Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A school auction and
the breakdown of a volunteer

So backing up a little . . . Last weekend I endured the culmination of a five-month ordeal that left me happier than I think I've ever been to face a Monday: the auction at Sophie's school. A friend of mine asked me today at lunch what advice I had for her given that she had agreed to be president of her children's school's P.T.A. next year and was meeting with people to talk about their fall auction. "Just shoot yourself now," I said. And really, I wish I had. Not that our auction wasn't a successful event. It was, and I'm trying hard to focus on the positive. Here's a little photo log of it.

Sophie attends school as an interdistrict transfer to a three-room school in an unincorporated area in the midst of a beautiful redwood canyon. One of the families in the community has hosted our auction at their home for the past several years. It's the most amazing house ever. The owner founded and developed a very successful construction company, building for himself the most amazing house out of mostly reclaimed lumber. The column on the left is the elevator, which takes one to the main level of the house on the third floor. Very handy for hauling up the goods for an auction.

I was lucky to have my girl lending a hand in the morning as we put things together.

She never goes anywhere without a well-packed handbag. Her mom's girl.

The main room of the house has a soaring timber ceiling, with a view out over the canyon. No decorating necessary.

It's a very casual affair, and there are as many people there in jeans and t-shirts as dresses. Admission is a paltry $15 and includes the most amazing vegetarian feast you could imagine (no meat, no eggs per request from the homeowners, who are very devout Hindu converts).

We may not have a fancy ballroom or a gazillion cellophane-wrapped gift baskets, but we've got everything a good auction needs.

An auction dog.

Great live music. The 3-4-5 teacher grabs the mike throughout the night to add vocals.

A great group of parents staffing the check-out station.

Here's Husband nabbing the Sugarbowl lift tickets! Good thing since at that point in the evening I was stuck at that check-out station. His performance is a vast improvement over last year when every time I would catch a glance at him from behind a computer he was idly chatting, drinking wine, and not bidding.

Here's the dessert I contributed: strawberry tarts with an orange-scented marscapone filling. Last year I baked all the shells and we did this full-sized. This year, we cut ourselves a break and bought the shells, so all I had to do was pipe in the filling, add the berries, and glaze with a lavender syrup. I had wanted to find smaller berries that would fit the shells better, but large ones were all my produce market had that morning, and so I had to make do and halve them.

OK, so what's my beef? It's this: I am BURNED OUT. To a crisp. I was so exhausted the morning of the auction that I really didn't want to even go to it. But after putting in probably over a hundred hours (working on it since January) soliciting donations, logging them, producing a catalog, cranking out bid sheets, sending out numerous email message updating people on auction progress and begging people to put their damn names on the volunteer sign-up sheets, supervising all the other committee chairs, cooking at the school Friday evening (this was actually fun), logging last-minute bid items the morning of the event (thanks very much, passive-aggressive parents who ignored my pleas to get items in in a timely manner so as to not cause undue inconvenience to people [that would be me] processing donations), spending half of the event itself working the checkout station, and then cleaning up until 11:30 that night I AM FUCKING OVER IT. I just cannot take it anymore. Volunteering for my daughter's school has come at the expense of my caring for my daughter and being a present member of my own family. And it's just not worth it.

I'm not entirely sure how it happened. I know it started when two years ago I went to my first P.T.A.-like organization meeting and offered to take on the job of logging auction donations. I was happy to have a behind-the-scenes job, but I remember feeling at that meeting how like a little club that group was and how awkward it was to be a newcomer and started thinking how it could be different. Since taking leadership, I've tried to foster an environment where everyone feels welcome with whatever they have to give. It's been more my style to offer opportunity than guilt people into feeling obligation. My face hurts from smiling, and I'm losing my ability to encourage and reassure. I'm sick of asking politely. And if I can't get things done that way, I don't want to get things done at all. I want people to volunteer because they want to make a difference and show a commitment to their child's school. I do not want to have to threaten or beg. What I want now is to walk away. Maybe what the school needs is someone with a different style, someone who tells not asks. That someone is not me.

In the meantime, I need to focus my energy somewhere else. We have wonderful plans for summer camping through the Tetons and Yellowstone, up to Montana to celebrate my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary. Sophie has the San Francisco Opera's Das Rheingold coming up. And the good part of school volunteering—trying my best, making someone wonderful friends—I can keep as I let the rest go. So I guess I'm glad I didn't shoot myself.


Kate said...

The camping sounds fantastic (as does Sophie's school! that's the kind of thing I miss about living out west!) Hope things are going to be a little more relaxing for you now that the auction's over!

Belle in Bloom said...

Cindy, that looks amazing. What an incredible job you did. I agree. Step away and let new blood handle it. Enjoy your trip! I don't even like camping and that trip sounds like fun. :)

Libby said...

It looks like a fabulous event but I'm glad to hear that you have decided to set some new boundaries.

WSU Laura said...

OMG you should be so proud. That turned out wonderfully! The whole auction thing is a crazy amount of work. At my boy's school they now have co-chairs and do it every other year because no one would do it otherwise.Your tarts looked amazing and lavendar syrup??? YUMMMY!

Anonymous said...

Sanity and happiness are the product of the ability to say, "No." (politely , of course!)

You are still one of the best moms I "know" and clearly this current choice is a direct result of your good momminess.

Well done.

Have fun on your travels. I'm jealous! We just had to cancel our normal summer trip to California due to our move. (Sob...) I'm still hoping the two families we always visit during our trip will think helping us move or visiting us in our new home will be as much fun as renting a cabin near Yosemite...

KatieGirlBlue said...

The second I become a mom, I'm moving to Berkeley and will help with the auction. Provided it's still at that house. And there are ski tix available....

Congratulations on not only getting through the event, but doing so with style and grace. Hope you're relaxing today!

Jackie said...

All that hard worked paid off! What a fun looking event. Can't wait to read about the summer trips.

Jen Yu said...

Oh, that looks like a lot of fun. You throw a mean partay, woman. I think you and I have similar issues. We take responsibility and want to make sure what we do is done well. And we're swearing the whole time and busting our asses. Then it is a success and then we swear we'll never do that again, and then... the mind will soften the misery over time and one day you'll be there again. I think taking a break is just fine. Either that or you should do this stuff professionally so at least you're getting compensated! ;)

Camping is good. I hope you get to enjoy your summer with Sophie. She's a lucky kid. I don't even know that my parents knew where my high school was located...

jilly said...

I hear you. I am a planner and an organizer. That is who I am and it is part of my personality and unfortunately it over flows into pretty much every aspect of my life. I get frustrated with other people when they don't RSVP or follow through with things that they say they will. Keep on doin what you do, and see the rewards that you, yourself get out of it.

On another note, do you think I could have the recipe for the tarts? NUM! jillski at hotmail