When my first child went off to kindergarten, I was giddy over my first request to fill a PTA job. The PTA treasurer was one of my bus stop mom buddies and she asked if I’d consider being hospitality chair, which consisted of making punch and cookies and sending out cheery notes with smiley faces in the signature. I was honored, humbled, and wondered aloud if I could handle it. She gave me a look. I recognize it now as the Oh-You-Poor-Sucker-We-Will-Bleed-You-Dry look.
“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” she told me, turning to the other moms and mouthing, “Fresh meat.”
And fresh meat I was. I moved from Hospitality to Bake Sale Chairman, to Perennial Clean-Up Committee, and then to Vice President before I realized I was working harder than the assistant principal and the CEO of my husband’s company.
This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom. I knew I’d work, but I thought it would involve cleaning my own house, taking care of my own kids, cooking for my own family and doing laundry that belonged to us. I didn’t realize I’d be saving the world, one car wash at a time.
For my kids and their schools, teams and clubs, I’ve put on a hairnet and an apron and scooped every food group in the pyramid onto plates and trays. I’ve made countless brownies, giant cookies, cheesecakes and rice crispy treats shaped like teddy bears. I’ve made spaghetti and meatballs for 110, and served pancakes at Applebee’s. I’ve sold nachos and hot dogs at concession stands, and cut off drunks from the $1 beers at baseball games.
I learned how to tie 14 different knots so I could teach Cub Scouts and origami to teach Brownies. I learned Power Point for Sunday school presentations, Excel for team treasurer jobs, and had to get a Mac so I could figure out a soccer carpool so complicated there were auxiliary carpools to get the kids to the carpool. I learned all about the printing business so I could print directories, kids’ books, literary arts magazines and PTA newsletters.
I’ve been bombarded with phone calls from tearful 13-year-old girls who were shut out of the Red Cross babysitting course I organized, and was the recipient of an attempted bribe from a mom who said she’d “make it worth my while” if I could squeeze her daughter into the class.
“I could see why you’d want to mess with me,” I told her, “but do you really want to go up against the Red Cross? Those chicks have uniforms and surgical instruments.”
I’ve washed marching band uniforms, laundered sheets and towels at the homeless shelter, and ironed decals onto 28 t-shirts for a 2nd grade class.
I squeezed into my old prom dress to play a wandering minstrel for Bible School stories, wore a green wig for a St. Patrick’s Day preschool party, and became three saints, a clown and Mrs. Claus at religion classes.
I thought I had mastered the highest level of Jill of All Trades. And then I moved to Lexington.
I found that this city moves and shakes to the beat of volunteers. Not the least of which are school age kids and their moms and dads. I found myself the parent of kids whose school district doesn’t subsidize their sports to the epic proportions they’ve become, and in a music program that is bigger and more productive and successful than many rock bands. In addition, Fayette County schools proudly require community service hours of all their students. Add to that a general spirit of volunteerism that has people of all ages pitching in to build houses, erect playgrounds, feed the homeless, help the handicapped, and ensure needy children have a good Christmas.
To help do my part, I signed up. Good thing I didn’t have a job; I would’ve had to quit it. I accompanied my kids to their school/team/band/church group/community service volunteer projects and did my own parent duties. One year, my son had 50 hours of community service to put in, in addition to the sales we had to make.
I’ve never considered myself a salesman. Of all the jobs in the world – and that includes working the line at the slaughterhouse – the one I’m least equipped for is salesman. I’d rather deep-clean latrines at fat camp than sell one candy bar to one hungry, rich person. It’s just not what I do. Or, more emphatically, it’s just what I don’t do.
“You don’t want to buy a huge box of oranges at an over-inflated price, do you?” I’d ask my neighbor. “I didn’t think so,” I’d add before she had a chance to answer.
Through it all, I was unable to ask myself, “Do they pay me enough to do this?” because I wasn’t being paid at all. I did, however, acquire more job skills than I ever would have gained had I kept working.
So what do I want for Mother’s Day? For years I used my own mother’s wish – “just for my family to go to church with me” – but that was largely unsuccessful. Last year I said I wanted to go to the Waffle House for breakfast. Again, no. This year? How about an increase in my sales commission and a sweet retirement package? I’ve worked hard during this time of not working.