Although I’ve always prided myself on being fairly good at volunteering, it wasn’t until my oldest son Sam started kindergarten that I realized how small potatoes my efforts actually are in comparison to those of a certain type of person. I’m not talking about the Mother Teresa or Jimmy Carter sort of person, either. No, the people I’m talking about are usually only found at suburban elementary schools.
And they’re known as “The Uber Volunteers.”
The first time I encountered this rare breed of do-gooder was at Sam’s kindergarten classroom information night. Most of the parents who showed up for the event were completely thrilled to be there and they were all chomping at the bit to get involved. As soon as the teacher’s spiel about the upcoming school year was over, the excited parents immediately barraged her with questions about what they could do. “Can we help with reading?” they shouted. “Writing? Math? Art? Oh, for the love of God, woman, can we at least take your sweaters to the dry cleaners and clip your toenails on the weekends? Tell us! Tell us! We’re here for you!”
As this strange frenzy continued, I wandered over to the volunteer sign-up sheets the teacher had put on her desk 20 minutes earlier. As I looked through page after page of the various jobs and duties she’d listed, my jaw dropped when I quickly realized that every single position was already taken. Everything from Computer Mom to Literacy Mom to Birthday Mom was gone. Did these jobs come with a staff car and a 401K plan or something? Why didn’t I know about this?
I was just about to write down my self-created volunteer position of either “Chips and Salsa Mom” or “Hey, Kids, Who Wants to Iron My Laundry? Mom” when I noticed the most important page in the bunch. The page that listed the very esteemed position of “Room Mom.” Now from what I’d heard on the kindergarten grapevine, Room Mom was the most crucial, most Queen Bee position of them all. It required tons of time, effort, organization and a willingness to do whatever the teacher asked. Meaning, it was something I’d consider akin to capital punishment. But as evidenced by the manhandled sign-up sheet, there were at least eight women who still thought they were up for the task. Eight. Out of a class of 15 kids. If I had any math skills at all, I’d say that’s around 80%.
As I stared at the names on the list, wondering just who these Uber Volunteers were, my reverie was suddenly interrupted by a sharp voice from behind me. “Hey, you put your name down for Room Mom, too?”
“Excuse me?” I said, turning around to find myself almost nose-to-nose with a very pregnant brunette who was unhappily gesturing to the sheet of paper in my hand. “Me? Room Mom? No, no way! That’s a sucker bet, my friend. Sucker. Bet. Er, what I meant to say was I don’t really have time to be Room Mom this year because of all my other … hospital and abandoned dog things I do … at the soup kitchen … by the refugee camp … with Bono. And the Gates Foundation.”
“Then you mind?” she grunted as she lunged toward the paper, almost sideswiping me with her giant belly as she ripped it out of my hand.
“No, go right ahead. I’m certainly not going to stop you.” As I jumped out of the way, she quickly put the paper on the desk and scrawled her name at the very top of the list, thereby making it look like she was the first person to sign up and not the ninth. Slamming the pen down, she then looked at me with a hard stare. “You’re not going to tell anyone about this, are you?”
“What? Me? Of course not!” I stammered as I looked at her long, sharp fingernails and rippling biceps. True, I was shocked that there was something akin to voter fraud going on in Ms. McAllister’s Panda Room, but I wasn’t going to be the stupid patsy who blew the whistle. No, the last thing I needed was to start the school year with the nickname “The Blonde Narc.” “I guess you must really want that job, huh?” I asked.
“We’ll see,” is all she cryptically said as she waddled away. Probably to go rig an election in Panama or something.
But what that encounter, and the many that have followed it throughout the years, taught me, was that The Uber Volunteer-type of mom takes her school duties very seriously. They don’t miss a single activity or opportunity to help the teacher and they’re always available when the need arises, to the great relief and gratitude of the rest of us. Sometimes this is because they’re Type-A personalities, sometimes it’s because volunteering is the only way they can feel connected to their child who’s now away from them in school all day.
However, I also suspect that sometimes these women do things like elbow their way into the Room Mom job or get into a screaming match with the cotton candy guy at the school carnival because of an entirely different reason. And that reason is that they’re just complete, raging lunatics.
But of course, that’s an opinion I’d never want to volunteer.
My essay that was originally published in a slightly different form in Austin Woman magazine.
(Also, someone who makes school volunteering much easier on everyone is my friend Karen at the fabulous VolunteerSpot.com. Seriously.)