Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mommy the Mercenary

       As a working mom, I like to think I give both roles the old college try. Maybe even the old graduate school—including dissertation—try.
       I have been a working girl longer than a maternal one. I have mastered the concept of working: perform previously identified duties, get paid. It’s a pretty straightforward concept. There are days off and days to stay home if you are sick—even paid trips to flaunt those working skills in other locations, meals and airfare included!
       And, yes, no matter what one does for a living, there are invariably going to be the requisite meetings that go along with the job. Not my favorite part of my occupation but, nevertheless, I can do a good meeting. I sit attentively, nod at appropriate intervals, take copious notes, and even interject at times, often with a tension-reducing humorous, but wise, comment. I told you I am good.
       When I became a parent, it had not occurred to me that meetings were part of the deal. Yes, the ability to sit attentively, nod at appropriate intervals, and even interject at times, often with a tension-reducing humorous, but wise, comment, comes in handy when processing a child’s day at kindergarten. But as I understand it, the payback for all of this empathic listening is to keep my children somewhere on the enormous Bell curve of semi-well-adjustment.
       So given my mastery of the aforementioned skills, it would logically follow that I would be a whiz at participating in the slew of meetings that (I learned the hard way) are part and parcel of parenting. Before a child is old enough to walk, parents are called upon to attend “educational” meetings about parenting strategies and preschools. Fine, I can drop in on a meeting and grab a few pamphlets and high-tail it out the back door. When they actually do take steps, there are "introductory" meetings about sports teams and activities. Luckily, most sports leagues give parents a “buy out” option, so for between $50 and $200, one is absolved from any duties related to volunteering time, craft skills, or snack planning duties. And once they start any form of school whatsoever, the meetings become both educational and introductory, as parents clamor to find out more about what to expect with their child’s new teacher, helping out with school fundraising, PTA, organizing bake sales, art festivals.
       I really thought that, given my talent for being an enthusiastic participant at work meetings, I would be a superstar parent participant, as well. I have attended meetings for all of these activities, each time spending most of the time fidgeting and trying to look engaged while checking baseball scores on my iPhone. Any meeting worth its salt should furnish handouts and an email follow-up going over all the pertinent information, ideally in an easy-to-read font, with bullet points and a restrained use of italics. I am always happy to learn that a meeting I probably should make an appearance at is at a time that conflicts with a sanctioned mommy duty that takes precedence over the meeting itself. Nothing is a better demonstration of the art of Mommy Multitasking than conspicuously showing up at a meeting, making a drama out of hugging the host, and revealing in my best stage whisper that I have to dash to quiz my daughter on her Mandarin homework.
       My children seem wistful that their mom does not do the volunteering that is the inevitable outcome of these meetings. I constantly hear comparisons to other parents who help out in the classroom, or—perish the thought—chaperone school field trips. Sadly, these parents (like all parents I seem to know) are also busy people, so I am not able to play the “well, that parent has five nannies and three chauffeurs, so s/he has time to help out” card. I did try to explain that mommy and daddy give their schools money whenever they ask—and sometimes even when they don’t. And mommy saves those little boxtop thingies on the Cheerios and occasionally drops them off at the school. Oh yeah, and don’t forget, mommy gave birth to you. Voluntarily. That must count for something.  
       I have thought about why I cheerfully endure work meetings, but have the attention span of an ADHD gnat at parent-related meetings. My conclusion: One is paying me to pay attention, and the other is not. Yes, the school meetings often have bagels or donuts, but I am trying to live a low-carb lifestyle, so that doesn’t cut it for me. However, if the next band-uniform-fundraising-committee meeting wants to issue me a W2, sign me up.

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