Monday, August 25, 2008

Back to School Volunteering

First day of school.

The new clothes. The new backpack. The new lunch box. The new scissors. The new binder. The new haircut. The new EpiPens.

For my son, it’s back to the school morning rush, the homework, and the little social dramas that make up the school day. It’s back to a regular schedule and regular bedtimes and regular dinners.

For me, it’s back to my second volunteer job (in addition to my regular job and my other volunteer job). All school year, I volunteer in my son’s school. My son loves for me to be there. At 4th grade, he’s still happy to see me walk into his classroom. He even hugs me. It’s gratifying to see that as much as he wants to hurry up and become a grumpy, angst-ridden, sullen teenager, there’s still my little sunshiny kid inside there. So I carve a few hours out of my crazy work schedule to spend time in the classroom.

There’s another benefit to my being in the school every week that my son doesn’t realize. And, no, I don’t just mean that I can spy on him when I’m sitting in the back of the room sorting math worksheets. Because I’m in there so often, the teachers get to know me. They know they can count on me. They get to know me on a friendly basis, and we develop a sort of relationship that is much stronger than it would be if we only saw each other once every semester at those slightly nerve-wracking parent-teacher conferences.

That kind of relationship comes in handy when you have a food-allergic kid. If the only time they ever saw me was when I had a worry or a complaint about food in the classroom, I don’t think they’d ever be very happy to see me. I would become “THAT” mom, and no one ever enjoys being "THAT" mom. "THAT" moms seldom succeed in getting teachers to accommodate them willingly.

I’ve also found that just seeing me in the hallway often reminds teachers to ask me about upcoming food issues, like whether they can have salsa and chips on Cinco de Mayo. I’ve heard the sentence, “Oh, you just reminded me… tomorrow we’re doing such and such with food, is that okay?” so many times, that I know they’d never remember to call me and ask about these things before-hand. So by being visible to them on a weekly basis, I jog their memory and keep the food allergy issues at the front of their mind. Otherwise, I’m sure they’d forget.

I understand. Teachers are just as frantically busy as I am. When ever hour of the day is filled with half-a-dozen urgent tasks, we forget things. We have good intentions. But we still forget.

So I take a deep breath, set my alarm a little earlier, and work a couple of hours of volunteering into my weekly schedule. It makes my son happy. It makes the teachers happy. It makes the other kids in school who have allergies happy (even if they don’t know it).

And it makes me happy (even if I’m grumbling about the less-than-attractive bags under my eyes), because it makes the school a little bit safer for my son. After all, I want him to use the new scissors, the new backpack, and the new lunch box. But I don’t want him to use those new EipPens. Not even once.

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