Friday, September 6, 2013

I'm Just a Girl Who Cain't Say No

Well, it's that time of year again. Every fall since the kids started school I tell myself that this is going to be the year that I take Nancy Reagan's sage advice and just say no. Of course, Nancy was talking about drugs and I'm talking about being a room parent, but the tag line is the same. Oh sure, some might say that drugs are more harmful than being a room parent, but those people haven't seen me crying on my computer keyboard when I realize that I have to plan a holiday party that can't include the word "holiday" or the word "party." And they haven't seen me studying food labels at the supermarket to make sure that no food we are serving has even stolen a furtive glance with peanuts, eggs, milk, gluten, or red dye. I'll bet that some drugs would be more enjoyable, just not the really addictive ones that make your teeth fall out.

Before this school year started I vowed that I would not be a room parent. I kept on telling myself that I was turning over a new leaf. No more volunteering! This was my year to relinquish control and let someone else plan the class holiday book swap. Well, how you think that worked out? I'll give you a hint - I haven't been blogging much lately, have I? My delusions were so bad that I had to stage an intervention with myself. I sat myself down and said, "look, we have been down this road before. No one is going to volunteer to be room parent and you're going to think about how you've done it six times and that it's one of the few things that you are currently qualified to do. It's room parenting and lice treatments. That's all you've got! And, on the off chance that someone else actually does volunteer, you know that you are a super-critical moaner and if that poor soul who volunteered to be room parent doesn't know what she's doing, you'll bitch and complain about her doing a shitty job and that's unfair to everyone. This is going to happen. You know that you will be a room parent. It is your destiny." Then I punched myself in the face for being such a know-it-all.

Apologies for defacing this lovely piece of clip-art.
I don't want you to think that it's the room parent job that I'm bitter about. The thing that bothers me is my own inability to let someone else do the job. Somewhere in this world, there are probably people who thrill to the idea of being a room parent. While "researching" this topic, I actually came across one of them. This lady was "anxious for two weeks" waiting to hear if she would be "picked" to be room mom for her son's class! Bless her heart. Apparently in Austin, Texas, being a room parent is a competitive endeavor. Move to my little town where sometimes getting room parents involves begging, pleading, and the occasional personal request from the teacher.

That's what happened to me in the Baby's class. We had to fill out a volunteer sheet the first week of school, including whether we were interested in being a room parent. I wrote, "Only if NO ONE else volunteers." Aside: On this same sheet we were asked about our interests. I listed, "writing, reading, exercising, and decorating my house." The next question was, "Would you be able to share your interests with the children?" I responded, "Sure, I would love to show them how to use Google Images to find pictures of weird tattoos." Okay, I didn't say that. What I said was, "If you have any children interested in writing, reading, exercising, and decorating please send them my way." I love the idea of mentoring a five year old in how to be a housewife. And so, the Baby's teacher called me and said that only one other parent had volunteered to be a room parent and that she would prefer to have two and she would appreciate it if I could help out. Well, obviously I had to say yes.

I do like the idea that being a room parent supports teachers because I could never be a teacher. It has to be frustrating to start each fall with a new group of clueless kiddos and by the time the kids have learned to sit still for long enough to read their letter and numbers, it's the end of the year. Then the teacher has to start again two months later breaking in a new group of kids. It's like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill for eternity.

This is really funny to me because growing up I knew a family
who had a cat named Sisyphus. His cat brother was named Creon.
This is what professors name their pets.

Whenever I get frustrated with having to do so much for the children, I remind myself that it won't be forever because they are getting older and more self-reliant. Along those same lines, I realized the other day that probably the reason that the Baby seems like she's more difficult than the Girl and the Boy isn't because she is more difficult, it's that she is in the unfortunate situation of being little when I have older children with whom to compare her. When the Girl was almost five, I'm sure I thought she was super easy because the Boy was three and, well, this kind of thing was going on:

Proof that Crayola markers are non-toxic.
The poor Baby is being compared to children who can tie their own shoes, prepare their own lunches, and make their own beds (not that they actually do these things, but technically they are capable of doing so). Of course she seems higher maintenance, because she's less able to do things for herself. And while it drives me crazy to have to readjust her socks 56 times because the seam is scratchy, I know that it won't be forever. Maybe I'll even fondly remember the time I spent readjusting her socks. But teachers don't have the chance because when they are in a the 20th circle of hell where you are readjusting socks forever.
That's part of the reason I volunteer to be a room parent. Teachers have enough to contend with having a new group of kids each year. If you have institutional knowledge to be a room parent, it just makes sense for you to do it again. 
Enough with my complaints! I have some actual, possibly helpful information if you are lucky enough to be selected to be a room parent:

Shutterfly Share

I discovered that Shutterfly ('member them from before Facebook and Instagram?) has a share feature with which you can create a class website and share information with the class in a pretty efficient manner. Here is a heavily redacted screen shot of a site I prepared for the Baby's class:

Things that I like about using Shutterfly:

1. You can put all your volunteer lists on a site dedicated to your class. A lot of people use Sign Up Genius or Volunteer Spot to manage volunteers. I think that these work well for one-off events just fine. So, if you want to manage volunteers in multiple classes for Field Day, one of those sites would be a good choice. But, if you have year-long volunteer needs for a single class (like Mystery Reader or snacks) it's nice to have the sign-up sheets someplace that the parents regularly visit, otherwise they forget about signing up and you have to pester them.

2. The photo feature has saved me from some major hassles when yearbook photos came along. I took pictures whenever I was in the classroom and downloaded them so that the other parents could see what exciting things we did at the Election Day learning celebration, or whatever. Then, when the yearbook committee requested pictures of the class, I actually had some easily accessible. Knowing my photography skills, the pictures weren't great, but they were better than nothing!

3. Shutterfly sends out reminders for you. If a parent signs up to be a Mystery Reader on the site, it will send the parent an email the day before they are scheduled to remind them. Because I have my own schedule to manage, I don't want to have to think about sending a reminder to Tallulah's mom to bring snack on Tuesday.

4. It give the appearance that I am highly organized, when I am actually not. I am a big fan of anything that makes me seem in control of my life.

I have encouraged the K to use the Shutterfly site to manage the Boy's new baseball team. The sports team sites have features for keeping track of player availability, practice times, field status, weather, and game scores. In fact, I'm here thinking that I should help out my friend who is the team parent for the Girl's soccer team and make a site for the team. NO! Just say NO!

Bury Them With Information
 Right off the bat, get as much information as you can about every activity for which you will need parental involvement and send the parents a detailed letter listing everything. If you are having four "learning celebrations" aka parties, tell parents the date, time, and theme so that they can put it on their calendars. If parents are going to have to volunteer for the Annual Fall Festival, tell them as soon as possible so that you aren't springing it on the parents at the last minute, because that's a sure way to be stuck manning every shift at the Fall Festival yourself.

It's Not the War of 1812
Now you're all thinking I've gone completely off my rocker, but hear me out. One of the causes of the War of 1812 was the impressment of American sailors into the British Royal Navy. You want to avoid parents feeling like they are American sailors and you are the British Royal Navy. This is why I don't assign parents jobs in the class. My feeling is that I want people who choose to help, not people who are grudgingly helping because I've told them they have to be there. Also, I know that some people work long hours at inflexible jobs. Other people have way more to contend with every day than writing blogs bitching about being a room parent. Oh yes, I am not so crazy or self-centered that I don't realize that I'm pretty lucky to have the means to stay home and complain about being a room parent and not have to worry whether the power is going to be on tomorrow.

Pinterest is Not Just for Nutella Recipes
Once in a while I'll have a great, inspired idea for a teacher gift or a classroom activity, but those come with the frequency of Haley's Comet. This is not helpful if you have to get three teacher gifts, and plan four classroom parties (yes, dammit, I'm calling them parties) in a year. The good news is that there are tons of very creative people in the word and they all love to share their ideas. While looking at party ideas on Pinterest, remember that classroom activities never take as long as you think they will. Always plan extra activities so that you aren't left entertaining 26 kids by showing them your double-jointed thumbs. (Why, yes I do.) Also, think about what the children will enjoy, rather than what will impress the teacher. In that vein, what do you think this is?

If, like me, you said a fruit porcupine, you'd be wrong! It is a fruit turkey that someone made for a Thanksgiving celebration. I think the turkey spent too much time grazing around Chernobyl. But, the point is that children aren't impressed by fruit sculptures. They want some sugar and to not have to do a boring worksheet on place value. It's not a high bar.

For teacher gifts, be discerning and know your limits. If you need a teacher gift the next day, you don't have time to make a money book for your teacher. Don't even get started on the idea.

Find out how to make this here because I have no idea how to do it.
And, you know what? While you are spending your time watching a tutorial on how to make this:

Available here
you could have already bought a gift card from Target which is probably what the teacher would prefer.

So, now if you are lucky enough to be selected to be a room parent you will be ahead of the game. I have been getting my class Shutterfly site up and running and letters out to parents so that I can coast for the rest of the year. All this work is cutting into my blogging time and my researching-random-things-on-Wikipedia time, but really that might be for the best. I mean, I do love sharing my random finds with you all:

Dang it, Georgia!

But perhaps there are things that are better off unseen, anyway. But, not that pizza dog. I seriously want to reach through the screen and give him a tip.

Oh, hey, guess what? Just like your parents, Out Went the Light is now on Facebook! I would appreciate it if you liked it (I mean if you really do like it, of course. No pressure!)


  1. This post resonates with me. I know I have no children but I am the volunteer sucker for everything. I know I have a ton of flexibility at the moment, so I shouldn't complain.

    That said, we are cut from the same cloth. Except you are way funnier. And I like giveaways ;)

    1. Yes, even though I know it was technically luck of the draw, I will always remember us on garbage duty at the MERCK picnic. That's the kind of thing we'd volunteer for if no one else would do it!

      I would love to do some giveaways! You need to let me know how I go about getting stuff to give away.

  2. I didn't feel guilty about saying no after year 8 of room parenting. I also don't feel guilty about not joining committees. And the list goes on. I think you'll know when it's time to retire. In the meantime, have fun planning parties and other activities and recruiting volunteers who don't show up at the last minute and definitely earmark some of your own $$$ to pay for stuff. Good luck!

    1. How are you turning your back on all those years of Catholic school by not feeling guilty? I went to Catholic church once in 1991 for my boyfriend's sister's first communion and the priest made me feel guilty after about 10 minutes! Well, then, you'll have to give me some of your tips for saying no, meaning it, and not feeling guilty about it!