Why I Volunteer Even More At The High School
My name is Mir, and I’m demanding.
It’s true, and I know it. I don’t mean that I’m obnoxious (I hope I’m not) or unreasonable (I don’t think I am), but I do want what I want and I’m not afraid to say so. In this phase of my life, that translates into spending an inordinate amount of time advocating for my children; while the IEP system is in place to accommodate kids like them (with various special needs), IEPs are neither magic nor automatic. My involvement in the process is necessary to make sure things run smoothly, and I consider that both my right and my privilege. That said, I want to be seen as part of my kids’ educational team, not just a parent making demands.
I have always volunteered in some capacity with my children’s schools/activities, throughout the years. And yes, it started because of this team mentality—hey, teachers, I’m on your side! I’m here to help!—but it has grown to more than that, and now that my kids are at an age where many parents let go and step back, my husband and I are at school more than ever. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Believe me, my kids aren’t shy about voicing their displeasure with us, and I have yet to hear, “Do you have to be there?” (In fact, what I usually hear is, “Can you come?” As often as possible, the answer is, “Absolutely.”)
Several times now when I’ve written about volunteering, someone has responded in a huff about how not everyone has the luxury of participating this way. While I know that sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that simply cannot be made to accommodate the time needed, I believe that most parents can find a way to make some volunteer time a reality if it’s important to them. [Edited to add: Even if that means showing up just once the entire year for an hour.] We work full-time and have busy lives and yes, sometimes I would much rather take a nap than go spend hours at school, sure. It’s not always easy or convenient, but I will be there as much as I can, and here’s why:
I want to be part of the team. As I already said, I want to be part of a cohesive team aimed at giving my kids the best school experience possible. Do parents with kids who need something extra who don’t show up to help still find that their kids are accommodated as needed? I certainly hope so—volunteering shouldn’t affect that—but the reality is that parents who help out are viewed more positively by school staff (“this isn’t just a parent asking us to do things, they’re willing to give back, too”), and anything “extra” my kids may need feels like less of an imposition, I assume, because teachers know we appreciate their hard work and do our best to help when possible. And on a very basic, no-ulterior-motive level, I want to give back where I feel my kids are getting the most benefit. Marching band has become very important in my kids’ lives in a dozen different obvious and subtle ways; I want to support the band.
I want to see where and how they’re spending their time. You can call it spying if you must, but I prefer to think of it as helpful reconnaissance. There’s a huge difference (at least with my kids) between the retelling of events around the dinner table and actually seeing with my own eyes how things unfold in real time. When I help out at school, I stay as far away from my kids as is possible—I don’t want to cramp their style—but I see things. I see how they interact with staff, I see who their friends are and how those interactions play out. I see a side of my children I don’t get to see at home. It’s a great way to pick up a lot of information by osmosis; I know which staff will bend the rules for them (for better or for worse) and which ones have no patience when they’re struggling. I know which kids whisper and point and which ones go out of their way to help others. I know who is perfectly polite to my face and horrid when they think no one is looking. I know. This builds my appreciation of the amazing folks involved (and make no mistake, that’s the majority) and allows me to subtly steer the kids away from anyone who may not have their best interests at heart. This is especially useful for my son, whose autism causes him difficulty in reading social cues.
I want to be with them on their terms. At this point in their lives, both of my kids are out of the house more than they’re home. My oldest is happiest when her dance card is not just full but double-booked, and if I didn’t volunteer, I’d hardly see her at all. I guess I could demand she be home more (I’m sure that’d work out great and she wouldn’t be resentful at all…) or just shrug and say, “See you on Sunday!” but I’d rather meet her where she is. As for my son, he needs a little more social support than his sister, and just knowing I’m around is often enough to make him feel more comfortable (and if something happens and he needs me, I’m there). Volunteering is a fabulous, unobtrusive way to stay in your teens’ lives without being right in their faces all the time.
I want to be part of the village. I’ve noticed something interesting has happened over the years: the same kid who wants me to just stay out of it, Mom, geez, is very quick to come to me with other kids’ problems. Recently something went down on a band trip that left another kid kind of shrugging off an incident as “no big deal” and my daughter asked me to please talk to the other kid because “it’s a big deal and this kid needs to hear that from an adult.” She was right, so I was able to pull the other kid aside for a conversation (as well as alert band staff to the issue). It was kind of a sticky situation and I was worried said kid might be angry with me, but the reception to my intervention was… surprisingly grateful, actually. I know that if this same situation had involved my child, someone else would’ve done what I did (and furthermore, that any message would be better “heard” from another adult). I’m not just there for my kids. I’m there for all the kids, as are the the other parents, because that’s good for everyone. The days when I’m there doing my thing and I see another adult call out to one of my kids for a hug (and said kid runs up, unembarrassed and delighted) are the days when I hide a smile and count our blessings. It’s good to have a village.
My people are there, too. I was never a band kid. My husband was never a band kid. Both of us had activities we loved, back when we were our kids’ ages, and our parents weren’t involved. We just went out and did our thing and that was that. Did I ever imagine I’d be where I am today, a middle-aged, frazzled adult who happens to be an active band booster and volunteer? Nope. And did I have any reason to believe that the other parents would turn out to be “my people?” I had no idea, honestly. But it turns out that most of the other parents who are there as much as we are really are our people—we’re not united by a love of band or volunteering, necessarily, but a love of our kids and a similar set of priorities. And what do you know… other folks who see the same merit in all the reasons why we’re there are often people we just plain like hanging out with. I’ve made some great friends through volunteering.
I only have a few years left with these oh-my-gosh-when-did-you-become-adult-sized kids. I’m glad to be able to be there for them (and their pals) before they fly the coop.