Personal – My First Experiences as a Parent Volunteer

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Some of you who have been reading this blog for a while will remember how last fall I was feeling insecure about my status with the Girls.  Being the live-in girlfriend without official standing for either their school or socially felt weird.  Well, two months after I wrote that post, their father and I became engaged, and then a few months later we were married, and I am officially a kind of mom – a stepmom – but still not the primary mother figure in their lives.  And I’m ok with that.

And I feel like I’ve gotten the security that I need in my relationship with them from being actually married to their father.  When someone asks who I am, obviously they’ll probably say, “Oh, that’s Maggie, she’s married to our Dad,” but there is a word for that kind of person, and that is stepmother.  And though there are many stereotypes and fairy tales about bad stepmothers, I don’t really care.  Sure, I sometimes get the feeling that I’m the “evil stepmother” when I make the do the basic household chores that preteens feel like is the end of the world.  But that doesn’t matter – if I didn’t make them go back and put their plates in the dishwasher instead of sitting on the counter on top of the dishwasher, their father would.  So I’m not evil per se, I’m just the one that they’re annoyed with at the moment.

So that’s the formalizing my relationship with them set.  This fall, their father forwarded me the preliminary class lists for their school, and I realized that he was listed alone, and I asked if I could be listed with him since we are married, and I am an official parental figure in their lives.  He asked if I was sure, because listing my email address and phone number means that I would be on lists to email and contact.  Wanting to feel even more official, especially in terms of their school, I agreed.  And the emails I got were announcements from the school, but also calls for parent volunteers in the classrooms.

I knew that many of the jobs on the various lists were designed for stay-at-home-moms – they involve more time at the school during the school day, and for those of us with regular 9-to-5 jobs, that’s just not possible on a regular basis.  So I held off on volunteering for classroom things.  But then it got to be later in September, and the classroom parents for H’s class got desperate for a few last positions to be filled.  I took a look and thought, “Maybe I could do this fall fair volunteer coordinator?”  And it turned out, I could, and easily.  It was the kind of job that involved monitoring a job sign-up sheet for one aspect of the annual fall fair (I did games, but there’s also various food, face painting, music, used book/clothing sales, etc.), and harassing other parents to volunteer themselves and their children.  If you haven’t already guessed, I’m super-great at harassing people via email since it doesn’t involve face-to-face confrontation (#introvert).  Plus, as a librarian, I’ve got a little down time during the day which makes monitoring stuff possible.

And then I also volunteered an hour of my time working at the prize table, helping the kiddos figure out how many animal erasers (like this, but with more variety and in a couple big boxes), pencils or temporary tattoos they could afford with their prize tickets.  It was easy enough to do, and if we were going to be at the fall fair anyways – why not?  So, check.  I did get big kudos later from the overall volunteer coordinator and a shout-out by the head of school on a list of all volunteer coordinators for my work.  To be honest, it felt like cheating at the volunteer thing, but shh…don’t tell any of the other parents or they’ll take my cushy, low-effort, big-reward job next year!

My most recent volunteer activity was related to H’s class play.  There were a lot of jobs which required more advance preparation and longer chunks of time devoted to the cause.  I wanted something that wouldn’t involve devoting a lot of weekend time, or taking too much time off work.  I also had fond memories of high school theater and being backstage doing it all ourselves.  So seeing a couple of time slots open for hair and makeup volunteers (not the coordinators, just volunteers), I thought, “I can do that”.  After all, I manage to put makeup on my own face every day and not look like a clown – putting it on other people can’t be that much harder, and also, stage makeup is meant to be more intense as it’s seen under bright lights and from a distance.  So yeah, why not?

It turns out that this again was a very smart move on my part.  I only needed to leave work 15 minutes or so early (which could be made up by arriving earlier, which I miraculously managed), and the job itself was about 90 minutes of my time on each of the performance days.  I did a little reading up ahead of time since we were given no advance instructions, and it turned out ok.  Granted, some of the kids looked better than others, and it was hilarious to see how few of them were actually able to relax their eyes when the makeup was being applied.  It’s definitely a process that takes getting used to.

I definitely improved on the application of eyeliner on night two, and had clearer instructions on how and what was to be applied that night as well.  There were not the same kind of kudos that I received as a “bigger deal” volunteer, and that’s ok.  The recognition that I wanted came from our girls who either saw me there doing my volunteer duty, or who heard about it before/after.

And that’s really the thing that made me want to volunteer with their school and things in the first place – I wanted them to see that I was invested, and that I cared enough to help out.  It’s not kind of thing that will be obvious now in their lives, but I think later on, they’ll see that I was there, and that I was a part of helping them and their school succeed.  And sometimes that’s the biggest impact volunteering can have.  Someone else probably would have stepped up to take on all the roles that I filled if I had not been there – in fact, someone had in years past.  So it mattered more that it was me who cared enough to say yes in these cases.  And it might have an effect on who I am to the girls and what I mean to them as they get older.

1 Comment

  1. Beverly says: Reply

    In addition to knowing that your are invested and care about their school projects, I always liked volunteering for another reason….it gave me an opportunity to be a fly on the wall without interfering too much. You can eavesdrop on conversations. Whenever I was the driver, for example, I just listened to the chatter in the back seat. It was enlightening. Plus, the kids knew me and I got to know the other parents too. You feel a lot more comfortable letting your child spend time with other kids when you see how their friends behave and know their parents.

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