Friday, November 09, 2007

The Reluctant Volunteer

By Lisa Curry

The message was on my answering machine when I arrived home from work one day last month. “Lisa, this is Kim. I’m organizing the Fall Fest at school on the 31st, and I was hoping you could help me out that day by running one of the stations. It’s a Wild West theme this year. Give me a call.” Beeeep.

The Fall Fest at my kids’ elementary school is an all-day extravaganza with various ongoing arts, crafts and other activities for students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Kim was a friend, and God bless her for taking on the Augean task of running the Fall Fest, but I had a multitude of good reasons to say no. At work, I was in the middle of producing a catalog that was already behind schedule, and I couldn’t afford to lose a day’s progress – not to mention a day’s pay.

Besides that, there’s a reason I became a writer instead of a teacher. I love my own kids, and I can deal with other people’s in small numbers. But spend the entire day surrounded by 200 screaming 5 to 10 year olds? Gee, thanks, but I’d rather have my fingernails ripped out with red-hot pincers. The mere idea gave me a twitch.

“Are you going to help at the Fall Fest, Mommy?” my younger son, Sean, asked with an eager smile.

“I really can’t, honey. I have to work.”

He drooped. “But can’t you take a day off?”

I was about to say no when my older son, Griffin, asked, “Yeah, why can’t you take a day off? Please, Mom?”

They’re 8 and 10. They still like me. They still want to show me off to their friends at school. How much longer will that last? I figure I have maybe 2 or 3 years before I morph into the biggest dork on earth, and they won’t want to be seen in public with me, let alone have me show up at their school – a fate worse than death.

All my good reasons to say no fled in the face of the two best reasons to say yes.

“Okay,” I groaned. “I’ll take the day off.”

October 31st – the day of my Halloween horror – arrived in the blink of an eye. How time flies when you’re dreading an event.

I sent my children off to their classrooms and reported to the school cafeteria for duty with the other PTA moms and dads.

“You’re outside in the OK Corral with Ted and Mike,” Kim said, pointing to her husband and another dad. “You’re going to have the kids shooting buffalo.”

How P.C. Considering that the school’s weapons policy considered expulsion a suitable punishment for carrying a pocket knife, I presumed we weren’t shooting the endangered species with BB guns.

The buffalo turned out to be painted plywood cut-outs propped up with 2x4s. The weapon was a catapult sort of affair made of stretchy rubber tubing with a nylon pocket in the middle. Someone told me it was designed to launch a water balloon, but we used Nerf balls as ammo. An adult held each side of the catapult, while a child loaded the Nerf ball into the pocket, pulled back the catapult as far as possible, and then let it fly. The object, of course, was to hit the plywood buffalo, but everyone got a little prize whether they succeeded or not.

I started the day as part of the catapult-holding duo with Mike, while Ted fetched the Nerf balls. Watching the kids shoot was so much fun I forgot I didn’t really like being around children. When the first graders – led by a substitute teacher and chaperoned by someone’s kindly grandma – dissolved into anarchy, stole all the Nerf balls, and chased each other around the field screaming like wild Indians instead of shooting buffalo, then nearly mobbed me over the prize bowl, I only twitched a little.

About mid-morning, Mike accidentally – I think – let go of his end of the catapult when it was stretched to maximum capacity. It snapped me on the butt, which stung. Right before lunch, he did it again, and it snapped me on the left breast, which stung even more.

After lunch, I decided to be the Nerf ball chaser and let Ted hold the catapult with Mike the untrustworthy.

When my kids’ turn at the OK Corral came, they yelled, “Mom!” and ran up and hugged me.

The day was sunny, warm and beautiful, and at the end of it, I realized I hadn’t thought about my languishing catalog – the one that frequently keeps me awake at night – even once.

The next day, Griffin brought home a thank-you card his class made for me and all signed. On the front, someone had drawn a decent likeness of one of the plywood buffalo, along with three misshapen people pulling the catapult.

“That’s you,” Griffin said, pointing to one of the people. “And that’s me shooting.”

“Oh, yes,” I said, “I should have recognized us by our curly hair.”

I hung the card on the wall in my cubicle at work, right over my computer. Sometimes when I’m tearing my curly hair out over that catalog – which is still behind schedule and still costing me sleep – I look up at the card and think of my day in the sun as a PTA mom.

Ever do something you really didn’t want to do, and end up really glad you did?


Annette said...

What a sweet story, Lisa. And you're right to embrace these days with your boys. They grow into teenagers way too soon.

Anonymous said...

In the past week at work, I did two in-services for very different departments on topics that I had not prepared before and may never use again. While I can't say I'm currently the best trainer ever, neither totally bombed and I'm feeling much more confident in preparing my 2008 training schedule.

As I was sitting waiting for one to start, the organizer told my that her staff had worked with me when one of my patients was in their program, and learned so much from the way I worked with him. As I never felt particularly gifted in working with this (very difficult) patient, the praise was totally unexpected!

I've decided I'm my own worst enemy in evaluating myself.

So yes, I wasn't exactly looking forward to preparing the in-services, but completing them gave me the confidence boost I needed to keep working on my 20-odd preps. for next year.

Joyce Tremel said...

Great story, Lisa!

Anonymous said...

Lisa, you're a GREAT mom. How cool that your kids want to show you off. And what child doesn't love shooting at stuff?!

But the crime writer in me wants to know if the butt smack was accidental or not. It's not just the kids who find you attractive, I bet . . .