The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I need to be committed

No matter which way you read the title of this post, it's still applicable. I love to commit myself, and for that, someone probably ought to lock me up.

There are two types of people in this world: committee people and non-committee people. I am a committee person.

It probably sounds better to say that my participation bug is fueled by my inability to say no to anyone, and in some small part that's true. But I suspect my nosiness and my need to always be in the thick of things are far more to blame. It doesn't matter if I'm in a professional setting, a volunteer organization or even a group of friends, I can not for a second stand back and let other people run the show. Every time I enter a new situation, I promise myself it will be different this time, that I will let others do the heavy lifting for a change. And every time, my genuine (though likely misguided) belief that I really can make a difference in an organization and that my skills would be an asset to the group takes over. And before I know it, the job (any job, every job) is mine. I'm a pretty lousy delegater, but I'm damn good at biting off more than I can chew. This is a lethal combination, and it's one that has gotten me into trouble more times in my life than I can count.

For the past four years that I have been home raising my children, there have been precious few opportunities to get myself into this kind of deep water. Apart from organizing playgroups (check) and mommy get-togethers (check) and group vacations (check) and birthday parties (check) and acting as the general repository for information about everything from local preschool registration dates to the "correct" order of vegetables to offer when starting solids (sigh... check), I haven't encountered too many situations that require -- or even make room for -- my "organizational expertise." I've been aware of this absence in my life and I've mourned it a bit, even halfheartedly made some attempts to locate some local volunteer opportunities and organizations that I might commit myself to. But the logistics have been daunting and the kids have been too all-consuming and for these reasons, plus a host of silly excuses on my part, it just hasn't happened.

And then somehow, this fall, things started to change. The increased demands of my nearly-4-year-old's social schedule now require frightening amounts of organizational skill on their own, but her absence from my house so much of the time frees me up a bit to do other things. And when those other things involve free babysitting for Evan, the lure of the committee siren song is just too great to resist. Suddenly, I am coordinating up the wazoo... creating forms and writing newsletters and organizing Picture Day and maintaining spreadsheets and setting up conference calls and thinking about events. I can feel myself falling into my old committee rhythm, and it feels good. It feels like me again. There's a swing in my step when there's a file folder in my hand. "I'm doing something other than wiping noses," my heels happily click out as I walk down a hallway.

There's only one problem with all of this, and that's my kids. Remember them? Yeah, they're still here and someone still needs to wipe their noses. And they get damn pissy when I'm not around to do it or when I'm distractedly swapping at them while I answer an email or talk on the phone. As happy as volunteering makes me, that's how unhappy it seems to make them. They're not interested in sharing me with anyone else yet. And the more I try to squeeze things in and the more those things impede their Mommy time, the less flexible they get about such things. To keep the peace around here, I'm starting to realize, I need to start doing less and simply being with them more. And I'm frankly not sure how I feel about that.

Four years into this Mommy game, I do feel entitled to a little piece of my old self, to the freedom to explore a few pursuits beyond the care and feeding of my children. Most of the things I'm currently involved in relate indirectly back to them through their school, but I've been bitten by the volunteer bug again, and now I'm itching to delve further into organizations completely unrelated to my "day job." At the same time, I'm realizing that if my priority is still going to be raising my children, I'm going to need to pick and choose how and when I extend myself. In other words, I'm going to have to learn to think long and hard before I raise my hand in a meeting. And I'm going to have to learn to say no.

Doing so goes completely against my nature, and it's contrary to everything I've ever known about myself. But as a parent of small children, my life is no longer fully my own. I do believe I can make room for some committees in my life, but I need to be damn careful that they don't take over my life. Most of the hours of my day are already spoken for, and I don't want to lose sight of my kids' needs in the process of meeting my own. And so I'll go slowly, or as slowly as I can. And perhaps, in the end, the lesson of moderation will be one of them most important things I'll end up learning from my children.


At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Gretchen C. said...

Wow. You and I are so totally opposite in this area -- I'm such a lone wolf, a non-joiner, a misanthrope -- that I really can't relate to your need to be committed (ha!) but I can definitely help you with the "saying no" part.

Lesson One: Looking in the mirror, perform the following exercise for ten minutes a day: Think of, and say aloud, all the different versions of "No" you can think of. Like so: No. Hell, no. Absofrickinlutely NOT. Get bent. Piss off. Not a chance. As if! NO.

Repeat daily until you mean it.

At 10:26 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

Oh, I hear you. I HEAR YOU. Can I say it any louder? I HEAR YOU. I'll tell you sometime how taking my son to a birthday party last weekend resulted in my sudden landing on a legislative action committee in my state. Another committee. And I love it. Yet, I struggle, for all of the reasons you wrote about and then some.

I. Hear. You.

At 8:42 AM, Blogger Rosemary said...

I'm happily somewhere in the middle between you and Gretchen -- and still need to be committed! I'm not by nature a committee person, but I absolutely can not stand a void. When there is something that needs doing, and no one else is volunteering (usually because it is the most godawful who-the-heck-in-their-right-mind would ever want that job" kind of job), I'll volunteer. The good thing is that I don't join groups so I'm not at risk to exposure on that front. The bad thing is that I get nailed all the time on the job. Inherited the job from hell for 2 years because no one in their right mind in our division would've taken the job -- you know, project already completely in the toilet and your getting parental guidance from VP, P, Congressional oversight committees... I had a boss who knew my weakness. A couple of friends made me a sign that said "NO!". Since I couldn't say the word, they coached me on how to flash this in response to certain verbal cues.

At 2:08 PM, Blogger Kristy said...

This was an interesting read. I, too, can hardly join a thing...mainly out of frustration (yes, my big fat intellectual snob streak showing its ugly face). I've always "wondered" about people like you (ha!), but, hearing your "inside" take on it was, um, interesting. Now, if I could sign on for something, get it done, and not deal with other folks in the mean time? Yeah, I'd do it. In a heart beat. And I know that speaks volumes for me. Again, not proud of that, either...

At 4:27 PM, Blogger Steph said...

I'm not so big on signing on to tons of committees, but if I see something that needs to be done and no one else is doing it, I'll take over. Playgroup coordinator, playgroup gatherings, Moms Club VP (and co-founder), Moms night out. Done them all.


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