“I don’t have time to volunteer.”
They spit the words at me like I’m a viper about to attack them.
I smile and hand them a schedule of activities for the year. I offer them a cookie and a cup of coffee.
“If you had your meetings at night I would come, but I work during the day.”
They say this angry too and look at me like I’m trying to sell them a shitty used car.
I smile again and point out the activities we have planned for evenings. They look around agitated and I can see they want to bolt.
My very face seems to make them cringe inside.
I put the gold star on their registration card, the only reason they stopped at my table, and they move away.
I am their guilt personified. They can’t stand me.
I am just a mom who volunteers to coordinate things at the school. I didn’t want this role and I almost burst into tears.
Luckily, this isn’t all the parents. Some are excited to hear about the speakers, crafts and events we have planned for the school year. Others are just grateful.
But the glaring, agitated moms are the one’s that get to me. I turn to my co-chair.
“What can we do to make them not feel guilty,” I say. “I haven’t volunteered every year. This is just our turn.”
She doesn’t know.
I don’t either.
I go from being upset to angry. Stop pushing your guilt onto me. I am not the fucking bad guy. I’m not pushing my religion or trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner. I’m a mom at your school telling you about things you can be involved in. I’m giving you options, not obligations.
I am not to blame for the bad feelings you have. Those are all yours. Take them back.
I’m at the verge of losing it when a father walks up and talks to me. He doesn’t shrink away or spit angry excuses at me. He listens, gets his sticker and walks away with a cookie.
I know he won’t be able to attend meetings and so does he, but he isn’t an asshole about it. He doesn’t take my very presence as a personal affront to him. He doesn’t make excuses or make me feel bad. He takes the damn flyer and acts grateful that I brought snacks.
But I get it.
I have been on both ends of this exchange and I know what those moms are feeling.
When my depression was at its worst, walking up to the parent volunteer table felt like a punishment. Go talk to the ladies and tell them you suck, I would tell myself. Tell them you can barely get out of bed. Tell them they can’t count on you for anything.
All my self-hatred bubbled up and I didn’t want to even make eye contact.
I get it.
I just hate it.
I hate it for both of us.
I hate that you look at me and think I have my shit together, which I don’t by the way. I made those flyers last minute and I want to quit. I’m not as excited about the school year as I’m pretending to be, but somebody has be the cheerleader and it’s my turn.
I hate that you see me and it makes you feel all the bad things. All the lies you tell yourself about how inadequate and failing you are as a mother. It’s all so stupid.
So just stop it. Stop feeling bad about not doing enough. Stop punishing yourself and comparing. Stop thinking I am the bad guy.
Just take a cookie and smile.
You are fine.