg hated school, and she misbehaved at school, and the school was always calling to tell me about her misbehavior and calling to tell me I had to come pick her up because she was being suspended again, and I was always going down to the school for the privilege of meeting with a group of educators telling me all the things that were wrong with my daughter and asking what we were going to do about it, etc., etc., etc. It was several years before I could walk into the local elementary school and not experience some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Intellectually, I know that it’s a good school doing good things for children. Emotionally, the school is not my friend. Therefore I am not emotionally inclined to do it any favors. Which makes it a lot easier to rationalize my intellectual inclinations not to do it any favors.
While writing this, Girlfriend came up to me and told me how excited she was for the school jog-a-thon, which is this afternoon. I’ll have you know that while I am very stingy with my time, so far as the school is concerned, I have tried to be generous with my money to make up for it. Because money, when you have it, is so much easier to part with. I will gladly spend more money in donations than it would cost me for a babysitter so I could volunteer my time (although as I’ve already said, I no longer need to hire a babysitter–but you get my point). So yes, I have sponsored both of my children generously in the school’s jog-a-thon, but Girlfriend just informed me that she would really, really like me to show up for the jog-a-thon and cheer her on. This was not my original plan. (See above about kindergarten only being two and a half hours and I just got rid of her, etc.) But she really wants me to be there, and since I’m never there to volunteer, I feel morally obligated to show up. So I will.
But I won’t help with the jog-a-thon. I won’t!