A Tale of Two Volunteers

Volunteering is the theme of this month’s Yahoo! Mother Board (yes, I’ve joined something else!) and I have to chuckle as I read the posts of the other bloggers because some of them talk about super-volunteers and some talk about slacker moms and I can say that I fall squarely into both categories, depending on which segment of my “world” you talk to.

As previously posted, I am the incoming President of the local Junior League. I commit many, many hours to this organization and part of their mission is to promote voluntarism (small nit, you can say voluntarism or volunteerism, there is a very minor difference not worth quibbling over in this post). I serve on another community board and serve my community in other ways. However, there are other groups which ask for my volunteer time and which I used to be more involved in and which I don’t. Yes, part of it is a matter of time — a girl can only be in so many places at once. But part of it has to do with volunteer appreciation.

I’m not talking about luncheons or awards or certificates or anything like that. In fact, I personally don’t like those things much, though I know some people find those types of recognition extremely gratifying.  I’m talking about actually appreciating the skills and time I have to give.  A particular organization I used to give not a lot of time to, but at least some, simply failed to see any value in my organizational, technical or communication skills.  My tendency to turn to the Web to solve problems was apparently against their organizational culture.  From time to time they’d throw me a bone and let me do a computer-related task, but mostly they did not want to learn anything new and they didn’t want me to ever suggest anything new.  My skills and experience were of no interest to them, they wanted to do things the same way they’d always done it and I either needed to get with the program or get out.  When I made one last suggestion to try to solve a problem and was greeted with, “Not everyone is like you and wants to use the Web,” I realized what my answer was.  It was time for me to get out.  Get out of the way.  I’m the “slacker mom” because I don’t volunteer there any more, but I don’t volunteer because I don’t find it enjoyable.  Every time I try to just show up and do shift work (vowing to “shut up and show up”), I’m reminded just how much of an outcast I am in that organization and I come home wishing I had spent my time elsewhere.  Life is too short to feel miserable during your volunteer time.

Contrast that to my volunteer experiences with Junior League or my involvement with Leadership Fairfax or my other Board work, where my skills and experience are not only welcomed, but the organizations are always asking for more of it.  I walk away from these experiences feeling recharged, energized, and willing to do just about anything they want me to do.  I have done everything from shift work to long-range strategic planning – even in the same day – and I always walk away feeling exuberant.  Naturally the mission or cause is the primary reason for volunteering, but knowing that you are valued as a volunteer keeps you coming back.

When I go to my children’s schools, I go there because of them.  But I appreciate how the teachers’ faces light up and they say “thank you!”  Cutting construction paper flowers is not my life’s purpose, but if it makes my son’s teacher’s life a little bit easier, then that’s a good use of my time.  The fact that she seems so grateful makes me all that much more willing to do it.  Not once has my help been turned down or turned away nor have I been shamed for not having more time to give.  They are willing to take me as I am and take what I can provide. 

I’ve just finished a half day of training the League’s incoming leadership about being inspiring leaders.  If there is one thing they’ve taken away from today’s training, I hope it is that part of being a good leader is remembering how to treat your volunteers.  If you are in the role of recruiting or managing volunteers and find yourself surrounded by “slackers” you may want to ask yourself what kind of message you’ve been sending.  Did I use to be your volunteer?  Your “slackers” may be someone else’s star volunteers — see if you can keep them from running out the door!

Check out Volunteer Fairfax’s Volunteer Bootcamp — a great training program for managers of volunteers!  I have no affiliation with them, I just think it’s chock full of great info!

The Internal Mommy War

Mommy Wars is a phrase the media uses to depict a battle between “work-outside-the-home moms” against “stay-at-home” moms. I almost called it an imaginary battle, but for some people, it is a very real battle and become quite heated and quite ugly very quickly. I choose not to engage in such battles — I believe if there were one truly “best” solution, we’d all be doing it!

No, I’m writing about a Mommy War of an entirely different nature, a civil war — the battles fought entirely within.

Although I consider myself a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), behaviorally, I am not by the strictest of definitions. I have a small part-time job managing a web site and I also take a few freelance writing jobs.  Then in my “spare” time I run this blog, participate in other blogs, and hold volunteer positions that require a significant outside-the-home time commitment. In other words, there are many things that take the same level of dedication as my previous career did, and often take me away from the family, yet do not yield the same salary nor societal “weight” as my previous full-time career.   I try to balance things as much as possible so that during daylight hours, I am with the kids, but this still leads to conflicts where I have to make choices and without the clear guidelines of  “I have to do this because my livlihood depends on it,”  it makes for a lot of internal conflict.

One of the fun things about Caffeine And A Prayer is I get invited on media tours.  I was invited to something that really piqued my interest and was looking forward to it.  Not only did the subject matter appeal to me, but the logistics were actually going to work out — often I have to turn them down because they don’t work with the JavaKids’ school schedule.  But my mother and grandmother were in town, so even if I ran late, they could pick up the kids from school. 

And then the invitation came home.

The pink construction paper foldover invitation with a glued-on message, “Please come to our Mother’s Tea.”  JavaGirl had colored it in and signed it with her barely legible signature.  Having attended two of these events while her brother was at the same preschool, I knew exactly what was in store —  a carefully rehearsed song, cookies decorated by the kids, and a handmade present just for Mommy.

Briefly I thought through the options.  The media tour offered on-site day care, she could come with me.  No, that’s not fair to her, I knew she had already been working on her craft and song.  I could send her grandmother and great-grandmother along to the Mother’s Tea!  Then, the mere thought of her, looking around at all the other mommies, knowing that her mommy was the only one not there, holding her present that said “Mommy” on it, broke my heart.  I knew that “Gamoo” and “Pop-Pop” were just not going to be sufficient substitutes and though she would try to remain brave, her little bottom lip would quiver and then the tears would come.  Perhaps the memory of this day would dim over time.  Or perhaps not.

No, this media event, which would be fun and would make a nice blog post, was not worth breaking my daughter’s heart.   

The day of the event came and all three of us, my mother, grandmother and I, attended JavaGirl’s Mother’s Tea.  You could see her practically bursting with pride — for not only was her mother there, but she was the only child with two extra guests.  She sang her song and escorted us to a table where we were served sweet tea and cookies she decorated.  I was proudly presented with this framed poem complete with pink paint handprints.

“There are times when only a Mother’s love can understand our tears,
Can soothe our disappoints and calm all of our fears.
There are times when only a Mother’s love can share the joy we feel,
When something we’ve dreamed about quite suddenly is real.
There are times when only a Mother’s faith can help us on life’s way
And inspire in us the confidence we need from day to day.
For a Mother’s heart and a Mother’s faith and a Mother’s steadfast love
Were fashioned by the angels and sent from God above.”

There was no doubt I had made the right decision.

Earth Day Is A State of Mind

I had the grandest of plans to blog in advance about all that I would do for Earth Day’s big 40th anniversary. Then I was going to at least blog at the beginning of Earth Day to fill you with inspiring ideas and useful links. And now it is a few minutes past midnight and Earth Day is over. But the intentions are not.

I am a very, very imperfect mother when it comes to setting an ecological example for my kids. But I’m trying. And I keep trying.  That is perhaps the most important lesson of Earth Day — it is not about a date and it is not about perfection — it is about raising our awareness and helping us improve bit by bit — sometimes by small steps, sometimes in great leaps.  Here are a few of the things we’re working on in the Java household:

Last year I was so sickened by the amount of plastic found in our oceans that I vowed to make a more concerted effort to use cloth or reusable shopping bags. My track record is far from perfect, but I’m getting better. While many of the bags I use are freebies I have received at various conferences, I also like the products from a company I saw at BlogHer’s expo last year, Blue Avocado.  I still forget to bring my bags in a lot of times, but I’m forgetting less often.

This is the year I’ve told myself we’re going to start composting.  My grandmother has always had a compost pit — a simple operation that involved little more than a cylinder of chicken wire and taking the kitchen scraps out to it.  However, living close to a wooded area, I want to make sure I don’t attract any unwanted visitors to the yard, so I’ve been looking at different options and was very intrigued by Julia Roberts’ appearance on Oprah when she discussed her composting habits and an expert brought up vermicomposting — using WORMS to help compost.  One benefit of vermicomposting is that you can compost items like meat (in small quantities), which you can’t in traditional compost pits/bins.  Now that the weather has warmed up and with Earth Day as a reminder, I’ve been researching worm bins although I’m a little bit nervous about taking on the responsibility of managing 5,000 earthworms in the 4-seasons of weather we have in Northern Virginia?  Have I menti0ned often enough on this blog that I am really am not much of a gardener and any success I have is merely a happy mistake?  I do not want to become Northern Virginia’s Worm Mass Murderer due to sheer ineptitude.  Not to mention that JavaGirl loves worms and I’m not confident I can keep her AWAY from the worms.  At the moment, composting is still in the “research” phase with the intention of getting to the “doing” stage shortly.

This led to asking my very wise friend Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes how she composts, and because she is truly magical in all things garden-related, she shared with me her MacGyver-like version of composting.  One day, when I grow up, I want to be Andrea.  Or have her adopt me.  One of those.

Another one of my good intentions is to have a rain barrel, and lo and behold, BJs Wholesale has rain barrels that have a conversion kit to attach to your rain downspout and is sealed so that mosquitoes won’t lay eggs in your barrel.  I’m still working on convincing JavaDad about this one, as he would be the one who would do the actual “converting” of the conversion kit.

We have become significantly better about recycling in our home this year once I finally found this online chart for what our disposal company accepts in the recycling bins.   We’ve always recycled cans and the more obvious recyclables, but I had no idea that we could recycle “plastic film” in our area.  I am, however, considering changing our trash hauler to a competitor who provides the RecycleBank rewards program — they have specially coded recycling containers and weigh your recycling each week and allow you to earn points to redeems for gift cards for a wide variety of retailers.  In other words, it literally pays to recycle!  Since we live in a neighborhood where we have a choice of three different trash haulers, this is a perk worth considering!

I still remember how “radical” a film about ecology seemed in the early 70s when I was in elementary school (I think my memory has mashed-up multiple films as it is a hazy recollection of a scare-fest about DEET and then something about the many uses of bottlecaps), and marvel at how ingrained the reduce>reuse>recycle message is in my children’s minds and lexicon today even at the tender ages of 6 and (almost) 4.  Mommy may be imperfect, but through media, school, and dare I hope, even at home, they are learning a little bit about taking care of this precious planet — every day of the year.


Disclosures:  This post topic was partially inspired by my participation in the Yahoo Motherboard group.  There is a link to worm bins on Amazon using an Amazon Associates link. Purchases made through Amazon affiliate links on this blog yield a small referral fee. This applies to all purchases made on Amazon regardless of whether the product the consumer purchased was mentioned by me or not. The consumer’s purchases are confidential; I don’t know who has purchased items using my blog’s Amazon Associate links. 

Delayed Gratification


Look what I the kids got for Christmas!  I’ve waited a long time to get for the kids to be old enough to get an Easy Bake Oven!  I remember how much I loved mine as a little girl, foisting impossibly tiny cakes on my parents.

Now that I’m the Mommy, I realize just how awful those little cakes really taste when you aren’t bursting with that I-made-it-myself pride.

Restless Nights

My family has always called me a night owl. My college roommates would concur. My children have actually come in and yelled at me for keeping them awake (or waking them up) by typing in the middle of the night. In my California days, I consulted with a nutritionist who said I had the most whacked out Circadian rhythm she’s ever seen.

I don’t sleep well at night.

There are different types of insomnia, but essentially there’s the kind that means it is hard to get to sleep and the kind where you fall asleep but once you wake up, you can’t go back to sleep. I have both of those. Yeah, it’s a b*$ch. And I’ve had it all my life, as near as I can tell. It gets worse if I am worried or anxious about something. And even worse if I’m sick or having any sort of pain. Pregnancy was a ton of fun!

If I am allowed to, my best hours of sleep are when the world doesn’t want me to — between 7am and 10 am. And my most productive hours are between 10pm and 2am. Not really a terrific schedule for work or a mother. So I cope. And I sleep very little, something I’m used to.

But sometimes my body really rebels and I get virtually no sleep. The clock keeps going by and I watch as it is 3am, 4am, 5am, 6am, my mind and body tensing as I know I will be a grouch with no sleep, and yet I know the day is about to start. This week has been one of those weeks.

Over the years I’ve talked to various doctors about it, who sort of shrug their shoulders, tell me to exercise more, cut out caffeine, maybe prescribe a sleeping pill. This is the year I’ve decided I can’t live this way any more. This is the year I’m going to hunt down someone who really understands this kind of a problem and helps me find a better way.

Because I love interacting with all my West Coast friends on Twitter and Facebook in real-time. But I’d love a “normal” night’s sleep more.