I have to deal with something I don’t want to, and it’s taking entirely too much of my energy.
Before starting this blog post I was working through various tasks — household stuff, other writing projects, planning the week out in my head, moving through my morning.
But I was having trouble focusing on anything because of this annoying, nagging voice in my head that kept reminding me of a situation I need to handle.
You might think that with all the energy it’s sucking out of me that it’s a huge, enormous, monumental task.
I need to return an email to the VP of programs for the PTA — a lovely woman who puts in oodles of time making my children’s school phenomenal.
And I mean that with the utmost sincerity, sans snark. She’s truly wonderful, and I like her a lot, which is a big reason this is all so damn difficult.
Here’s another reason: Mom Guilt
Bear with me as I break this down and work through my freaking anxiety.
Let’s start at the beginning.
I received the following email from…let’s call her Dana, nearly two weeks ago:
Hope you guys are doing well and starting the new school year off with a bang. I always find the first few weeks of school energizing and exciting! I’m sorry we never got together this summer. We stayed on the go more often than I expected, and when we were in town we hung by the pool more often than the beach.
I am actually contacting you on behalf of the PTA. I’m serving as VP of Programs this year and was hoping you may be willing to help by chairing or co-chairning a committee. We have a few different opportunities available. I thought of you right away for co-chairing the Yearbook Club or The Five Senses Art Program/Contest. However, we also need a chair for the School Beautification committee.
I can discuss what each of these entail in more detail if you think you may be interested. I would enjoy working with you through the PTA. Just let me know if you have any interest. I look forward to hearing from you.
I have zero interest in chairing any PTA committee, and I should have said no, no, and HELL no the moment I got the email.
But what did I do?
I let the Mom Guilt get to me.
I replied in a timely manner and told Dana that I did want to be more involved this year but wasn’t sure I’d be able to chair or even co-chair a committee, but that I’d be happy to talk to her about these “opportunities” and I provided times I’d be available to chat by phone.
It was true.
But it was also soft and left too much space for me to be talked into a committee chair position when inevitably the “opportunities” are still unfilled.
I also never should have volunteered to discuss any of this by phone. I HATE talking on the phone. HATE. IT.
Between the time I sent the message and Dana’s phone call, I got quite clear on all of it: Hell to the no — no way am I in a place to head up anything resembling a PTA committee at this time.
Why did I not tell her this in the first place?
She didn’t call initially, and then she did.
At the exact moment I was pulling out of my driveway heading out of town for a weekend getaway with some friends from high school.
I could have answered, but I didn’t want to think about PTA so I sent her straight to voicemail – the place where anxious people’s messages go to die.
I told myself I’d return her call first thing the following Monday morning — and it’s now been exactly one week plus one day since, and I’ve yet to call Dana.
Now I not only feel guilty that I’m going to tell her no but also because I haven’t returned her call.
And I’m certain she knows all of this. I’m not the first mom to dodge the PTA officers on the regular.
Guilt, guilt and more guilt.
Here’s the thing. I am happy to volunteer. I’ll work concessions at the fundraisers. I’ll hang out at Barnes and Noble on a Saturday morning when it’s our school’s Portion of the Proceeds Day. I’ll sign the whole family up for the weekend Fun Run. I will BE more involved this year.
I just DO NOT want to be in charge of people, students, or responsible for coordinating and organizing.
I CAN NOT keep all that shit straight.
And as much as I don’t want to tell her I can’t do this, I REALLY don’t want to take the job and screw it up.
This isn’t me being a perfectionist.
This is me…off my focus meds…recognizing that I live with compromised executive functions, and that I’m at capacity with getting people to school on time every day and making sure the folders are signed.
That’s simply reality.
It’s not the case of IF I’ll screw up, it is WHEN, and it’s only a matter of time. Everything in me is screaming DON’T DO IT.
Ultimately this all comes down to guilt over not doing enough at their school.
I’m not doing enough quickly turns into I’m not enough in my head.And that’s not a place I need to go right now.
Last school year was completely nuts for us as a family.
We had just moved to the area, so I used the legitimate excuse that I was getting settled which, in hindsight, was the understatement of the century.
Two kids in a new school, moving and unpacking (we closed on our house two days after school started), work (I was still finishing up some contracted projects at my old job), and we still had a lot going with our old house that we still haven’t freaking sold.
But I swear, every time I was up at the school (which wasn’t all that often; elementary schools bring on loads of anxiety for me — hives, sweaty armpits, racing heart, all of it. Not my safe space by a long shot…but that’s a story for another day), I felt like I was never contributing enough.
Parents are EVERYWHERE at this place.
They’re volunteering in the front office; they’re making copies; they’re planning all the damn parties; they’re greeting the haggard moms like me in the car-rider drop-off line.
And they just seem so damn blissful. Like…these women (and of course there’s not a dad in sight) are entirely too happy at 7:30 in the morning.
The snarky devil on my right shoulder has to ask — What kind of meds are they on, my god?! And… Oh, there’s no way there’s just coffee in that Starbuck’s travel mug. That smile on her face is screaming BAILEY’S for breakfast!!
I did what I could. I sent in the normal party stuff, contributed money for the teacher gifts, wrote check after check after check it seemed for all the freaking fundraisers, and chaperoned a few field trips. I showed up for special meals with the kids, attended class parties, bought whatever they sold.
But I still felt like it was never enough.
You’re not enough, Viv, the voice whispered.
I became overly sensitive when I did volunteer. I’d be chit-chatting with the other moms (ALWAYS the moms) and I’d get this vibe, a quiet assessing — looking me up and down as if to say WHO is that? I’m at every PTA function and I’ve never seen her before.
Now likely that’s not at all what they were saying (though I HAVE heard various mothers whispering among themselves about other moms who are out of earshot), but I absolutely believe that’s what some were thinking. I was blessed with a sixth sense for this sort of thing. Seriously.
I always think that I’ve reached a point of not caring — I’m a born rebel who never gave more than a few damns about most things that others seem to get all wrapped around the axle over. It’s just never been me.
That is…until I became a parent.
I never want my children to be viewed negatively or less than because their mother is…
a royal screw-up different from the more conventionally-minded parents.
I want to support the teachers and administrators.
I want to support the PTA at my kids’ school.
I want to want to head up various committees.
I also want to meet and work together with people in my community — it’s not easy, especially since I work from home and have no family in the area. I’m definitely adult-company deprived these days.
I also want to be authentic and live from a place of truth.
I want THAT more than anything.
I want to model for my children that it’s okay to not be like everyone else.
I just wish I had already called Dana back.
It bothers me that I told her I’d talk with her about these “opportunities” and haven’t. I feel like I’m ghosting her. That’s not how I roll.
It bothers me that I wasn’t able to respond authentically and truthfully the moment she messaged me.
Why didn’t I just say from the get-go:
Thank you so much for thinking of me. I DO want to be more involved this year and hope to do more volunteering through the PTA. However, I am not in a place where I can commit to chairing or co-chairing a committee at this time.
Why is that so difficult for me? I have my suspicions, but again — that’s another post.
I could have spared myself all this angst by saying that up front — like THE day she emailed me.
It’s okay to say no.
It doesn’t make me a bad person.
It doesn’t make me slack.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about my children or that I don’t support their school.
It means that I know my limits and am living truthfully.
It means that I am not building up anger and resentment.
It means that I’m putting my kids and my family first by ensuring that I’m not running myself ragged recruiting volunteers and organizing Clean-Up-The-Grounds Saturday.
It means that I know myself and that I know that I could be a pleaser and say, sure I’ll do it, but that I’d be resentful and end up putting off important tasks AS the committee chair because deep down I DON’T want to be doing it.
And, I DON’T have the capacity to do that job well and do my other jobs well (being a mom to Piers and Wallace, a partner to Gil and an employed writer.)
Acknowledging that fact and saying the words is okay.
It’s adult, and it’s emotionally and psychologically healthy.
If other people get mad or think that I’m slack, lazy, insert some other adjective, then that is okay — that’s about them and I certainly can’t control their reactions and responses.
It’s also okay that other moms love running the PTA and are good at it.
For that matter, THANK ALL THAT’S HOLY THAT WE CAME HERE WITH VARYING STRENGTHS AND TALENTS and that there ARE moms who volunteer to run the PTA. I am beyond grateful for mothers who dig PTA. I am thankful for your service, bow at your feet, and am more than happy to be your worker bee.
(And while I’m at it, please run out now and get your copy of Snarky In the Suburbs. The protagonist, Wynn Bultler, delights in all things PTA. I could totally be the yang to her PTA-loving yin — or should that be the other way around? You know what I mean…I hope. I’ll be reviewing this hysterical read soon.)
I adore Dana don’t want to leave her hanging. At the same time I don’t owe her an explanation or every gnarly detail about my life.
I have the right to say no.
I need a prioritization flow-chart in front of me at all times:
KIDS — GIL (relationship) — WORK (as in the kind where I get paid)
If only Anxiety-Girl wouldn’t show up, because inevitably SHE does, and the spiral takes a different path. This time the practical is front and center.
I start thinking:
I need to meet people in this area in case I need references for jobs.
I don’t want to be seen as someone who can’t be depended on; I need to make contacts here in case I need a better job.
I spiral further:
What if Gil dies and there’s not adequate life insurance to sustain our current standard of living without me going back to work full time at a better paying job with benefits?
Heading a committee would look better on a resume than concession-stand attendant.
Oh my god. Do you guys see how I spiraled?
But I have lived this experience and hopefully I have learned.
In 2011 I started going to church because I was having panic attacks at night worrying about gaps in my resume.That wasn’t the ONLY reason for my church attendance, but it definitely played a part.
I signed up for any and everything.
I chaired various committees, taught classes, ran a book club, attended board meetings, wrote newsletters, coordinated the MLK parade, on and on and on.
I burned out and harbored resentment to the point that I still don’t want to set foot back in a church.
Not because I hate church, but because I couldn’t say no.
I’m all or nothing.
I CAN run things, but I’m choosing not to at this stage in my life and that is OKAY.
I also have to look for opportunities that utilize my gifts, skills and talents.
Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we could all do that?
Elementary school climate would certainly be more tolerable; that I know for sure.
I’m gonna stop right here and go about my day. Thanks for listening.
Oh, and as I was typing, my phone notified me that Friday is the last day to purchase school spirit wear to support the PTA.
SIGN ME UP!!!
Do you struggle with saying no?