Today, I crossed a hypothetical bridge, lit a match, and poured some gasoline on it.
Let me preface the story I am about to tell by saying that I am a boots on the ground kind of helper. There are a few things in life that touch my cold little heart and make it all melty. In a world where everyone wants to talk politics, where everyone believes they are always right, and never wrong, and nobody wants to meet in the middle, I cringe. I hate that people drop casual racism without either knowing how racist the comments are or even caring. I hate the refusal to hear other sides, to meet in the middle, and I hate the hypocrisy of it all. The world gets me down a lot these days. I am an idealist at heart, and optimist. I am a defender of the little guy, the underdog, or those who need a voice to be heard on their behalf. I put up with horrible people far longer than I should, and I make excuses for them, always wanting to believe people are inherently good and not the jerks they really are. Kids though, I hate to see a kid go without. I hate to see a child suffer because their parents can’t provide something. We all have our own struggles, but kids struggles shape who they will become. I hate seeing a child go without. Kids, elderly, people struggling, I just want to make the world a bit better for them.
The past two years, I helped provide Christmas for a family in need when both parents lost their jobs. I did so by organizing, reaching out to family and friends, and making do with what I had, and I’ll tell you I was proud of what I had accomplished in a very short time with limited resources. A few years ago, when Hurricane Sandy hit, I took clothes, supplies and medicine to a family stuck on LBI. I was one of the only people allowed on the island. If you ever wanted to know what it looks like if the human race disappeared, that was it. The streets were empty, traffic lights swaying in the wind, and boats littering the roads where cars should have been. I have given food to the homeless (only to have them tell me the food didn’t suit their dietary needs) and toured town looking for a homeless man my son met and who he wanted to donate stuff to. After ages of hunting for said man armed with socks I had bought for someone for Christmas and gift cards I had received as gifts, we were unsuccessful. I am the one that will mow my single mom friend’s yard which is HUUUUUGE with a push mower because her mower broke and I know she had a bad week. Look, I’m not an asshole (all the time) and I’ll jump in when I see someone struggling. I have learned through these deeds, that sometimes things go amazingly right, sometimes just ok, and sometimes, no good deed goes unpunished. Sometimes, you give to someone who doesn’t appreciate it, really need it, and sometimes you try to assist a blind person across an incredibly busy parking lot only to almost get hit by two cars. Life doesn’t go as planned, sometimes it throws a wrench, and sometimes, people turn out to be kind of shitty. My husband grew up helping the homeless, and he often gives them money. I asked him one day how he reconciled giving money to panhandlers or people begging when the fact is that many aren’t really homeless. He summed it up for me “I give with my heart. What they do with what I gave them is on them.” For him, it is about the intent of giving. I liked that, and it’s how I try to reconcile when giving goes wrong.
For those of you who follow my blog, you know for a hot minute I joined the PTA. I joined after the BOE redistricted our town, ripped our school apart, and stripped all of the current families out save a few. We had a strong community at our school, and we were all devastated. We also lost all of our PTA members except one. Somehow, my name got thrown in the hat, and surprisingly, I got voted in. I saw the PTA as a way to do a good deed, help kids, and make a positive difference in our school. My husband, who is the cynic of the family, told me it’s often a place where people who just want to be in charge of something congregate. I shushed his negativity and jumped in with both feet. We had an economic shift in our school, and fundraising, which I am usually pretty good at, seemed like a challenge I could excel at. I started brainstorming ways to fundraise but also ways to make lower income families feel included and welcome in the process. A lot of my ideas got shot down, and it felt honestly like they just wanted to do what they had done before. I explained that with all of the changes in the district, I truly felt that we needed to change tactics and bring families together in new ways, rather than make people feel guilty when they couldn’t donate cash. I came up with the idea of a bottle drive. It’s not like it’s a new idea, or was never done before, but I wanted to incorporate it. They didn’t seem excited, but let me move forward. I took it on as a project over the summer.
Over the summer months, I started looking for bottles and cans from friends, family, and coworkers. I arranged pick ups and started returning the cans and bottles. I found the most accurate method was to do them by hand, so I did all except for two bags or so by hand, those two were done in bulk at the recycling center. It became a second job. I coordinated pick ups, drop offs and all the redemptions were done by me or me and the kids. They soon grew bored of it.
As I was working on this after a few weeks, one of the other members started putting hands on the project. Not the physical work or effort, mind you, but she changed the hours of the actual drive in the fall. She created a flyer and posted in online. She offered me up to do pick ups. Now, here’s my thing. I hate being micromanaged. My rule of thumb with volunteerism is, if you’re not doing the work keep your hands off it. Either contribute or let the workers lead the plan. Volunteering my time over the summer should come from ME, not her. This irked me to no end. It felt disrespectful. The feeling of disrespect lingered, and it bothered me. Excuses were made, shoulders were shrugged, but it bothered the hell out of me. Combined with that was the realization that this whole pta thing seemed micromanaged at the top, but completely unorganized at the bottom started me thinking it wasn’t for me. My grandfather wasn’t doing well, I was busy with work, the kids, and keeping all the proverbial balls in the air…it was suffocating. I took stock of things, and made a choice….I needed to quit the PTA. I just wasn’t happy. Every idea I gave was almost immediately shot down, I was getting texts from 7 am to 11 pm, holidays, weekends, and it was CHAOS. It felt like I couldn’t breathe. I have a full time job and I am a full time mom. PTA was another 12 hour onslaught of messages and demands I couldn’t handle. Also, I looked at the other member’s personal FB pages, and not one message was done about the bottle drive. Not one bottle collected. not one bottle dropped to me. They were ok volunteering my hard work but wouldn’t contribute to the fundraising they so desperately needed. That was the final nail in the coffin for me. I left.
Quitting left me feeling horribly guilty. I don’t like to set the tone of being a quitter for the kids. I believe in being a team player, and helping your teammates out. I just couldn’t stomach the constant barrage of texts, demands, questions, and people making changes to an event they weren’t even involved with. Pretty soon though, the guilt quickly faded one day while I was driving 2 towns over to pick up a shopping bag of about 10 cans. The miles, the hard work, the sweat, the stickiness….this can stuff was dirty business and a lot of work. Nobody had offered to help me or spoke to me about it.
They asked if I would go, I said yes. I was told the president (time change/flyer poster) was now in charge of the event. Ok. Strangely, I never heard anything about it, but assumed I would show up. I had concerns. Did they have sorters? redeemers? volunteers to transport? What was the plan? I asked and was told nobody knew except the president. Huh.
Today, my friend on the board, the one who brought me on to begin with, messaged and asked me when I would be at the drive. I said “Morning” and she wanted something more specific. This puzzled me because she had been adamant the day before she had NOTHING to do with the drive. She said the board had been talking and wanted to know if I was going to be there, and when. When I pressed her on this she denied any knowledge of the event and said the president was in charge and pointed me to her. At this point, I was pretty pissed. Why should I be chasing down someone to ask them I how I could further volunteer when I had already spent an entire summer busting me ass while the rest of the board was vacationing? I made this clear, and word travels fast because I got a message from the president.
Apparently, for all their posting on facebook with flyers etc, nobody is in charge of the event. Apparently, they think I am in charge. Me, who has no access to the PTSA mailers, emails, flyers, volunteer sign up sheets….nothing. I’m not a member, but apparently I am supposed to Skywalker it and use the Force to pull together a fundraising event for 700 students. They had 1, count them, 1 volunteer parent who nobody had bothered to call.
Let that sink in.
Hours upon hours, miles upon hours, bottles upon cans and my car smelling like a bar at closing time….and they couldn’t look at a sign up sheet and make a call. Hell, two on the board weren’t even going to be there AT ALL. When I asked what their plan was, they had none, aside from the three remaining people were each going to work it for 2 hours. What?
Not one post on their own pages. Not one bottle handed over. Not a plan, not a phone call to volunteers, hell, not even GETTING volunteers. They had done…..NOTHING. Everything was “not their problem, not their event, not their wheelhouse”.
And now they expected me to pull it all together and make magic.
In all my anger, I paused for just a second to ponder if I could pull it off. After all, that’s what I do. I take the undoable, and I make it done. I help people. I knew some basic concepts that needed doing to make the fundraiser work. It would be a great lesson to my kids. Take lemons and make lemonade. I work well under pressure, although I’ll collapse after. My husband told me to drop the cans and money and bail after what had been done. He knows horseshit when he sees it.
But there was one sentence that was said that handed me the match.
The president reminded me how she had so kindly said she would work the morning shift, (a whopping 2 hours!) she wouldn’t be there after all, she said she had someone else filling in for her to “fulfill her obligation” and “I feel content with that”.
When I asked what the plan was she said there was none. They had done fuck all and expected me to show up and run a PTA event with little to no PTA assistance, effort or work, just to earn them money.
Grab the gas.
And if I didn’t show, they’d just figure it out on the day.
I have redeemed over 5000 cans and bottles. Put miles on my car, sweated it out in hot grocery store bottle rooms, dealt with drunks harassing me while doing it. My new car smells like an old bar at closing time. I gave up valuable time of my own. $250 may not seem like a lot of work, but it sure is when it’s earned at $.05 at a time. That’s a lot of nickels. They wanted me to do every ounce of work and step back and earn the credit for it. I did it so that hopefully no child would miss out on a learning experience because their parents couldn’t afford it. I did it so that a kid who might not have a shot at doing something because of funds would get some help so they could participate. I did it so a teacher could have supplies without having to dig further into pockets that we as a society don’t fill enough.
Let me blow on those flames.
Tomorrow, I will deliver those funds, because I promised every person who donated that every penny would go to the school. I will first try to donate them directly to the principal, if they can accept them. Because I left the PTA, the office drive is in two days, and I did all the work, not to mention all the bottles came from my family, friends and coworkers, I’d like to hand the money directly to the school. If I can’t the funds will then go to a member of the PTA. But make no mistake, the envelope will say:
“$250. Raised by myself, family, friends and coworkers. To be used for students. I will not be at the bottle drive. The pres will have a plan. Oh, and I am content with that.”