I am a slacker – I never volunteer at my kids’ schools. The fact that I can tell you how many times I’ve volunteered in the ELEVEN years my kids have been in school shows that I obviously haven’t done it very much. I’ve always had younger kids I didn’t want to drag along and I have a crazy teaching schedule. Those precious hours during school are the only time I can exercise, clean, make dinner, practice, or run errands.
l have many friends who put in a whole lot of time helping in the classroom, being room moms, serving in the PTA, and going on field trips. I’ve never done any of those things (I have helped in the classroom exactly three times in 11 years). I always assumed everyone else does it because they’re just not as busy as I am, but lately I’ve started to realize that’s a load of baloney.
For the last two years, my oldest son has been in his high school’s marching band. The band boosters do tons of work to make having a marching band even possible. The same five parents are at every event, squeezing water into mouths at parades, hauling instruments, fitting uniforms, and setting up fundraisers. The bulk of the work falls on them while the rest of us just sit back and let our children reap the benefits.
As I got to know a few of these parents, I realized that many of the moms also work. They also are involved with many other organizations and often do the bulk of the work in multiple schools’ PTAs. One parent – let’s just call her Super Mom – is totally hard core. It’s not unusual to run into her at the junior high in the morning carting a load of treats for teachers, then see her at the high school in the afternoon helping to host a music festival, then see her at marching band practice later carrying a giant bag full of kids’ smelly shoes from one end of a giant parking lot to the other in a rainstorm, only to find out she’s then driven one of my kids from school to scouts just because he was too lazy to walk. (And it’s not just her – her husband and kids are often right there beside her.) Guess what I found out when I got to know her better? She doesn’t have any more free time than I do.
The same week I was thinking of starting this blog and was making the Long List of things I’ve never tried, I got an email about an upcoming band parents’ meeting. Just like parent meetings I attended the previous two years, the booster president made a plea for more parent volunteers, especially with fundraisers, and I realized I needed to step up now that my younger son is also joining the band this year. Instead of falling back on all the reasons I couldn’t help, I decided to think of what I could do. What would actually be possible? I decided that even though our lives truly are crazy and we feel too out of control during the school year to do much, my husband and I both have pretty relaxed schedules in the summer. I told him we’d be happy to help with fundraisers, but only in June and July.
Right after that meeting I went out for a short walk. By the time I got back, I had developed an idea for the drumline to raise funds (both my boys are drummers). A few weeks later, I pitched the idea at a band booster meeting and they agreed to it. As an afterthought, I suggested another idea, which they also agreed to. I thought it would be so easy to pull both of these off in the summertime with all my extra time and my husband’s help. I didn’t realize that my two great ideas would both have to happen the same week and most of the work I thought would be stretched over two months’ time was going to be crammed into just one week.
I hate fundraisers. Well, everyone hates fundraisers, so I guess I’m not very original. But even though it’s a whole lot easier to just write out a check for our kids’ activities, it’s not really good for them in the long run. They should contribute, and since they’re too young for real jobs, fundraisers are pretty much their only option.
So let me tell you what happened this week, not because I want credit for it – I only tell you so you can take pleasure in the payback I finally got for all my years of slackerhood. Go ahead and laugh. I deserve it.
FRIDAY 6/20: Our oldest came up with a fundraising idea all on his own to collect soda cans to take to the metal recycling plant. He’d been collecting them from neighbors for a few months and some other neighbors gave him an old air conditioner and a bunch of other scrap metal. The big items needed to be broken down into smaller parts and sorted before they could be taken in, so my husband and son spent several weeks watching youtube tutorials and cutting, twisting, sawzalling, and sorting scrap metal. They even took some artsy photos of the final product just to balance out all the manliness. On Friday, they finally finished this big project and took it all to the recycling plant. My son was able to pay off the rest of his drumline fees from last year and put some extra towards the coming year’s fees as well.
SATURDAY 6/21: Our next oldest wanted to sell some of his stuff to raise money for his fees the same week some of our neighbors wanted to do a yard sale, so we decided to do a multi-family sale. Our boys hauled out a lot of the old junk we’ve been trying to get them to part with forever and were very eager to sell them. They put in a lot of work, learned a lot about negotiation and realistic asking prices, and in the end they were pleased with the results. It was a good day spent hanging out with our nearest neighbors, clearing crap out of our garage, and getting a little bit sunburned.
MONDAY-FRIDAY 6/23-27: This was my favorite idea: my husband and I put on a rhythm camp for five days, teaching kids ages 8-12 about different percussion instruments and world music, leading them in rhythm exercises and activities, and letting them try out a variety of instruments. The local music store, Boothe Bros. Music, donated a bunch of drumsticks, the junior high band teacher loaned us her own large personal hand drum collection, and the high school band teacher let us use his room and instruments. My contribution was mostly organizational and crowd control and my husband did the bulk of the teaching with some help from members of the drumline.
Our oldest two boys were there as student helpers and our third son was registered for the camp. The planning and setting up was quite elaborate (not to mention keeping 18 kids and 7 teenagers under control in a room full of drums), but it was really fun making music with the kids and especially getting to do the whole thing as a family.
I loved watching my husband work with the kids – he’s very good with children, he knows what he’s talking about, and he’s just plain funny. It was also cool to watch my older boys as they helped the kids in the camp. They’re both so different in temperament and personality but they were each able to use their strengths to make the kids feel comfortable and to help make their time at the camp worthwhile. My third son who was registered for the camp also had a very positive experience – he discovered some skills he didn’t know he had and he was so eager to develop them further that as soon as we got home after the last day of camp, he hauled a snare drum from the basement to the backyard and was practicing his rolls outside for all the neighbors to hear. You’re welcome, neighbors.
FRIDAY-MONDAY 6/27-30: My after-thought fundraising idea was to make and sell cookbooks. I’ve done it before for our church’s girls’ camp, first in New York and then again in Ohio, so I already knew a lot about the cookbook publishing company and its software, pricing and policies. It was a pretty successful fundraiser the other times I did it, so I suggested it, thinking we’d have a lot of time to collect recipes and to get all the details worked out. Then I saw that there was a special deal if you placed your cookbook order by June 30th (yikes!) so we had to push things ahead a lot. In the past, I had to collect recipes and then type them all myself. Now the company has it set up so each person submitting recipes types them in themselves and I only have to edit the recipes. Easy!
Except then I had to convince people to get the recipes typed in. I had to nag. And bug. And beg. And in the end, we really only got enough recipes after I called Super Mom for help (of course). And then I had to edit each recipe (like the one calling for “read onions” and “read peppers.”) And then I had to talk the students into getting out there to pre-sell the books. And then remind them. And then remind them again. We kept having to push back the “final” deadline for sales because the kids weren’t doing it, which meant the very last day we could get the deal, I was still getting emails about sales while scrambling to get to the order filled out, and then I had to get to the high school to use their fax machine (who uses a fax machine anymore?) before the office closed (with 7 minutes to spare!!). It was a nail biter, but we made it just in time. And then I took a two hour nap. And the next morning, one son asked me in a very sweet voice, “Can today be laundry day? I have nothing to wear.”
I learned a lot in the whole process – mostly that in this situation, I need to be more of a nag and to start nagging a lot sooner. But I figured something else out this week – if a big project is my idea, I have no problem putting in a bunch of work to make sure it’s successful. I have a much better attitude about something I thought of than I would if I was stuck carrying out someone else’s vision.
My husband figures we’ve crammed so much into this week we can call it good for the rest of the year, but he forgets that we have 11 years to make up for. That is why, on the 4th of July, you can find me working at a concession stand with my two oldest boys and other marching band members at BYU’s Stadium of Fire for yet another fundraiser. I’m sure it will be awesome – maybe I’ll even get to wear a hairnet!