I didn’t see it coming, honestly. So subtle, innocuous. Just this once, I remember thinking. But you do it again – what’s the harm? All of a sudden, it’s too much. It’s not fun anymore. You promised yourself never again but before you know it, you’re in over your head. Not getting enough sleep. Can’t drag yourself out of bed in the morning. Come on! Just say no! But then someone asks you again. And as you stammer, “weelll, ok,” you’re wondering: Where’s my will power? My resolve? My determined “never again”? And you have to ask yourself, “When did I become the newsletter queen?”
It’s involuntary volunteer syndrome, folks – IVVS. It hits people hard in early elementary, some as early as pre-school, and lasts a good decade or so. You know the profile. Predominantly mothers, fellow sufferers come in all shapes and sizes. IVVS hits about 20% of the population (who knows what the other 80% are up to?) and it’s always the same ones, we IVVSers know that. That one you always thought was an employee at the school. Not an employee, just a veteran volunteer. The one who remembers everything you said you’d do and asks you about your deliverables at the next meeting, ugh. GI Jane volunteer. The one who makes it look so easy – homemade cookies and muffins for class parties, handmade teacher gifts and cards every holiday, for crying out loud. The Martha Stewart volunteer. The one who looks coifed and stunning every time, all the time, at 7 am or 7 pm. The Barbie volunteer. The one who runs meetings like a clock, loves Excel and breathes Outlook. The automaton volunteer. And then there’s the rest of us, thanking the heavens above for workout clothes being acceptable daywear (workout optional), not really minding a Starbucks on every corner, and just trying to give something back. There’s just so much to do! and someone’s got to do it. My name is Susan, and I have IVVS.
Managing this condition is easier if you can play to your strengths. I’m an editor and writer so the newsletter route was an obvious choice. Although my husband would wonder why on earth I’d be toiling away on a nonpaying job, I really didn’t mind it. It was easy enough to do, I could knock it out at home while working at my freelance job, and I didn’t have to be in the classroom. I do admire all the class moms with the patience to organize and run those parties. Glue and paint everywhere. Frosting and glitter. Sugar-fueled pandemonium and general anarchy. No, thank you. Truth be told, you don’t want me in there – I’d be too cranky. I send in my $5 and 2 packs of Capri Sun and look forward to the popsicle stick-framed photo of my kid having a blast.
Chaperoning is another side effect I was lucky to have escaped. Since I was working at home while the kids were in school, I never volunteered to go on field trips. I was quite satisfied hearing all about it from my kids or reading other parents’ Facebook updates bemoaning the post-lunch flatulence level of 4th graders on the bus. Except that one time a teacher called me at home at 6 am: another parent volunteer was sick, she needed someone for the art museum field trip that day, she was desperate. How could I say no? Because I liked this teacher, I begged off work and chaperoned a few dozen 6th graders into DC. Most of the kids were awesome but of course there’s always that one. That ONE. Waving his phone about (and this was before everyone had phones – he was all that), snapping shots of everyone, disrupting the group, and ignoring not only my requests but also the kind docent’s repeated requests to put it away. Damn it, time to play the heavy, everyone’s least favorite role. Upon confiscating the phone, I heard myself say, “And THIS is why we can’t have nice things.” Yep, I went there. Cringe.
So, I liked that teacher but I confess I have not liked all of them. Or administrators. And I am Pollyanna! It takes a special kind of negative cosmic force to turn me off. It’s really a bummer when you’ve signed up for a volunteer project, especially one you’re really excited about, only to realize you just can’t work with a certain someone, be it a parent, teacher, principal, whoever. A fellow volunteer explained this conundrum perfectly: “I won’t work like that! Actually, I will work like that because I’m getting paid and I have to. I won’t volunteer like that.” Amen, sister.
In fact, that fellow volunteer became a dear friend. As did so many of the other volunteers I have had the pleasure of working with over the years. You may not believe this, but there is a fabulous picture of several years’ worth of our school’s PTA executive board members proudly mugging for a group shot after our pole dancing class. Yes, you read that right: pole dancing. And we rocked it. Volunteers just wanna have fun, another side effect many IVVSers share; lo, not all. GI Jane comes to mind.
And here we are again, another Labor Day weekend approaches which means school is just around the corner. I do have one foot out the door with the oldest in college and the youngest starting high school. Thankfully, my IVVS days are numbered. My older sister and I were talking a few weeks ago and I had to cut the call short to go to a school volunteer meeting. “In July?” she asked in near-horror, then made a nice save with empathetic clucking only a former IVVSer can muster. She made it through recovery just fine, and so will I.
How about you, dear reader? Any IVVS confessions to make? Do share!