"Hi, I'm Michelle, and I'm the Mum of one-fifth of Grade Two!"
That is my standard intro line when I go to info nights for the kids' school, give the shpiel about the parent's association and I beg people to get involved. At first I just kinda went along as another body to warm a seat and eat free cookies, and as time has gone on I've moved up the ranks and now I'm into my second year as VP. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who would rather cut their right arm off with a piece of moldy dental floss than be on a parent's association...but then I've always been one for public service and this seemed a worthy a cause as any.
The kids school is TINY - from 3 year old pre-school to Grade Six, there are only about 160 kids. My kids' class is a healthy 15 kids, but last year the 6th grade had only 3 kids in it - so you can imagine how much this place really relies on the goodwill of parents, grandparents and teachers to keep it all moving along. Yes, it's a private school - but large numbers of the student body are recipients of scholarships and several of the kids are first-generation Australians or immigrants themselves.
Tomorrow is our first (and possibly only) major fund raiser for the year - a giant market day and carnival. The entire event has been planned and organised by the parent's association president (AKA The Neighbour's Wife on this blog), myself, and the part-time marketing manager of the school (she only works 2 days a week.)
Here's the thing. I work full time (more than full time if we include all my hours sending emails to people asking cake questions), TNW works full time, and the marketing person has used countless UNPAID hours to help us out. We're all happy to do it, we're all doing our best to create a fabulous event...but where the hell is everyone else? This event has been in the planning for several months, and several requests for volunteers has been sent out. We've had so few responses, it borders on pathetic.
I totally understand that some people find the idea of offering their free time impossible. I understand those who work full time, overtime, extra jobs, shift work, loads of young kids, etc and who simply cannot find the spare time we're asking. It's not those people who I am upset about. It's the people who don't work, don't care for others (like a sick parent or something), don't have ANY EXCUSE in the world not to offer to do something. The very same people who will then complain bitterly when things are not to their standard, things are not done on the scale they would like, or things just aren't good enough for them.
The shame of it is that when someone finally does step forward, we're all so damn grateful we land on them like a ton of bricks....which of course sends them scurrying back from whence they came. Or the few who give of their time get so overworked, they eventually tire out and become overwhelmed and leave.
I've seen this happen at my kids school, at the multiple birth association (of which I was member and newsletter editor for many years), my synagogue...and so on and so forth. Me, I've been a joiner and a do-er and a volunteer from WAY back, and as a result I've been watching as apathy, discontent, and general societal malaise has kept people from giving a bit of themselves.
Rather than complain (yes, Georgia, I'm a skilled complainer!) anymore about all those people who do not help, let me tell you WHY I choose to find the time to help out. The way I see it, we are all a bit like that ubiquitos pebble thrown into the pond - chuck us in and the ripples go on forever. In this case, though, the ripples represent two things: 1) all the communities of which we are a part, and 2) the lasting effect that being an engaged, involved member of those communities has. For the purposes of explanation, let's look at some of the places I spend my "free" time and the impact that has.
This afternoon my son and I wrapped up the presents for tomorrow's Lucky Dip (small 'mystery' gifts you pick out of a box) and a little while later we baked some muffins for the Bake Stall. He then sat next to me while I made some phone calls about getting ice, money and some other last minute details taken care of for the fair. What did my son get out of this? Well, there are the basic things like a baking lesson and a wrapping lesson and just plain old quality time with his Mum. Then there are the bigger lessons - the ones which are all about being helpful, being friendly, working in a team, cooperating. Then there are the lessons even bigger than those - the ones which say HEY, MY SON, I CARE ABOUT YOU enough to care about the future of the school you love. The ones which teach him that it's just as important to love something as it is to nurture it. The one which says I am an active participant not only as your Mum but also as a friend, as a member of your school community, and someone who believes that life is about receiving as much as it is about giving.
I've mentioned before on this blog that becoming a parent was not entirely in my life game plan. But, having made the choice - you can be damn sure I'm going to make every effort to be an involved and active parent. Why? ONE SIMPLE REASON: When it comes to parenting, you only get *one* chance. You cannot wait until they are 21 and then call a "do-over." I can assure you that my son might not remember baking those muffins with me - but when HE has a son, he'll remember his childhood as being one with parents who were involved in his life. Parents who were involved not only in the family but involved in all sorts of other community groups.
So - yes. I work full time. I run a house and a business and triplets and a whole bunch of other stuff ... but I also bake muffins for bake stalls and organise market days.
Another place I offer my time is to our synagogue. People who know me know I'm not terribly religious, I'm much more a cultural Jew than a bible-thumping one. Once a month there is a family Sabbath - were the service is short and kid friendly, and everyone brings a plate to share afterwards. It's a simple thing, really, and as time has gone on it's grown slowly in numbers - and yet, no matter how much we beg, plead, ask nicely...it's been a very slow process getting more people to come and participate. Most people have two reasons for not coming along - 1) they can't be bothered to cook ONE main meal and ONE dessert to share, and 2) they spend every Sabbath with their own families.
Hmm. Reason #1 I don't understand at all, since for me cooking 2 dishes is WAY less than I cook on a Sabbath anyway, and who said anything about cooking? Buy a quiche and be done. The second reason I understand, but I also think is crap - what, you don't think your Mum will cope if you say, "Hey, Mum, we're having dinner at temple tonight!" Seriously, she'll hear you say that and break out the Manishevitz to celebrate both your return to the temple and her break from cooking.
So what do I, and my kids, get out of it? Ask anyone who is involved in a cultural or religious group and they'll tell you - they get a sense of community, of belonging, of sharing. My kids get a group of friends who they don't see at school every day. Friends who live in different places, have different life circumstances, who are different and yet so much the same. As a family we get the feeling of knowing we belong to an even bigger family than just the one which resides at Casa Verde.
You can blame the economy, you can blame society, you can blame the wax and wane of the moon but the fact is I am deeply saddened by what I see is my generation's extreme apathy. The 30-somethings who have time for facebook, time for twitter, time for blogging and time for endless texting don't have the time to spend an hour making a phone call or two for the benefit of their kids' school. As in any case, there are exceptions to the rule - which is why this fair is going on basically because 3 people made it happen - but the reality of it is, the movers and the shakers represent a far smaller proportion of the population. I think this... epidemic.. of NOT being involved is doing ourselves, our kids, and future generations a serious disservice. You cannot begin to estimate the power which simply BEING INVOLVED in your community will have - and being involved in your community does NOT mean writing a tweet, setting up a facebook group for people who love cheesecake, or writing a blog. I'm talking about real, live, breathing communities - and argue all you like that the internet has made the world smaller and closer and more communicative... but all I see are people who do not speak to one another because they are too busy texting on their Blackberry.
Frankly, I've had enough of being one of only a few people out there, making my world a better place for the kabillion people who will not get off their arse and do something for the greater good.
Usually when I go to the parent info nights and I use my standard intro line, I get one or another person coming up to me afterwards to ask if it's true that I have triplets. They then say, "Oh my god, triplets! You have triplets, you work, AND you are involved in the parent's association? How in the world do you find the time?"
I have only one answer.
How in the world do you NOT find the time?