Sunday, September 16, 2007

This is the dawning of the age of obligation


Going to my happy place, my happy place...I'm going to my happy place where all is well for me. A winery on a beautiful Pennsylvania summer day is my happy place. Sitting on a breeze-cooled shady patio surrounded by vineyards that our children are running through happily---and non-destructively---with their cousins, while the grown-ups sample all the red varietals and talk of nothing with many words and much laughter.

I was warned by those who travel the path ahead of me: life just gets more complex and demanding the older your kids get.

I could understand this, but I didn't get it. Not a wink.

In the same way you can't prepare people for parenthood, you can't prepare them for elementary school-hood either.

See, after age 2-3 (give or take), we had this semi-golden age of 4-5 (give or take). This age can be great: still a little bit of baby and sweet, but also mostly capable and independent. This happily meant that Patience's frustration level dropped way lower than the previous two years, and thus so did ours. We had the hang of our kid. We were old hands at preschool. We'd been around the block for this stage. We were fine, on the whole. We had a handle on life, on our kids, on our family. And we knew it.

That's one reason why we approached kindergarten with such trepidation. We knew we were relinquishing our control in many, many respects, and we understood we were entering a System, not of our making. It's a Whole New World.

One other aspect of the Whole New World is the Increased Opportunity for Extracurricular Activity. So many things begin at age 5!

Very cool.

In fact, Patience had so many opportunities, it was tough to choose. We were Spoiled for Choice, but we considered each option carefully and aimed for wisdom. We didn't want to isolate Patience from the neighborhood with all Away Activities but we also didn't want to immure her in the neighborhood and school with Our Gang activities. I strongly believe that if you become exclusively involved in activities with the same people, then you lose the chance to gain perspective of a broader world and the confidence of meeting and getting to know new people. We wanted a balance, and we wanted to make sure she wasn't overscheduled.

In fact, we were so focused on Patience that we overlooked ourselves.

I knew I'd have a big chauffeur obligation, but I had no idea that every single one of Patience's activities wanted more than her charming presence and my money. They wanted me, too.

Each time we went to a sign-up or registration, I was herded through an assembly line where multiple Leader Parents offered no quarter or choice about me throwing myself 100% into volunteering for that activity. The question wasn't, "Can you help, are you interested in volunteering?" No, instead the question was, "Which position do you want to take?"

Strangely, I was continually taken aback each time I ran into this. But by today, not only was I finally getting it, but I was getting mighty annoyed by the peer pressure. On me. I had so carefully considered this for Patience, but never, ever for myself.

It couldn't have come at a worse time, either, on many levels.

First, I hit mega burn out for volunteering and participating last spring, when I was still in the minors. (Really, people, if you are Farm League, you have no idea the pressure when you get called up to the Big League. So don't burn yourself out early.)

As a newbie around here, I was so eager to pitch in, be a part, be involved, etc. that I got into the nasty habit of saying "yes" too much and "no" too little. When work needed more, health needed less, but the demand for my help didn't slack off, I had to make some hard choices of where to be and what to do in order to not be spread too thin. If I didn't choose, my body would, for me.

Second, with my complicated health (or lack thereof) issues, I need to pay attention there. I must remember that it is important to take care of me, so I can take care of my family. However, I don't like to trump the card game with a cry of, "Oy, but my health!" and slap a hand to my forehead whilst precariously leaning back, all drama. In a way, I'm okay with sharing that I have health troubles, and many times it is germane. In another way, I HATE talking about it. I don't like being sick. For one, it's complicated and difficult to explain and understand---it hasn't got a handy well-known name like Cancer. For another, it doesn't show, or so people tell me. "It'd be so much easier to get, you know, if you had one easy name for your situation, and if you looked sick, or went bald or something," one person told me. Ugh. How can I be more like a real sick person should be, exactly? I feel bad enough as it is...and believe my looks reflect that, too often. Anyway, I don't like Sick to be a part of everything I do. It takes a big enough part of my life as it is.

Third, between health questions and so much newness, life has taken on a slight feel of uncertainty. It seems wise to me to get my feet wet and learn how to swim before becoming a life guard, so to speak. Many of the activities are new for us. I'd like to get to know the activity and how it fits in our lives, and how our life can accommodate it before taking on a larger role than mom of participant, who contributes in small but important ways---such as "snack bringer" one day, or "tissue paper dispenser for craft project" another day, or simply "brings child."

But when I whip out that last line---without all the long-winded context preceding it---I get annoyance in response.

"But we depend upon helpers, we need helpers...without volunteers we couldn't do this!"

I get you. I do. I've been on both sides of the fence, so I have a true understanding. Honestly.

However, as I said today, "But you see...everyone says this. Every single thing needs my time and attention. It's tough, and I try to contribute as I can, but I also try to be wise about it."

Instead of garnering understanding, I think I recruited a new member of the Julie Sucks Club.

I compounded it at the subsequent station in the complicated registration assembly line today. This one attempted to catch any non-volunteers that slipped through the last net.

"Here, fill this out, front and back, and this too, just front but make sure to sign it, and then choose a date on one of these sheets and sign up there, too," the lady told me and my husband, handing us sheafs of paper.

"And it's for...?" my husband asked.

"The volunteering. This is the background check, this is the application, and this is the leadership training dates."

We looked at one another. "Ummm, can we just take this with us, and get back to you after we evaluate?" I asked.

She snorted impatiently, "Of course, or you can go sit at that table like that lady and bring it right back. It really helps if we have the paperwork processed in advance."

I felt like I had dropped into a David Sedaris sketch directed by Woody Allen.

My husband and I were too stunned to protest further, so we filled out the paperwork as directed, but then we hit two snags: first, the leadership training. It mainly occurred on dates over the next month when we are not available, or on one precious day when we happen to be home. So I balked, and refused. My husband balked when he learned he was going to have to pay $20 to volunteer.

"Are you kidding?" he said to me, sotto voce.

"I guess not," I whispered back, suddenly exhausted. We'd been on the go from one thing to another all weekend, and I'd be out doing this and that since 8 a.m. that morning. It was now 5 p.m. "Just give her the money so we can go home."

So we did.

There is no circumventing this, either. My husband signed up for soccer online. Each time he clicked "not at this time" in response to the query "do you want to volunteer as a coach?" he got a sassy pop-up finger-wagging, "Not so fast...how about you volunteer as a...?" He said he had about half a dozen of these to click through and ended up an assistant coach, anyway.

Patience hasn't ever played soccer before, and this is some new league with different rules, anyway. Once again, we'd like to have been able to get our feet wet, first.

"I don't mind coaching, helping, or volunteering," my husband said, "I'd do it anyway, just maybe not upfront or before it even started, and I really don't appreciate being forced into it."

No is not respected. No with understandable excuses is not respected, either.

I still get demands, need and expectations from the activities I've already been in since I moved here. They still want their pieces of me, and now these new ones do, too.

This is the age of obligation.

And people aren't terribly gracious about it in all cases. I understand many people want to reap the benefit without sowing the effort. But I'm not sure this mandatory draft approach to volunteering is the answer, either.

I don't know how to solve the systemic troubles, but I do know I have to solve my own personal ones; and the way to do that is to draw boundaries. I believe it is surprising and dismaying to people who have grown accustomed to, "Ask Julie. She'll do it," to hear no from me, or a strict limit, or limited role (assistant instead of in charge, for example). I think it is surprising and dismaying to people who expect more from me than they are getting.

I am personally dismayed, too. I want to say yes. I want to help when asked, want to pitch in, help as needed, fill holes, make things great, and keep good things going. I have so many ideas for ways to grow and improve good groups to great groups. I enjoy my many areas of volunteering, and I do most of it with love, usually. Except, lately, I've gotten a little resentful...I know I'll get a bit of a negative response when I draw my boundary, and while I understand why, it's painful for me. I also feel like I am giving as much as I can, and am frustrated that it is still never enough. Even more frustrating is the negative judgment and pressure when I say, "I can't, I'm sorry."

I'm not a slough off responsibility person. I'm a take responsibility person. Saying no is hard for me.

I know these new people don't know me, my character, my ways or my past helpful history.

And it smarts to see them look at me, shake their head and think, "Another one of Those Moms. Just wants to dump her kid and go get her nails done."

It hurt when instead of feeling welcomed into a new activity, I heard behind me as I walked away from one registration group one day, "Oh ho ho hoity toity busy busy is she," followed by giggles.

The worst part? I didn't even say an unqualified no. I simply offered a qualified yes.

I'm sure, as with all things, we'll get the hang of this, too. These activities and events will probably transition into some of our best memories. But oh the transition pain and learning curve...may it be short. And sweet. And soon.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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35 comments:

jen said...

hat's off, sister. because i know i don't have it in me to do this sort of thing. so truly, hat's off.

Mary-LUE said...

It's been tough to do the soccer thing this year after so many years off. I had this "Aha" moment when I remembered that I am always Ms. Cranky McCrankypants for the first few weeks of any organized team season. I have an uneasy peace about the requirements. It is different with something like Marley's class because the expectations are so clear in advance. Around here softball is a heavy volunteer sport but they give you fair warning up front. I think that would make all the difference if you knew going in.

Oh, I think this post is giving me a PTSD response!!!!

Good luck to you and your husband as you navigate this time. And stick to your guns, dearie.

Kyla said...

Soccer deadline for BubTar was yesterday. We declined. The Sick does not leave enough wiggle room as is and I can't put something on the calendar that will all too frequently be canceled and affect others. He is young enough that he doesn't mind. We are having a hard enough time keeping him healthy enough for school and KayTar healthy enough for therapies...adding something else just felt like scheduling suicide. When it becomes something he really has his heart set on, we'll give it our best shot...but this go-round...OY! I couldn't do it. Maybe the spring will be a healthier time and we can attempt t-ball. Maybe.

So what I'm saying is, good for you for signing up at all! And I'm sorry that you had such a bad experience. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people judge situation from the outside. Who were they to presume anything? It irks me.

flutter said...

In all of that though? Is the sweet echo of hearing your children grow into people you are proud to know.

Magpie said...

Background check and leadership training and $20 to VOLUNTEER?

Oy. THis is a good reason to go and live under a rock.

I got co-opted into being on the board at my child's daycare...but it's not much work and one evening a month.

Snoskred said...

Be committed to yourself and not taking on anything more than you can handle. Those people are just rude to ask it. If it were me in your shoes, I'd be telling them about your health condition and simply saying you'll volunteer to do what you can when you can but that is all you can commit to doing. If they don't like it and continue to be rude about it? Try to find another option instead. :(

Snoskred
http://www.snoskred.org/

Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

Julie, I hear ya'! I feel the same way, except I've never really been much of a volunteerer/yes person. I am shocked about how you have to "buy out" of volunteering. I think the whole thing is way out of hand.

And now my daughter's preschool is even worse! Fundraisers and classroom participation for 3 year olds. What?

I feel that as a SAHM people expect me to want to do all this stuff. I don't and I don't think I should be penalized.

Ali said...

I know this so well. It's the guilt thing that is our downfall. My son is the only child on his soccer team to have only one parent, some have 4 who go to every game, some have grandparents and parents at every game. Guess who the manager of the team is? Ahhh, yes, it would be me. The mother who works full time, has another child in another soccer team and has to juggle to get each child to their appropriate games (which can be an hour's drive apart) and then chase up match fees and such.

The trick is to let go of the guilt of saying no. Everyone else on my son's soccer team has the trick down pat. I'll let you know when I learn it and I'll pass on the secret :)

Ali

Emily said...

I'm really pissed off now. Volunteering means VOLUNTARILY offering your time. Not STRONGARMED into overcommitting.

Jerks.

Christine said...

dude. i am in the christine sucks club. right now i am under great pressure to join the board at the preschool . but my volunteering self is spread so thin in other areas that i can't. and apparently i "don't care" about the school.

yeah.

right.

so i hear ya, sister. i SO hear ya.

Jenny said...

I had not idea.

Lord, I'm going to have to convince Hailey that staying home and playing on the playset is a great sport to be involved in.

Julie said...

So, I'm 28 years old, and my mom is approximately twice that old, with no children left in the house. In fact, she has not had a child in the public school system since 2001 when my sister graduated and went off into the world. That's six years. BUT SHE STILL "VOLUNTEERS" ON THREE COMMITTEES THAT SHE WAS ROPED INTO WHEN I WAS IN SCHOOL BACK IN THE NINETIES. She tries to quit but they somehow keep here in their snares -- and doing lots of work -- year after year.

I'm afraid. Very afraid.

Julie Pippert said...

Jen, I have always enjoyed participating and helping out. I've just always been one of those "involved" people I guess. Until recently. Ugh.

***
In general, I do believe we can all contribute in some way. I've been in charge of a number of activities and I DID depend on volunteers. I got sort of aggravated at times, so I do truly understand the frustration about lack of help. If we all play some service role, it works out okay.

For example, the fundraiser dinner I was in charge of...one working mom picked up the rolls from the store while she did her grocery shopping and dropped them at the school when she brought her kids. That was a HUGE help and not much trouble for her.

I had to sort through the times I've felt frustrated with others and the frustration I felt about being harangued.

The distinction I found was feeling aggravated that I *was* offering to help but it was not enough apparently.

***

M-L, sorry to trigger PTSD! Yes, I am finding my inner Cranky McCrankypants too! Upfront I know these activities do better with parental involvement, but...when someone offers help, I wish they could gratefully accept it.

I will say one lady there is a neighbor and I think she could tell we were overwhelmed. She was kind, and I ought to mention her too. She reassured us it wouldn't be too much and not to worry.

***

Kyla, you are wise. It's not good for anyone to be too overworked. Team sports make me nervous. They do rely on the team, and I know they are good for kids development. But...they are such a HUGE commitment. I wish, well I wish it didn't need to be such a big deal.

***

Flutter, oy, yes, and...LOL, there are the days I tear out my hair over them LOL.

***

Magpie, yes...all that and then some!

I was on the preschool board and that was a fine job but it kept snowballing. And then there were all the rest of the groups...LOL.

Let me know where that rock is, okay!

***

Snoskred, health can be kind of personal, and it's odd to whip it out (like the trump card) with people I've known all of 42.3 seconds while they handed me some paperwork. But I do have boundaries and I will draw and keep them.

***

Lori, that's an awesome point. There does seem to be a penalty, and my concern as always is that it plays out with the kids.

Our preschool has fundraisers and so forth. This is to keep tuition cheap (it's one of the cheapest in the area). Parents can go to a different one but it will cost more, or help us through a variety of ways (one is just use our school's card when you buy groceries so we get points) to stay cheap. It's a touch balance, and it does ask things of parents...but I like to think it is isn't too unreasonable.

But...of course, it's one thing among many.

And...clearly I agree it feels out of hand LOL.

I'm sure it's transitioning for me, but wow.

***

Ali, I swear it's the sense of obligation AND guilt. Guilt which is triggered because of the sense of obligation.

See, I hear you! There you are with all this, and where are the helpers? I see both sides!

For me, it's okay I had my turn running this show, now is my chance to just sit back and enjoy it for awhile...right? right?

Or, okay I know my chance to run the show will rotate up, but now is my chance to get used to this activity, right? right?

I'll take my turn...I just feel like everything wants right now to be my turn, all the time for always. It's can't be that extreme but that's how it feels.

Yes, let me know the secret. :)

***

Emily, yes, and moreover, when someone OFFERS, let that be enough...don't get pissy like it's NOT ENOUGH.

***

Oh Christine, as always, you nailed it. The "you don't care" and this thing will fall apart because you "don't care." UGH That's the emotional manipulation.

I can be played. I know I can.
But oh it seems so wrong to take advantage of that.

Yes, you do hear me...thanks. :)

***

Jenny, yes, start that mindset right away. It will work for oh, 2 more years. ;)

***

Thanks for all your great, supportive, helpful and understanding responses.

slouching mom said...

Julie,

Will you come live in my town (it's in PA!) and hang out with me? Because I am incapable of saying no and need an advocate. Plus, we'd be BFF, I just know it.

I am on the Board at Jack's Montessori. Until this year I ran the school's website. I write the fecking monthly newsletter for Ben's school. I take photos for Ben's school yearbook. I am the Papa John's fundraiser chair and the poinsettia fundraiser chair.

I am in hell, and I can't get out. Because I don't know how to say no. This, I understand, is MY FAULT.

Suz said...

I have no idea how to say "no" and this post makes me afraid, very afraid as our twins have not yet entered the "age of obligation." I hope that the fact I travel for business and don't have a reliable schedule will help me here, but I can see myself very easily getting lumped into the category of working-mom-too-busy-for-her-kids. Ugh.

Gwen said...

I must be an aberration, because I find it alarmingly easy to say no or to manage not to be asked the question in the first place. I also try to limit the number of activities my children do, for everyone's sake. But that's not very American of me, I realize.

b*babbler said...

Is this what I have to look forward to? Eh... I had no idea.

Hmm.. perhaps the Peanut can be enrolled in piano. And regular trips to the library. And creative writing. She doesn't really need to learn about team sports, does she?

Julie Pippert said...

SM, sure, it'd be great (unless you started trying to rope me in to all of that with you LOL!)! I like PA. You're right about the BFF good times. :) But maybe if we allied our powers...you know a sort of Volunteers Anonymous. We might need a sponsor though. :)

***

Suz, hon, God help you. I'll try to have better reassurance for you soon. :)

***

Gwen, you have blog malaise? Here you go: share your secrets of no. In fact, make them pay per view and you'll be a freaking millionaire. But will you offer charity access? For me?

We allow two activities. That's hard, but the realistic limit I think. We want to start piano/music, and she's had to drop gymnastics for now. But that's to accommodate the two activities we chose out of them ALL: Girl Scouts and Soccer.

***

b*babbler, a tempting tactic. :) Like I said in an earlier comment, I go back and forth about the team sports.

Cathy said...

When I first put my daughter in daycare, I joined the parent volunteer group that raises money for various needs. That year, the goal was new playground equipment.

What I got: Constant emails, "urgent" reminders, meetings at the daycare, during working hours, not-so-gentle jabs to those who didn't attend...

What truly amazed me was the small group of mothers who ALWAYS seemed to be at the daycare, working on one thing or another.

WHY ARE YOU NOT AT YOUR JOBS? Because, you know, I'm expected to be at mine. That is why my child is in daycare. Because I work. During the day. argh.

I ended up frustrated and resentful and I quit as soon as the Fall Festival was over.

I'm dreading grade school.

I already went through the activities wringer with my stepkids and my general feeling then was that there should be a margarita machine at every blasted soccer game.

Sober Briquette said...

Julie, I just want to smack those people that have the nerve to mock you within hearing. I'm so disgusted with them and sorry for you that you have to deal with these are the women in your community.

My daughter goes to a private school, so there is a "required" volunteer effort that, if not fulfilled, we get charged for at the end of the year. I'm sort of on the outside (or so I feel) and I fret a little that nepotism rules. However, I will be volunteering to help the art teacher once a week from now until Christmas break, so I think I scored BIG on that one!

It's been a year of tough realizations for me because I gradually withdrew my support from a volunteer organization after three years of heavy involvement, and no one stepped up to pick up the slack. It's so aggravating to realize that it was true: no one appreciated my efforts.

thailandchani said...

Boundaries are definitely the key... knowing your own limitations and honoring them.

I could say much more.. but it would end up being too long. :)


Peace,

~Chani
http://thailandgal.blogspot.com

Scribbit said...

Who knew Pennsylvania even had wineries?

Another excellent post, you're a great writer Julie.

Lawyer Mama said...

Oh dear lord. Good for you!

I have no patience for the people who attempt to co-opt my life for me. It happens in professional organizations too, so I've gotten very good at saying no. If I didn't I'd never see my kids.

But it's already started at Big H's pre-school. I nearly ended up as head of the Christmas party planning committee before I realized what was happening! I'm telling you, those people should be car salesmen.

Julie Pippert said...

Of course PA has wineries! It is an all-inclusive great state. :)

Doesn't every state have wineries?

Okay state by state check in---comment if your state does NOT have a winery. And name the state please. :)

painted maypole said...

Louisiana has at least one winery - I go there for the concerts! (and the wine)

I give you huge points for not decking those ladies at that last table, and i really think you should have turned around and said "I'm sorry. did I say I would volunteer? Clearly I have better things to do than spend time with ladies who would make fun of me behind my back. I will not be volunteering"

Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

We have wineries right by us in PA!

Just so you don't think I am terrible, the preschool where my daughter attends IS pricey, so the fundraising and volunteering, I just don't get.

Look, if people want to do it, great, but I don't like the attitude that you have to b/c it just becomes one more mommy competition. I love my kids more b/c I make the most elaborate cupcakes or help out at every event. Please.

I was happy when I saw that the girl with the mom who LOVES to run all parties was in my son's class. Good. She can sign up for everything.

I'll stay home and blog.

Just kidding.

A little.

Julie Pippert said...

Lori, as if I'd think you were terrible!

Okay what are your wineries? That is one outside of Pittsburgh! Not bad, and a really nice time. :) My favorite ball cap is from there "Pick me, squeeze me, make me wine." LOL

Oh and as for competimommying?

Oy at the preschool orientation I stood up and gave a lecture about the very thing you mention, showing love through ostentation. I think I might have said, "It's not a competition, and frankly, I wish I could appreciate it but I just feel irritated when you send bags of crap and candy home with my kid every week." And I wonder why people cross the street when they see me coming. ;)

But a couple of other moms chimed in with agreement, and the lone dad shot me a look like I was nuts, LOL.

I agree with your point, and I think Emily said it earlier: if you want to help, volunteering is contrary, no strongarming.

Glad to know you will not be busy and not blogging. ;)

Julie Pippert said...

Umm volunteering is contrary? I meant VOLUNTARY!

Julie Pippert said...

PM the winery near us has great concerts and family events, too. :)

Oh I was pretty upset by the snottiness. I was fairly sure it was about me, especially the body language, tittering, then glancing at me to see if I heard. But to confront...

Oh how I wish I could, you know, really well.

***

LM, yeah or realtors. You're right...it's more than just kid and school stuff. The other is part of the "too much everywhere" I was talking about.

***

Thanks Michelle!

***
Chani, very true, and it's in my hands.

***

De, thanks for your indignation on my behalf. Love it. :) Yes, the hardest part about leaving or saying no is realizing that it's possible nobody will step up to the plate. But good for you drawing your boundaries. And you did score on the art teacher helper position. :)

***

Cathy...at a DAYCARE? That surprises me. No kidding, margarita machine at all events! Oy, yes, those pestering messages can be tough. I imagine your experience is pretty common, and is why so many say no upfront.

Gale said...

Stick to your guns or they will suck you dry. why should you care what they say or think?

Gwen said...

Even Illinois has wineries, although I'm pretty sure I wouldn't recommend them.

The secret of no: a very practiced bitch face. Really. It stops them before they ask.

And Girl Scouts? Dude, that's the ultimate YOU MUST VOLUNTEER activity. Not that I do for ours. I make sure to say mean things about Jesus or how I hope to take my girls to Planned Parenthood for a day of fun right as I wander by the volunteer sheet and miraculously, it disappears. I do find it funny that the Girl Scouts sound like the evil ones about volunteering. Irony much?

Mad Hatter said...

A) I'm glad I live in a backwards kinda place. The pressure will still be there but it won't be as organized.

B) I wonder how many of these parents are sooo eager to get you to volunteer so that they can finally step off the merry-go-round. My experience is that zeal of that nature usually accompanies burn-out in the existing ranks.

Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

OK, like I haven't said enough already, but I forgot to mention how great your post title is!! Fabulous, I love a clever title! Had me humming right away...

And we are on the Philly side of PA.

Ally said...

Wow, the snickering behind your back and nasty comment was way over the top. It would make me wonder if these are people you even want to be around at all, or whose children you want yours to be around. Anyway, kudos to you for drawing boundaries. There is nothing wrong with saying no so that you can stay healthy and do well what you DO say yes to.

kim said...

After years of feeling the way you do, I finally adopted the Roy attitude which is "I so don't care what these people think". And you have to find the funny. Think about how ridiculously unimportant (in context) this all is.

Oh and never excuse, never explain, just respond to "Would you like to....." with a nice energetic "Ummm, no, no thanks" and smile and wave.