I walked into my first school council meeting late. Tables full of mothers with name tags perched in front of them looked up at me as I quickly scanned the room looking for an empty seat. I squeezed in between two women who had moved over whispering my thanks as I settled in.
I struggled through that very first school council meeting sick as a dog; eyes watering, nose running, sneezing my way through each horrible moment. All I wanted was to be at home, in my pj’s, with my kids.
Yet I sat through that meeting and a few others trying to follow along and found my mind wandering. As parents sat planning the school fair and discussing what two weeks would be better to designate as Christmas holidays the following year, I thought about what I hadn’t finished at work that day, I planned the lunches that needed to be packed for tomorrow’s school day, I wrote a post in my head about why I wanted to volunteer at my kids school.
Because that’s what I thought I wanted.
I wanted to know what was happening at my kid’s school. I wanted to be the mother who sat on school council, baked for bake sales, chaperoned class trips and organized fundraising events.
At least I thought that’s what I wanted.
But did I really?
Maybe what I really wanted was for my kids to have one place in their lives where I wasn’t there. A place where they could learn about themselves, make friendships, make mistakes and be someone without their mother hovering around. Maybe what I wanted was to come home from work and hear about how my kids’ day at school was from them at the dinner table and not already know because I had watched them play with their friends while I supervised recess. Maybe I wanted to eat a nice family meal together and then head over to school to check out the bake sale or book sale without worrying about how it was organized or where the donations came from.
Truth is no one really told me that was what was expected. When I registered my children for kindergarten full of excitement and shedding a few tears, no one told me to prepare myself for the countless opportunities there would be to offer my services to their school for free. I didn’t know that kindergarten classrooms would require parent volunteers to come in multiple times a week and help my kids learn their letters. I didn’t know that the school would rely on parents to help monitor the playground before school and I sure didn’t realize that most of these volunteer opportunities would happen during the day…when I am at work.
The guilt began to consume me and I thought myself less of a mother than those who were able to take on the roles that I could not. So whenever an opportunity came up outside of working hours I felt obligated to be there.
But one day it hit me.
These weren’t the things that were important to my kids.
My kids wanted me around.
All of those evenings spent sitting in tiny chairs in a school library could have been spent at home with them, snuggled under covers reading stories. We could have enjoyed more conversation at dinner instead of rushing through it so that I could make it out the door in time for a meeting, kissing them goodnight as I flew out the door.
I know someone has to take on these tasks and I am so grateful to the mothers and fathers that do it. I just can’t be one of those parents. Sure, I can whip up the occasional batch of cupcakes for a bake sale and I will absolutely take a day off here and there to accompany my kids on their field trips while they still want me to go. I am fortunate that I have a job that will allow for that. I will make sure I attend Christmas concerts and school plays and will buy all the fundraising farm apples I can eat to support them and their school. What I won’t be doing is spending what little precious time I have to be with my kids doing things that take me away from them and that I don’t really want to be doing in the first place. I refuse to feel guilty that I have a job that prevents me from signing up for playground duty or lunch monitoring; a role that I think the school should hire and pay someone to do.
So this year, if you see me missing from the school council or parent council or whatever other council meetings, know that it’s not you, it’s me. Hopefully all the parents who are working hard planning all these wonderful events will understand that my absence is for the benefit of my family and I hope they know how much I appreciate the work they are putting in to try and make our school better.