This is the story of how I went from being that kind of mother to being that kind of mother. When my daughter Allie was young, she attended a small school at our church. I was a frequent volunteer and eager to help in any variety of capacities. I taught art classes, I served lunches, I baked – whatever was needed, I was more than happy to do it.
When Allie switched to public middle school, it was as if a wall was erected and parents were practically asked to stay away. I entered the building for back-to-school nights and plays, but that was about it. No one ever asked me to bake anything. No one asked for my time. It reminded me of my own days in middle school when I always felt left out and awkward.
Even before she started high school, the constant barrage of requests for help began, and I was more than happy to play along. I became a pro at the Sign Up Genius, and was a frequent provider of teacher appreciation meals, an occasional test proctor, and a member of the Booster Club and PTSA.
The Booster club provides a huge chunk of the athletic budget for the school, and their primary fund raiser is the concession stand. One fall Friday evening, I found myself signed up to help in something known as the Snack Shack. The Snack Shack is located at the entrance to the football field and serves up things like burgers, hot dogs, nachos, chips and sodas.
I arrived at the designated time to help set up and as soon as I entered the shack and saw well-oiled machine of irritable women working there, I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck raise. Uh oh. I had entered their lair and they wanted to be sure to let me know it. Since nobody offered me any sort of orientation, or even an actual greeting, I donned my plastic gloves and asked what I could do to help. This was met with an eye roll and a sneer. Crap. I was the new girl. I was given some busy work to do and was then made to feel as though I was completely in the way of the real work being done by the apron-wearing veterans in the Snack Shack. It was freshman year all over again.
It was then that I felt the walls begin to close in on me and I asked if there was possibly a job I could do OUTSIDE the shack, where some affable men were working the grills. I was put to work wrapping burgers and dogs, enjoying the fresh air and camaraderie. I would occasionally have to reenter the shack to deliver trays of the finished product – each time met with more eye rolls, exaggerated gestures to move around me, and frowns.
Things got pretty busy as the fans arrived to watch the football game, and we soon ran out of burgers outside. One of the grillers asked me to get some more from the freezer. He was very specific – the gold freezer, third shelf down. I made my way through the Shack clique and got the box of frozen patties when the head Shack Nazi asked “Just where do you think you’re going with those?” “To the grill,” I replied. Eyes rolling, she snatched the box from my hands and complained that those were the wrong burgers. I started to explain that these were the exact burgers the grill man had sent me to get and then finally said, “You don’t get a lot of repeat volunteers, do you?” I could see the cold truth of it register on her face as I removed my plastic gloves and joined my family in the stands.
I sat next to some neighbors who have older kids attending the school and when I expressed my frustration with my shift at the “Suck Shack,” as I have referred to it since, they all gave me understanding looks and advice for how to avoid Snack Shack duty in the future. I have never set foot in the shack since.
And this is how I graduated from being that Mom who always volunteers, to that Mom, who is very selective of how I spend my time.