Last year I was a room parent for one of the first-grade classrooms at my children’s school. This year I decided the second graders were better off without me and my efforts to impress the wellness committee with veggie skeletons and cauliflower brains at the Halloween party.
One of my favorite room-parent stories was the mother who sent an email the night before the Valentine’s Day party admonishing the room parents because children were suffering in Haiti and we were organizing a party filled with cupcakes and Valentine’s Day jingo for our privileged suburban kids.
I responded in an email I should have waited 24 hours to send. I explained that we raised money for Haiti last week, and then I told her if she felt so strongly about making donations she should trade in her sports car and drive around in a beat-up minivan like the rest of us — then she could give Haiti the amount she spends on lease payments for her fancy car every month. Actually, I deleted that part about the car.
I put her response in my “Bitchy Emails” folder, where it ended up next to good ’ol “Dear Trish,” whom my spell checker changed to “ Dear Trash” when I wrote asking her to donate bottled water for the primary picnic.
Despite the fiery comments, I do think the woman in the fancy sports car has a point. Do we need to distribute cupcakes and holiday-themed pencils when there is so much need, not just in the world but right next door in the at-risk neighborhoods on Chicago’s west side? But does that need in other communities have to take away parties and fun from our own children?
I struggled with guilt and volunteerism all year. And as the year came to a close and the school picnic loomed on a day when it was going to be 98 degrees in the shade and we were stuck out in the church parking lot on the asphalt with 100 kids to entertain for six hours, I summoned up the last of my volunteerism vigor and started writing emails again.
I wrote an email to “Dear Maggie,” whom my spell checker ended up writing to as “Dear Maggot.” Trash brought bottled water, and the wellness committee balked as we killed a year’s worth of sustainability targets in a single day with 27 cases of plastic water bottles. Maggot put out bags of carrots we never asked for because we knew nobody would eat them. We threw away hot dogs, opened bags and bags of chips, and the biggest hit of the day next to musical chairs and the foam visor craft was the coolers full of popsicles.
As I sat in the blazing sun in the middle of an asphalt parking lot with one of my favorite moms, we opened popsicles as fast as we could, we laughed and hugged the kids and shared a day full of joy and sunscreen and bottles of water with all of them. At the end of the day, after the picnic was over, my kids and I were home and another year of being room parent was behind me, I looked at my front porch covered in leftover bags of chips, unclaimed bowls, platters and soccer balls, neatly folded picnic blankets and stacks of donated coolers. What I felt was not guilt but gratitude.