Thursday, October 04, 2012

Weathering the Storm

In last weekend's links post, I mentioned that I was in the eye of the storm. Well, as predicted, the second half of the storm hit this week, and we've all survived so far. I think the peak was on Tuesday. I had a rough day at work, with several issues discovered and not yet resolved during the first couple of days of our vendor visit. Pumpkin had a rough couple of days at school- it was unusually hot (over 90 degrees in our coastal climate zone), and since the school does not have air conditioning, they canceled lunch time recess and instead showed movies. Pumpkin gets easily scared in most movies, and so that really upset her. The anxiety she's been feeling at school bubbled over again, and there were lots of tears. Tuesday was also Petunia's third birthday. She had a great day, but Pumpkin- who had been so excited to decorate the house and prepare the gifts for her little sister- struggled with watching Petunia open her gifts, and completely melted down. She almost missed the cake because she was so upset and crying in her room.

Luckily, Petunia didn't seem too bothered by the fuss, and still had a happy time blowing out her candles. I was struggling to hold it together, though.

Things eased up a bit on Wednesday, as problems started to resolve at work and Pumpkin's school routine returned to normal. But it was Back to School night, which necessitated both me and Mr. Snarky leaving early and rushing home to get the kids settled in with my sister (who also had to leave work a little early to come babysit). We enjoyed meeting Pumpkin's teacher, who seems very nice and good. She told us after her group presentation that Pumpkin is well-behaved but really anxious at school. I had hoped to hear Pumpkin was happier at school than she made out to be at home, but that was not the case. She is doing excellent work, but is clearly stressed out by school right now. And that gives me a bit of a knot in my stomach.

I also didn't enjoy the polite but pointed call for additional volunteers from the two "room parents." They are both really nice women, and I know they are sacrificing a lot to come and volunteer- they kept emphasizing how they are taking their vacation days and lunch hours to do it. But... how could we explain that the problem for us wasn't getting the right to take the time off, but rather that our work would still need to be done whether we took the time off or not? We both have very flexible jobs, and could arrange to take the time to volunteer without having to resort to taking our vacation time. But we are also both in massive crunch times. I will still need to guide my projects to completion even if I disappear for a few hours to go do an art activity with Pumpkin's class. I will still need to get my 2013 group goals and budget written even if I take a vacation day. Taking some vacation time will not relieve Mr. Snarky of the responsibility of guiding the software he is technical lead on to its first production release. Taking the time right now will just push work even further into our evenings and weekends, and neither of us feels that is a smart thing to do right now. So we said that we couldn't help during the day at this time, but might be able to do so in January. We took the list of supplies the classroom needs and we'll bring some of those things in next week. We've also already given a fairly large amount to the school's annual donation drive.

As much as I believe the world (and our school) needs both people who will give time and people who will give money, it is hard to hold that line in the face of obvious disapproval- or maybe just disappointment? I couldn't tell- from these moms, particularly since one is the mother of the little girl Pumpkin identifies as her "bestest friend." But I can't add more to my schedule right now, so here I am, holding that line.

Still, today, I can feel the storm fading away. We solved the remaining technical issues at work. I had to stay late to do it, and then I went out to celebrate a little with the vendor and my team- not a required thing, but something that experience tells me it is best to do. Mr. Snarky graciously agreed to pick up the girls, and they were fed and happy when I came home. Petunia was playing with the train set she got for her birthday and Pumpkin was working on her homework. Petunia's sharing her new toys with Pumpkin, who has gotten over the fact that she didn't get any new toys of her own. Pumpkin reported a much better day at school. And I'm actually feel like I have a few minutes to relax before jumping into my next task- which is preparing for Petunia's birthday party with her day care friends on Sunday.

Tail end of a cyclone. It blew through the night before our wedding. Really.
The more I think about it, the more I think the storm metaphor is the right one. We look at people living in hurricane zones or other areas prone to natural disasters and wonder why they do it. Why don't they just move? But where would they move that would be completely safe? No such place exists. And a lot of times, the beauty of the area or the quality of life makes it worth having to relocate to a shelter now and then.

I think the same is true of being a two-career family with kids. Is there really any other way to be a family that is safe from stress and worry? I don't think so. And the joys of the good times make up for the hassle and stress of times like the last few weeks. We're surviving on our emergency kit of routines and processes right now, but before we know it, we'll be able to take the storm shutters off and we'll clean up the debris in our yard and get back to enjoying the awesome view. We may wish our society would shell out for better seawalls- perhaps, for instance, funding our schools such that they didn't need to rely on parent volunteers for so much- but we don't want to move inland. We'll just weather the storm, and then try to build our house a little stronger for the next one.


  1. sigh feeling the same way about Scouts right now. For various reasons the troop needs a new leader, but with sciDAD's new job and me just back from sabbatical, it's pretty difficult for us to step in to pick up the slack. The guilt of feeling like a free rider got so strong that I figured out one thing that we could each do. After that, though, I really don't know what else to do about it. We have jobs that are far more "demanding" in terms of work has to be done v. hours have to be punched on a time clock (not judging, just describing) and I think it is difficult for those parents to understand that even if we are not in our offices, we are still working!

    1. Anonymous5:26 AM

      We just said no to doing boy scouts, so you're one up on us. (If we ever get over our laziness, our next activity requiring chauffeuring will be piano lessons, not scouts.)

    2. Um, yeah. I'm dreading the day one of my girls asks about scouts. I think that Girl Scouts is a good organization, but... yikes, I don't have time for the amount of effort that seems to involve!

      I say only half-jokingly that we're trying to steer our kids towards computer hacking as an extracurricular. No travel!

    3. Anonymous8:14 AM

      DH keeps trying to introduce Logo, but so far it hasn't taken. However, DC1 does seem to be content playing board games against imaginary players with creative house rules. That and books (and the occasional anime or superhero cartoon). We are creating an ubernerd, and if I knew how to umlaut that u, I totally would.

  2. I'm sorry that you have so much on your plate right now!

    Re: expectations of parental participation at school, I'm struck by the difference between what you describe and what I've experienced here in France. Mind that I'm just one data point, and I may be particularly oblivious to other people's opinion of me, but there doesn't appear to be any stigma here to being a working mom. None. Sure, the school asks for parents to come help out on field trips and so on, but I've never felt any guilt whatsoever that I can't. A little disappointment sometimes, but that's different, and they've never had trouble finding plenty of volunteers anyway.

    At least in our relatively affluent suburb of Paris, there isn't any lack of funding for schools, so they have the resources they need and don't ask much for parental contribution, financial or otherwise. I feel that if schools need to rely on parental contributions just to function, there's something wrong with our society's priorities.

    It sounds like in the US the Mommy Wars (or whatever we're supposed to be calling them these days) mean that in order to have a clear conscience, moms have to fill all roles and do all things... or is this a gross exaggeration?

    Anyway, *I* certainly don't think you need to apologize to anyone for not volunteering at Pumpkin's school. Even if it wasn't your job taking up your time but your basketweaving hobby or something; even if it wasn't a lack of time at all, but a lack of interest in hanging out with large groups of small children... you don't have to be everything to everyone, you know what I mean?

    (And managing techies is kind of like looking after kindergarteners, just without the finger paint... so you're more than doing your duty, right? ;)

    1. I don't think it is quite as bad as it seems from the outside, but yeah- there is a strong "good mothers volunteer in their kids' schools!" vibe here, especially with the budget cuts which have decimated so much of the "extras". You know, like librarians and school nurses. It is sad.

      I'll vote to try to fix it (we have some propositions this year to try to undo our mess). And I'll give generously with money. But time? That is in short supply in our house! I want to do something at some point, but coming to get trained to teach kindergartners art doesn't really play to my strengths....

    2. Part of me just thinks that the budget cuts would make me LESS likely to want to volunteer, not more. I mean, if society at large doesn't make education a priority, why should parents be forced to try and hold it all together on their own? And what of the kids whose parents have neither extra money nor extra time to give?

      Anyway, I DO admire you and all the parents who do give time and money. But I think that I, personally, would feel more angry than guilty.

    3. Parisienne makes a really good point. I do have some "extra time" to volunteer, theoretically, but I'm not signing up for it because I honestly don't love being around large groups of little kids who I don't know well. It's fine with our friends for a birthday party, but I don't know the kids at school.

      Hubby on the other hand, is much more comfortable in those roles and has chaperoned a field trip, etc. But it's just not my thing. And I don't feel guilty about that one bit.

      I have instead volunteered to do stuff like setting up a password-protected photo site and an email list, etc. for T's class.

    4. mary d6:41 AM

      I volunteered with J's after-school math club last week. I learned what Anandi said -- I'm not good with large groups of little kids. The only one I recognized was my own. I'm more of a behind-the-scenes volunteer. We're required to contribute 50 hours of volunteering per family per year. You can't buy your way out of it. At first, I didn't like this but it does help round up volunteers, because you have to do SOMETHING. And it can be behind-the-scenes stuff like Anandi said.

      Don't let them guilt you -- we all do what we can, when we can.

  3. Anonymous5:23 AM

    Poor Pumpkin. I hope things ease up for her. It will be great for her future if she can conquer that anxiety early on, but doing that is easier said than done. Maybe reread Mindset for ideas? Also you could teach her deep breathing (in through the nose two three four, out through the mouth two three four)-- my mom started me on that when I was an anxious 6 year old and still reminds me to breathe when I go off the handle (or am giving birth... that sort of thing).

    Re: the phone call. That sort of thing always causes me to dig in my heels. I think it is perfectly ok to tell them that you're donating money instead of time, and even to shame them with a large figure. (Did they give that amount? Well shame on them. Well, maybe not that last part. Hopefully they also realize that time and money are substitutes.)

    1. Thanks! Teaching her breathing exercises is a good idea. We've talked about taking deep breaths when you're anxious, but nothing formal.

      It was clear from the stats they gave out at the assembly at the start of Back to School night that we are responsible for 1/5 of what they've raised in their donation drive. But no way I'd tell that to the other parents! We will tell the teacher to email us if there are supplies she needs. Particularly if they can be bought on Amazon- I have Prime, so I can get them to her within a few days.

    2. It was clear from the stats they gave out at the assembly at the start of Back to School night that we are responsible for 1/5 of what they've raised in their donation drive. But no way I'd tell that to the other parents!

      You are way nicer than me. I would not go rubbing people's noses in it, but if someone is giving you the stink eye for not volunteering time, in my book they more than deserve to get what's coming to them. I would actually be blunt "My husband and I are very busy at work, but we contributed the gajillion dollars that I am sure Mrs Teacher will appreciate."

      On a related note, I think it's really sad (where I am as well) how much parental involvement is necessary. I have been strangely guilt-free about it, I am not sure why exactly (it's pretty easy to guilt-trip me about all sorts of things). I am happy to throw money at them, though.

    3. I'm with @nicoleandmaggie, "tell them that you're donating money instead of time." I'm sure they're well intentioned, they simply have no idea who has given what, their own "good mom" bias is probably getting in the way, and they want everyone to feel welcome to step up, so it would be wise to inform them that you have already given, you're done for the year (now please eff off, smile smile).

      The ability to say no, to mean it, and to never think about it again is a great ability to cultivate!

    4. I might be more forthright about the amount of our donation if we were at our neighborhood school, where most other families would be in a similar income bracket. This school is a Title 1 school, which means that a high percentage of the families qualify for assistance like free lunches. So I would never want to flaunt our ability to give a large donation.

      As I've thought more about this, I think the entire exchange is an example of how the economic diversity that we wanted our daughters to experience in school is also going to require us to get more comfortable dealing with people with vastly different assumptions about what is "normal" in terms of supporting the school and our kids. That is also probably a very good thing overall, if a bit difficult at first. I may come back and write a post about that topic, actually.

  4. Love the metaphor, and I say Bravo for knowing when to say no.

  5. This past spring, DD2 turned 3 (and DD1 was 5). For the first time, DD1 had a hard time coping with DD2 getting presents and she wasn't. Must be something about being 5. :)

    I love your last paragraph. (Well, really I love your whole blog... I actually have "Comment more on Cloud's Blog" on my "things I want to find more time for" list... haha. :)

    1. I am so glad to hear that the present meltdown may be totally unrelated to the stress of the Spanish immersion school. I tend to blame all issues on that, which is silly.

      I'm glad you liked the post and that you like my blog. Don't let commenting here create stress, though! You can come by and comment anytime, even on old posts.

  6. Glad you are making it through. We have been lucky with our 5-year-old's adjustment to kindergarten. So far, so good, and the 3-year-old started preschool not fully potty trained, but we crossed our fingers and he didn't have any accidents. So I'm grateful for that. I turned in my second of two big projects earlier this week and have been kind of drying out since. It's nice to see storms disappear over the horizon.

    1. Thankfully, we have no potty training deadlines, because we are completely ignoring that right now!

  7. Shandra11:55 AM

    I love this whole post, and I am co-opting the storm metaphor.

    For the volunteering... "I'd love to help but I'm still exhausted from the malaria I contracted while digging irrigation channels for starving HIV-positive orphans in Kenya...although it might've been the dysentery I had building clay stoves in Nicaragua...oh ow I think I just got a paper cut (reach for their hand...)...hey you should come with us next time!"

    In other words, these women have a First World Problem, which is fine, but you are in no way obligated to play into it. As if that needed to be said, and it is nice to hear how other people deal with the pressure. We've found public school to be a unique time-sucking vortex, and cultivating no is definitely useful.

    I figure our contribution to society in general will even out over time.

    (And no I haven't been to Kenya.)

    1. Ha! This made me chuckle.

      Another tactic I could never bring myself to use, of course, but it is fun to think about.

      I suspect that I'll get used to this new set of expectations, and find the right balance of accommodating them and ignoring them in a little while. It was unfortunate to run into them during an already stressful week!

  8. I think I'm a day late & a dollar short here, but it looked like nobody else brought this up, & in case it might be a helpful thing to try sometime, I'll pass it on. Until last year, when my kids were 6 & 8, we always had one present for the non-birthday sib to open during birthday-sib's present time (ours involves not just us, but also 2.5 sets of grandparents & an uncle, too). Nothing fancy, but not socks-n-underwear, either. Generally something like a box of chalk or bubbles or, once, a highly anticipated book that was just released & we weren't going to wait on it even if there was no gift-occasion excuse to be had. This past year we let it go, as the kids seem old enough to take a slightly longer view & chill out. (I dated myself with that phrase there pretty badly, eh?) When we first did this, it felt really acquisition-y to me, but I mitigated that, for my head, by saying it was a present for becoming a sib on that day, which again sounds bribey when I come to explain it. But I am an only child & always sort of wanted to get to be a big--or little, but that ship had totally sailed!--sister, so I kind of think of it as being an encouragement to think of sib status as something to get to celebrate. & really, this year the need has sort of started to fall away. It helped that one set of g-parents also holds this small-sib-gift approach, much to my surprise as they are my parents & I never knew, so sometimes the kids got 2 goofy checkout-aisle type geegaws if they thought I might fall down on the job. It helped it all be a bit of a party during the early years of opening-present-negotiation angst.

    Again, I'm a bit embarrassed to be all recommending more consumption, as that is a tendency I fight in myself a LOT--thanks, subtle influence from my wonderful Depression-era grandmother! But I'm facing the fear & commenting anyway on the off-chance the story might be either interesting or helpful.

    Also, volunteering means you can say no. As one who in my short parenting career has volunteered at times a ton & at times never, & as one who has been up there exhorting people to lend a hand, I can tell you that there's a good chance the exhorters want to reach only those parents who _want_ & _have time/resources_ to volunteer, not to make people feel guilty. If there aren't enough parents to volunteer, then someone has to come up with better solutions for how those things get done. & I think it's kind to be straight with them about no being able to volunteer so the school knows what resources--time, money, careful kid guidance from home--they can expect from their parent community & proceed from there.
    But you knew all that. I'm just putting in my vote to check the "you all are doing a great job" & "the school's lucky to have you & the kid there," & "don't feel guilty"columns.

    Hope school feels better for your kiddo sooner than not. (Finally in first grade my fragile flower is hitting her stride, so I sympathize!)

    1. I don't think that having a little gift for the kid who isn't having a birthday is overly materialistic. We've done that in the past- but for some reason, I thought we didn't need to do it this time. I was wrong!

      We just opened another round of gifts today, after the birthday party with the day care friends (OMG, I am sooo wiped out...) and Pumpkin did better this time, perhaps because we let her take pictures on our camera while Petunia opened gifts.

  9. The truth is, unpaid labor of women makes the world go round. I think our society *could* get to the point of funding all the schools near-adequately (albeit not equally), but I don't think we could ever get to the point of not relying on unpaid parental labor.

    And no, money isn't the same thing, at least not across income brackets.
    The challenging thing here is that the truth may be that you have both more money and more time than other people, you just choose not to spend it here. And frankly, that's still ok. It really isn't playing to everyone's strengths to help out with kindergarten art lessons (though that would totes be my strength! I would totally volunteer *for* you if I was nearby). Some people simply get more out of it than others; irrespective of how much "sacrifice" they are making, the trade-off calculation is just very personal. Which makes applying judgement to others even more ridiculous.

    I would say you don't need to volunteer, or feel guilty for not doing so, but you do need to directly express your appreciation to those that can. Because unless the back to school assembly also boasted about how many total volunteer hours they got, and somebody can point to it and say "1/5 of that was me", they aren't going to get thanked the same way you will (as a $ donor).
    In one sense, it's all just a grown up version of the birthday present thing. When time-donation conversations happen, pretend it's your birthday, and you are being gracious others got you gifts. When money-donation conversations happen, pretend it's *their* birthday, and be a gracious giver. It's not complex, just emotional because of all the Mommy Role socialization that gets overlaid with this stuff.

    1. Actually, no one thanked us for the donation, unless you count the automated reply from submitting the online form. The mention of the fundraising at the assembly was an attempt to raise more money- they have a matching grant and right now 50% of it will be left on the table. So, as far as I know, the only people who know that our family donated 1/5 of what they had raised so far are us and whoever handles the finances for the PTO. Our teacher probably doesn't know, and the class mom almost certainly doesn't know.

      And I'm fine with that and think that is as it should be.

      I'm actually a little offended by your last paragraph, but I don't feel like taking the time to parse out why and respond properly, so I'm going to assume that you weren't trying to imply that I'm an obnoxious snob who flaunts her donation money and looks down on the people who donate their time. Neither is true- or at least I try to make sure neither is true.

    2. Anonymous10:16 AM

      Why aren't time and money substitutes? If Cloud donated enough they could hire an extra aide. They could even get one who knows something about art, or being with children. Sure that would get expensive if they needed someone to teach project management to the children... but chances are there are lower cost substitutes and not project managers. Cloud's comparative advantage is not in volunteering.

      (Similarly, if they had enough people but not enough money, they could spend time raising money, thus substituting the other direction.)

  10. Cloud- I don't think you're obnoxious at all! I do think that the social awkwardness of the situation does in part result from there being a real risk of being perceived as obnoxiousness. It is challenging to find a polite way of saying "my time is paid more than yours" without communicating "I think my time should be seen as worth more than yours".

    nicoleandmaggie- Everyone has precisely 168 hours/week. Not everyone can exchange those hours for precisely the same amount of money. Obviously someone on the lower end of the SES sacrificing vacation days is making a larger effective sacrifice than someone like Romney donating 10k. I'm sure Cloud isn't near the Romney income bracket, but my point is that "we're donating money instead of time" is a rude thing to say to people who make a lot less money for their time than you do.

    This isn't just about the *value* of the donation to the school, it's also about the *cost* of the donation to the families. Whether things should be that way or not, framing things in terms of vacation days sacrificed puts it clearly in that category.

    1. Anonymous12:38 PM

      Sorry, not buying your argument. Even low SES folks can donate money instead of time if their time is more valuable than their money and vice versa. It's just less money (or less time, unless they're low SES because they bought time). Really, low SES folks shouldn't feel bad about not donating anything at all if they don't have the money or time to be donating. That's why we have free public education. (And that's why I donate to low SES schools through Donors Choose.)

    2. OK, I understand your point now, and am no longer offended. :)

      I agree with @Nicoleandmaggie, though- no one should feel required to donate time or money, and particularly not people in income brackets where both are in exceedingly short supply. As she says, that is why we have free public education. I have a strong negative reaction to charter schools that require volunteer time for this reason.

      My school is a Title 1 school, but is in better shape donation-wise than many other Title 1 schools, because it is a magnet with some wealthier families, and because it has a distinctive program that probably makes it easier to go out and ask businesses for donations. Our plan is to donate to a less wealthy school, too- I just haven't figured out how yet.

    3. Anonymous7:06 AM

      From now until October 15, Donors Choose will match gifts if you enter the code "Pumpkin".

  11. I just want to chime in about the time/money "requirement". Both my parents worked hard and made little money (at non-white collar jobs which meant standing on their feet all day). They never volunteered at our school and I'm glad that back in my day, there wasn't any attempt to make parents feel bad about that. My mom would have loved to stay home or work less but sometimes it isn't an option. The little free time they had, they chose to spend home with us. Some people really really don't have time or money.


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