Volunteer Vampires

I have three kids ages 10 and under, which means I've been to three back-to-school potlucks since school started six weeks ago. For each potluck, I received a colorful printed invitation in the mail. I also got three reminder e-mails from the volunteer parents (coincidentally or not, all happened to be moms) organizing the events. My husband got them, too. We got hounded about whether we were coming because the volunteers needed to know how many folding chairs to set up. We got e-mails telling us what to bring according to the first letter of our last name. For the most recent event, the volunteer mom flagged me down as I was rushing from school to work. She wanted to confirm -- a week before the potluck -- exactly what side dish I was bringing.

When I got the cute invitations, I smiled. When I got the first e-mail, I thought: wow, this is organization. By the end I felt like shouting: THIS IS NOT A FORMAL SITDOWN DINNER AT THE WHITE HOUSE! IT IS AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL POTLUCK! IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN! EASY! CASUAL!

I read every word of Perfect Madness, Judith Warner's classic analysis of American moms gone haywire in pursuit of parenting perfection. And I accept that women are naturally competitive. We all want to be the finest moms we can be. So, high standards among moms can be normal -- even healthy -- especially when it comes to keeping children safe and raising them to be the best little people they can be in life.

But when organizing a school get-together becomes a competitive sport, when you see a mom staying up all night to plan a five-year-old's birthday party, when someone feels guilty for not making homemade cookies for the school bake sale -- there is something out of whack, not just in her but in our society overall, that we push moms until we feel like a failure when we don't pull off a perfect...potluck.

I count on other moms to keep me sane -- not to drive me to greater depths of insanity. The moms who help me most are the ones who remind me to slack off occasionally, to take care of myself, that no one will care if I show up with takeout pizza instead of three-hour-prep homemade lasagna. What's hardest about this potluck nuttiness is that I've known these particular moms for years. They are wonderful friends and parents whom I respect and care about. Maybe it's my turn to remind them that none of us needs to be perfect in order to be a good parent.

What's your take on volunteer madness? Do you have a favorite volunteers-gone-wild tale? What volunteer skeletons rattle in your closet? What's it going to take for American moms to become sane again?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  October 19, 2007; 7:30 AM ET  | Category:  Free-for-All
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Posted by: Songster | October 19, 2007 7:58 AM

Maybe I just don't get it. But when I read this post all I can think of are the moms trying to plan this without any knowledge of how many people are coming or what food to expect. When exactly were you planning on telling them when you could attend or what food you were bringing? The day before the event?

I'm willing to be that if you showed up and there were 60 chairs set out for 80 people and not enough food, you would complain about how poorly planned the dinner was because there was nothing to eat and nowhere to sit.

Posted by: Gaylek | October 19, 2007 8:05 AM

Just say no! No, really. There will always be one more potluck, one more picnic, one more fair, that want your participation. We say yes to one or two extra night or weekend activity a month, and thats it. We need time as a family to camp, boat, hike, clean house, just be, not rush to the latest school/religious/group activity. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by: tuckerjules | October 19, 2007 8:12 AM

Isn't the whole point of a potluck supper that no one really knows what is going to be brought? Does it really matter if there are three tuna casseroles and no green beans?

Also, I wonder if this kind of persistance would have been sent to say, a single dad or a father volunteering to bring food. I can see sometime in the future where I would be the parent bringing food to such a potluck dinner, and my response would be "it's a potluck; what I bring isn't important, only that I bring something".

Seeing the too-important organizer's face after my response would be a bonus, though.

Posted by: johnl | October 19, 2007 8:15 AM

Not first!

Yes, I think this has ALL gotten out of hand. Yes, my mom knew some of the kids and parents at my school, but we NEVER had potlucks with the class. Or at least, we never went.

I think (to refer to yesterday's topic), we are all trying to create communities, and we get obsessive about it, but I think it's subconscious. So for those of us who don't always want to create a community just because our kids are in school together, or in dance or karate together, or whatever, it gets way out of hand. I'm just content being with our family, or our family and one other family. It's crazy enough like that.

Don't get me wrong, I participate in most things with school - and we know pretty much all the neighbors (had a block party 2 weeks ago that was tons of fun), but I agree. For a potluck, it doesn't matter what people bring. Just as long as not everyone is bringing dessert.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 8:24 AM

I can relate to this topic on both sides. When sons were in preschool and primary grades, I was a SAHM, and I ended up doing a lot of volunteering. I was a professional room mom! In fact, I chaired a fund-raising auction -- got roped into that because I mentioned I had worked on an auction committee in the school (in another state) my boys attended a few years before. I've been involved with those "bring a dessert if your name starts with K-Q" type of thing, and they can certainly be a pain in the butt.

That's about when I learned to say no, by the way. Once I went back to work, and as the boys got older, I backed away from all the involvement. At some point, they don't want you at school anyway, and I was smart enough to be around when they wanted me and to be supportive at home when it was time to be. I have definitely seen a rise in competitive parenting (which I think is ties to the rise in helicopter parenting).

And, oh, you have NO IDEA what the teachers say about those parents in the faculty room...

Posted by: educmom_615 | October 19, 2007 8:24 AM

Leslie - I can relate to your post. It's funny how every group has an ethos and it doesn't always gel with your own family's take on life.

We put our kids on this swim team recently where we have found that although the instruction is great, all the other families are just really high-strung. I recently got an e-mail reminding me about my "five mandatory volunteer obligations" for the year -- and the sender didn't think there was anything funny about the phrase "mandatory volunteer". Ha, ha, ha. We did.

It's especially hard when it's an activity like school where the option of leaving and finding another group isn't necessarily simple. (We're hamstrung because it seems odd to pull our kids from a team because we avidly dislike the other parents. Can anyone else relate?)

I guess my question to you -- and others in the situation -- is whether it's ever possible to change the flavor of an organization. What if everybody just showed up, with or without RSVP'ing, with a pizza or a bucket of chicken? Wouldn't the organizers eventually be forced to chill out? she said optimistically. Has anybody ever had any luck changing their organization?

Posted by: justlurking | October 19, 2007 8:25 AM

What is the problem with telling someone "I'm sorry, I don't know what dish I am bringing?" and leaving it at that? If these moms are truly friends of yours, they should understand. And if they want to be uber-organzied, let them. Less risk of too little seating, as a previous poster mentioned. YOU don't have to do it. You don't even have to buy into it. All you have to do is make a side dish and show up.

Posted by: germantchr2 | October 19, 2007 8:26 AM

Toss the invites with the rest of the junk mail(snail & e-mail)!

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 8:26 AM

It is pathetic to see well-educated women hyper-focusing on such minutia. I ignore this kind of crap. Everything involving kids and school does not have to become an overblown production and everything should not be such a big freaking deal. Thankfully my school reigns it in more than others by limiting volunteer activity (the principal rightly realized that it served mostly as a social club for the moms, who then expected special favors from the school). Volunteers can work at the book fair, do a few after-school activities, and be playground monitors. They are not usually allowed in the classroom.

Posted by: 1Reader | October 19, 2007 8:36 AM

Sorry, altmon. But I hope you enjoyed my song!

Posted by: Songster | October 19, 2007 8:36 AM

Your responsibility begins at ends at honoring your RSVP and bringing what was requested - divying up the number of desserts and side dishes makes sense -- hyper planning to avoid 3 pans of brownies is just silly. People forget the point of a social gathering is the PEOPLE, not the decorations, chairs, etc.

Posted by: tntkate | October 19, 2007 8:43 AM

I have to agree with 1Reader. It is really pathetic to see such educated women hyper-focusing on stuff such as this. I think that they do it to fill their time as SAHMs and feel as if they are doing something. That way whenthey run into someone, they can list their accomplishments and feel more important about themselves.

Really, just relax, enjoy your time as a SAHM and try to not compete with everyone else out there. I swear life will be more fun that way.

That being said, I have no kids yet, but am the person who brings store brought things to every church and social function. I am sure this will stay the same once I have kids!

Posted by: Thought | October 19, 2007 8:45 AM

I liked when we went to a potluck where the instructions were just to bring something that had enough servings for our family plus four more. That way things would just scale based on how many people showed up. As for set up of tables, it's not like more couldn't be set up if the turnout was really good. Casual. Casual is good for these things.

Posted by: rockvillemom | October 19, 2007 8:46 AM

songster: yes, it was good :)

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 8:47 AM

Rockville mom: That is brilliant! There is always an overwhelming amount of food at potlucks...

Posted by: tntkate | October 19, 2007 8:55 AM

just lurking- I can completely relate! The parents I can't handle are the ones at my daughter's Montessori school. They seem to exist in a world very unlike reality where shiny new Suburbans (for their 1 car seat) are an absolute necessity and our yearly fundraiser is a wine and cheese party. I have stuck it out for almost all 3 years and managed to find a few other down to earth families to relate to. I think you will find those people, too. I have managed to do what I need to (I donate a bottle of wine to the party each year, we showed up once) Luckily for me, the SAHMs usually send their au pairs for pick up and drop off!

Posted by: michelewilson | October 19, 2007 8:57 AM

when my kids were little (in fact in those long ago days when i had only two kids) i "organized" monthly potlucks at the daycare center in minneapolis. all i did was put up a xeroxed sign at the front door saying when the potluck was. there was always tons of food, the teachers came and ate for free, parents came straight from work with whatever they managed to bake or buy, the kids ran around like crazy and we had SO MUCH FUN. to me, THAT'S a potluck!

Posted by: leslie4 | October 19, 2007 8:58 AM

You know, everybody says it is to fill their time - but am I the only person who is busting their butt to keep the house clean and the groceries bought? I have been working 70 hour weeks since I had the kids, and I'm an SAHM for just a few months in a move transition. Uh, I am keeping busy, thank you. I'd rather pull off one of my own arms than volunteer to organize this junk. I suppose I appreciate somebody doing it, but I'm having the same problem as Leslie: I've had LITERALLY 10 emails from each room parent for each of my 3 children regarding the halloween party for each class. One of the mothers PLANNED THE MENU and told us what needed to be brought. I used to cater - I'm that woman who always brought something homemade, even when I was a lawyer on partner track at a large law firm. But 10 e-mails? About the kindergarten halloween party? Which will have stations, and a carefully planned menu that OTHER WOMEN are responsible for then providing?

I can see now how it happens, I suppose. I do have a lot more time to worry about stuff now that I'm actually home some. And I'm not getting the kudos and sense of accomplishment that come from that courtroom smackdown. But we've got the cleanest baseboards on the block! I'm doing some writing, painting, gardening, baking acres of cookies. Somebody please, please slap me if I ever start competing with the other mommies for who can strangle to valentines party to death.

Posted by: badmommy | October 19, 2007 9:05 AM

When I get invited to one of those school potlucks/picnics, I just show up and bring my appetite. Nobody cares if I forgot to drop by the Quickie-Mart for the family sized bag of Doritos, there's always way too much food at those events anyway.

RSVP? Do people really do that anymore? I just remind my kid to make sure he tells Jessica to tell her mom that there's a 85% chance that I'll show up.

It's kinda cool being a dude. The bar is set really low for us at these women-centric events. Once again, the moms are thrilled with us for just showing up!

Posted by: DandyLion | October 19, 2007 9:05 AM

Yes, leslie - that's the best. When my oldest was in preschool, the room mom would organize one get together at the beginning of school, typically a Sunday morning ish (11 or so), and it would be a brunch kinda thing - and people brought all sorts of breakfast or lunch items. And we didn't have to worry who brought what.

I think for kindergarten the room mom is supposedly planning something - they did a get together at the park a week or so ago that we couldn't make it to, which I thought was a lovely idea. But it is getting crazy.

People keep saying: This is voluntary, this isn't mandatory, then I get bombarded by stuff. I'm just not that interested.

The little one is in a school that has six kids (and one of them is the teacher's!). It's a brand new school. So there's no precedent. I guess we'll have something at some point, but it's nice to have a small school. I don't know all the parents (I never pick up, drop off once or twice a week) but it's fine.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 9:06 AM

Potluck? That is ALL we ever have for every meal! But is is always some kind of fish. Chomp!

Posted by: nonamehere | October 19, 2007 9:07 AM

As a working mom who just finished running a daycare silent auction I feel close to this topic. I wanted everything to be nice but didn't want to go overboard. However, I will not that the parents who don't want to be burdened with the details are often the parents who want to take advantage of the result of the work. Obviously there are times when a parent goes overboard but there needs to be a better understanding that it takes time and energy to plan events and just because you don't want to help doesn't mean that it is right to push the whole burden on another parent (who is probably working full time also). In my mind, having to rsvp and sign up for a dish is the least you can do.

Posted by: amanda.k.allexon | October 19, 2007 9:10 AM

and it's fun when we clean out the fridge and have a 'potluck' at home, too!

:)

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 9:10 AM

We have lots of potluck lunches at work. The biggest lesson I have learned (as I am usually the organizer) is to never assign the plates and utensils to the least responsible person.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | October 19, 2007 9:14 AM

"What's hardest about this potluck nuttiness is that I've known these particular moms for years. They are wonderful friends and parents whom I respect and care about. Maybe it's my turn to remind them that none of us needs to be perfect in order to be a good parent. . . .
"What's it going to take for American moms to become sane again?"

By Leslie Morgan Steiner '87 | October 19, 2007; 7:30 AM ET

The closest thing to a potluck dinner that I can remember was the annual "progressive dinner" put on by the Eutaw Place Improvement Association in Baltimore. One family would volunteer to host the appetizers, another family the main courses, and a third family the desserts.

The guest of honor was the Mayor of Baltimore. Like any potluck dinner, this was an opportunity to get together and share good food with our neighbors, as the song says:

"We have food,
And food is good,
And so we will eat together,
So we will eat together,
So we will eat together.
When we eat,
'Twill be a treat,
And so we will sing together,
As we march along."
-- from "Marching to Pretoria"

But as far as I can remember, no one prepared food in order to show off, either to their neighbors or to the Mayor. Rather, what was shown off was whatever rehab and prettification the host families had done to our 1899-era row houses on the 1700, 1800 and 1900 blocks of Eutaw Place in Bolton Hill.

My wife and I had the big front bedroom on the second floor. Our tenants had rooms on that floor and the third floor. They were students, who normally dressed in T-shirts and jeans. When we told them a week in advance that we would be having 60 people for dessert, and that the Mayor was coming, I don't think they believed us. It was only when they saw us bring a second, newly-bought coffee urn (coffee in one urn, hot water for tea in the other), and set up the 60 miniature dessert pies that my wife had made, that the light must have dawned on them. Because by the time Mayor William Donald Schaefer, his entourage, and the camera crew from Channel 4 got to our house, gone were the T-shirts and jeans. Instead, our young men tenants had come downstairs wearing suits and our young lady tenants had come downstairs wearing pretty party dresses.

These are sweet memories for us, unspoiled by any of the cutthroat competition that Leslie describes.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | October 19, 2007 9:15 AM

I actually like these events. Because I work full time, I don't have a lot of opportunities to chat with other parents. I learn a lot from other parents -- other perspectives on what's going on with teachers and other children in the class. I also have an opportunity to discover other adults that I would like to be friends with.

Our potlucks never seem to have "too much food." I don't know if it's because our school is culturally very diverse and other cultures may not understand the concept of a potluck. But I find I am struggling to get my kids to focus on getting enough food on their plates so that they can have a decent meal.

I do enjoy the social aspect and my kids like the additional chance to play with their friends. The whole event is relax and casual (except for the mad rush for food at the beginning!!).

Posted by: Sylvia1231 | October 19, 2007 9:27 AM

I think you're way over-reacting, Leslie. When, exactly, were you planning on telling the organizers whether you were coming? The day of? As you walked in the door? I'll grant that needing to know exactly what you're bringing is over the top, but maybe she was simply trying to pin down whether you were planning on being there. I'll bet they didn't care at all whether you actually came, they just wanted to know your plans. (and ascribing competitive motives to these moms you claim to know and respect is just mean).

I have been on the other side, by the way, planning similar events for a community group. I've been shocked at how rude people are about it. Many people refuse to RSVP until the very last minute (and several were up front about the fact that they were waiting to see if anything better turned up for that day) Even worse were the people who said they were coming, then failed to show. Last event I planned, we had 150 RSVPs, and somewhat fewer than 80 showed up. Several told me later that they'd simply forgotten, and why hadn't I sent a reminder email the night before? Unbelievable.

Posted by: newsahm | October 19, 2007 9:31 AM

Our school is pretty sane. As somebody who has hosted potlucks before at home, I can see both sides of the story. Everybody always wants to bring dessert and wine. How would you like to be at a 7 pm potluck dinner with no food? Do you put a big sign up that says that nobody volunteered to bring actual food and that is why there is none? I would be fine with this approach if later these parents would not criticize how poorly organized this potluck was! We are going to two potlucks soon. One family assigned dishes and the other family just asked for volunteers to choose what type of items they want to bring. Take a guess which dinner would be less work and less expensive for the volunteer family which is hosting it....

Posted by: tsm | October 19, 2007 9:33 AM

"It's kinda cool being a dude. The bar is set really low for us at these women-centric events. Once again, the moms are thrilled with us for just showing up!"

It is very hard for me to relate to women on this issue. I would say I am bringing X, like it or lump it and that would be the end of it. I have seen these things morph with my wife who instead of buying some cookies, will spend 3 hrs and a lot of money, making cookies or something from scratch, that 2 people eat and then gets handed back to us or thrown away. It is something about validating themselves and their own guilt i think.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 9:47 AM

Another factor is that some people live for this crap and that is what they focus their lives around becuase they simply don't have anything else to do. Many of us have a million other things to do then eat crummy food with strangers just to pretend we are involved.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 9:51 AM

Women are naturally competitive? That's a new one to me. Of the two genders, I would assume that men were more competitive by a long shot.

I'm with the posters who said that the people who refuse to contribute or help the organizers are the ones who plan on reaping the benefits.

Would it kill you to just delete the e-mails, to figure out a side dish, to take 30 seconds to RSVP? So what if the organizers are doing it for themselves? Won't your kids benefit from the socialization too?

The fact is that some people like to organize and some do not. The organizers are helping you out by planning the whole thing. You help them by giving them the info they need. What do you gain by not doing your part? A sense of superiority for not buying into the whole thing?

I am happy not to have to organize things like this. I am also grateful for the reminder e-mails because I usually forget stuff. I like to think that the organizers follow up because they want to make it easy for you, and not for some evil twisted reason.

Posted by: Meesh | October 19, 2007 9:54 AM

Right on, pATRICK.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 9:57 AM

After reading these posts, I'm beginning to like my kids' schools more and more. I've never even been to a pot luck at school (thank goodness!). I've never received an invitation for one either. I chaperone a couple field trips and call it a year.

Posted by: hairspray | October 19, 2007 9:57 AM

Women are naturally competitive? That's a new one to me. Of the two genders, I would assume that men were more competitive by a long shot.

There is no greater competition than mothers trying to prove to each other what great moms they are. None, period.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 9:59 AM

RSVPs required for potluck? Whomever organized Leslie's event treated this potluck as a catered event. I've organized potlucks, catered dinners, and everything in between. Potlucks are catch as catch can. Indeed, it is even a bring-your-own chair thing. It doesn't matter how much food is there because the point is just to share, try new things, and to mingle. I do believe people like to have guidance on what to bring. Dividing the alphabet between drinks, salads/chips, main/sides, etc. is one way to give guidance.

Leslie, may I suggest reading chow.com's stories on table manners? Excellent real advice on handling real issues.

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 10:00 AM

You're right. The Olympics got nothin' on them.

Posted by: Meesh | October 19, 2007 10:00 AM

I understand the people who think that if they don't organize it, how will they avoid all dessert; I used to be one of those people.
But then I went to a couple of gatherings hosted by a group that never specifies anything beyond "potluck to follow". It's great. There's always a variety of food, and we don't get locked into what we bring ahead of time. So if making that ginger cake just isn't going to happen, we can switch to chips and salsa.

Posted by: library | October 19, 2007 10:02 AM

I have had this conversation with my wife many times. If I have the time and don't find something more interesting, I will go to these things if not, not going. When you live your life thinking you are being graded by others, you are a virtual prisoner to other's expectations. Guess what, no one really cares what you do, they care about what THEY do. Once I learned this, life was tremendously more enjoyable.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 10:03 AM

Meesh: perhaps Leslie has not really gotten the true point across. Cause I definitely see people who are hyper about the 'involvement,' be it their kid's school, the place of worship, wherever.
I do not see this from SAHDs. Ever. They are involved, but don't have to tout to you how involved, how much they do, how much they can't do for you cause they are doing so much else. When I put out a call for an ed chair for our civic assoc that one of the SAHDs stepped up. I had NO IDEA that he was a VP at the PTA as well. he didn't say: Oh, I couldn't possibly do that, since I have all these other important things to do. they just sit up and do stuff.

From SAHMs, I hear all the time how busy they are, etc. And, don't get me wrong, not all of them. But a bunch of them.

And my DH and I discuss how our neighborhood has changed. A family in the neighborhood recently sent an email saying how it would take too long to fix their flat screen tv, so if anyone would want it, they could take it. The family just bought another one. So wouldn't happen in my house (if we were to ever buy a flat screen in the first place).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 10:04 AM

Maybe the problem is that some people like potlucks (me) and some people don't (pATRICK).

I bet that the organizers would be thrilled if all the people who refuse to do anything for the potluck just RVSPed "no" and holed up in their house for the night instead of RVSPing yes and then not coming or coming without any food.

I think the lesson here is something we all learned as children: If you commit to something, don't do it half-a$$ed. People are depending on you. If you can't devote enough time to it to do it well, don't make the commitment to do it the in first place.

Posted by: Meesh | October 19, 2007 10:07 AM

Meesh that is a good point. I would say no and not look back. But some people are so weak kneed they can't even say no to a pot luck dinner and instead say "we'll try, etc". I hate those kind of people.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 10:09 AM

"Cause I definitely see people who are hyper about the 'involvement,' be it their kid's school, the place of worship, wherever."
"From SAHMs, I hear all the time how busy they are, etc. And, don't get me wrong, not all of them. But a bunch of them."

Right, I get that. But what I don't get is how that affects YOU. So what if they are? What good does it do to judge them for what makes them happy? So you get a few e-mails. Does that really ruin your day? If you think they're silly for wanting perfection, just bring what you have the time and resources to bring. Do you care what they think? I should hope not, because apparently you think they're all unbalanced whackos.

Posted by: Meesh | October 19, 2007 10:12 AM

I would also imagine with Leslie's crowd, that these are hyper competitive,control freak, yuppie types anyway. Which may explain all the competiveness. Probably similar to their country club people.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 10:12 AM


OT to Meesh and MN: how much rain did you get/getting?

OT to everyone: I miss Fred and actual discussions on balancing life's competing demands. Today's discussion is really about guilt/guilt-making behaviors, not balance.

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 10:18 AM

O"T to everyone: I miss Fred"

Don't worry, he's like Frosty the Snowman, he'll be back one day.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 10:24 AM

Meesh: i don't think they are unbalanced whackos, I just find it interesting that when people make a choice to stay home with the kids, they then have to tell you how important they still are with all the things they are doing. Again, not all, but many. I'm fascinated by it, really. If staying home with the kids is the thing you value, why are you trying to convince everyone else about all the other stuff you're doing? Yes, you're right, tho, that if all they talked about was their kids, they would appear cuckoo too.

My mom played bridge ALL THE TIME. Didn't ever volunteer, never got a job, made sure the house ran. Talked about us a small amount, I suppose, I have no idea.
But she was always playing bridge cause it was her passion. ALL THE TIME. Bridge master, etc. ALL THE TIME. Never talked about it tho.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 10:26 AM

dotted - right on w/rt topics. The last two weeks have been a bad stretch of drivel plus tech problems.

and is that rain? It's pretty much drizzle at our house. Not enough to help with the drought - no umbrella need, even for wimps - but too much to let our dogs spend an hour outside. Sheesh.

Meesh - what gives, LOL? You are usually on the side of the sane. I am in full agreement that RSVPing is an obligation, but a potluck event doesn't require a commitment to a particular kind of side dish 8 days in advance of the day.

These women pATRICK and Leslie describe are not in my world. (pATRICK, if you are taking home desserts from a potluck, I'd charitably suggest that you and your spouse start taking something else, LOL. The only thing left at the end of most potlucks is the dreaded jello salad. Make everyone happy. Pick up fried chicken next time.)

The most competitive people I meet are professional sales guys, e.g., those selling the services of legal or accounting firms - but that's just my world. I don't measure the quality of my mothering by the impressiveness of my side dishes, or my volunteering, and, blessedly, neither do my acquaintances. Then again, we also don't measure the quality of our homeownership by our curb appeal.

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 10:26 AM

pATRICK, if you are taking home desserts from a potluck, I'd charitably suggest that you and your spouse start taking something else, LOL.

That is pretty rare actually. The idea of bringing home food others have picked over is pretty gross to me.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 10:29 AM

While I agree it sounds like craziness (3 potluck meals? Flyers, e-mails, and lurking attacks?), you need to check with Miss Manners on this one.

I entertain a bit at home, and killed the potluck concept long ago. Because I could make the instructions as loose as possible (i.e. - please bring an appetizer for x number of people), and it never ceased to amaze me how people would show up with not enough, two hours late, the wrong dish, or just ditched bringing food and brought alcohol. So then you have people in your home who are usually a combination of hungry, bored with 5 versions of the same food, and a little bit drunk...

If you've been roped into planning a potluck for 30-60, the LEAST you can do is RSVP with what you're going to bring. If they give you flack for bringing store-bought instead of lovingly-home-made, that's their problem - sometimes catered is simply more efficient.

A big part of planning of a pot luck meal is trying to make sure there's enough food for everyone who attends and that not everyone is going to be bringing the same item. So not only do you have to just make a head count, you have to count heads and dishes. What a PITA.

If you wanna bring cheese and crackers, bring cheese and crackers. If you wanna stop off at Boston Market and pick up bulk sides, you can do that. If you want to go to the Amphora and order one of their cakes instead of baking one yourself - I'm not gonna complain! And if you would rather stay at home and make that 3-hour prep lasagna - hey, whatever floats your boat. It's not a cooking club, it's a PTA Potluck for sobbing out loud.

BUT - you need to tell your host what you're bringing and when it is you are coming. That's common courtesy. So if you can't make it because you're too busy or simply don't want to go through with it, then just say no and be done with it. (I don't think my parents EVER went to a Back To School Potluck...mostly because I don't think anyone bothered having one.)

But if you accepted the invitation, then you need to live by its terms. You can cut off all the extra annoyance by RSVP'ing appropriately. If you can commit to the meal, you can also say in your head "I'll make/pick up XYZ"

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | October 19, 2007 10:29 AM

A big part of planning of a pot luck meal is trying to make sure there's enough food for everyone who attends and that not everyone is going to be bringing the same item

No kidding. If i have to look/and or eat a bean casserole one more time, I may commit Hara-kiri with my plastic knife.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 10:33 AM

pATRICK - the point is I believe there is a relationship between the types of conversations lately and the non-presence of certain people....

Chasmosaur1 - I have to agree with you to a point. If you don't like the terms, then just don't accept the invitation. However, I think in Leslie's case, the terms escalated outrageously thereby inducing guilt.

OT to Scarry, Emily: How is it going? I'm thinking of you!

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 10:38 AM

pATRICK - the key to attending a potluck is to bring something you-yourself-like to eat.

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 10:39 AM

pATRICK - the key to attending a potluck is to bring something you-yourself-like to eat.

EXACTLY, then only eat that! HAHA

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 10:42 AM

The extremes of the uber-SAH-helicopter-school-mom and the guilt ridden career absentee parent are easy targets for the dissaffected.

Mandatory volunteering is a funny one... right up there with Military Intelligence and No Child Left Behind.

Why is it that some people (American Women in particular?) find it necessary to prop up their own self esteem by cutting other people (similar Women that made diff'rent choices?) down at the knees? Stones in glass houses anybody? Sad that many find solace in dwelling on other people's choices, homes, lifestyle etc

I dont think that the disconnected (working in or out of home) parent has a friggin clue how annoying it is that whatever one does to organize an event there is always a percentage in said group that loudly exclaims that they would do it this way or that way and how stupid the current plan/event is run. If they only had the time! Poor dears.

Let she who is without sin cast the first stone. "Thank you so much for the constructive feedback! We'll definitely incorporate your ideas next time. Would you care to help out?"

Posted by: btpduc748 | October 19, 2007 10:43 AM

to dotted_1:

Note my first sentence - it all sounds like craziness to me. An invitation and one follow-up phone call to those who haven't RSVP'd near your planning deadline is enough as far as I'm concerned. (And multiplied by 3 - urgh.)

But you also have to wonder if Leslie took the time to think of what she was going to bring to all three of these things (Costco does kick butt if she's got three to go to ;) ) and told the hosts/planners in a timely manner. Then maybe she wouldn't have been subjected to the incessant attacks.

Just because an invitation is for a "casual" meal doesn't make it any less of an event that requires some logistical planning (I know - I've done some event planning in my time). Because if the planner doesn't have enough chairs or table space or everyone does bring the same item or not enough food, then people will complain, too. It's kind of a no-win situation.

If Leslie did RSVP appropriately, well, then those planners need to be sedated, confined and have their Martha Stewart books taken away...

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | October 19, 2007 10:48 AM

I hate to say it but church is worse. The problem is that in my case christianity is a brotherhood in Christ which means it is not so easy to blow off being involved in these things because of the nature of the group so even diehards like me need to tread lightly in this case. But the egos can be just as large unfortunately.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 10:49 AM

RIGHT ON! I work with our civic association and someone was saying: Oh, you know, you guys should do blahblahblah. So I stood up and said: Great ideas! Would you care to help us out with that? Please see me after the meeting. AND - as suspected - NOTHING.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 10:50 AM

dotted, we're getting some rain in Durham now. We got overnight in Apex, so that was nice. It's not enough to make a dent in the drought, but at least it's something. Of course today is the day we're flying to DC, so it came at a bad time...

MN, LOL, I guess I just don't like it when people refuse to help. I agree that what Leslie decribes sounds out of hand. A potluck is as relaxed as it gets in terms of commitment. But at the same time, you only get out of it what you put into to, like anything else.

altmom, of course I didn't mean "you" in particular, I just meant everyone who disagrees with me :). I totally understand your fascination, by the way. If you're home with the kids, you're home with the kids. That's why I didn't really get the renaming SAHM discussion the other day. Why try doing a million things if you wanted to spend time with the kids in the first place?

Posted by: Meesh | October 19, 2007 10:51 AM

Btw, I suspect regardless of your faith it is much the same.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 10:51 AM

"I dont think that the disconnected (working in or out of home) parent has a friggin clue how annoying it is that whatever one does to organize an event there is always a percentage in said group that loudly exclaims that they would do it this way or that way and how stupid the current plan/event is run."

There are whiners and complainers in most groups of people, be they volunteer or mandatory, parents or not.

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 10:51 AM

Why is it that some people (American Women in particular?) find it necessary to prop up their own self esteem by cutting other people (similar Women that made diff'rent choices?) down at the knees? . . .

Let she who is without sin cast the first stone.
Posted by: btpduc748 | October 19, 2007 10:43 AM

bupduc748, Doctor, heal thyself. You are insulting all "American women" because you have a king-sized chip on your shoulder? Wow. That's sad. Get a life and stop trying to control whether someone brings Tostitos or brownies. Better yet, if volunteering to organize social events means you have to endure that breathtaking uncomfortable-looking implement stuck up your derriere, stop volunteering to organize social events and start doing things that bring out the best in you instead of the most miserable of your personal characteristics, LOL.

When your volunteer activities start making you look down your nose at other adults, your best plan it so redirect your volunteer activities.

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 10:52 AM

btpduc748 - I forgot to respond re: "mandatory volunteer" . It isn't a misnomer, especially for swim teams. Most competitive swim teams have a contract stating the amount of volunteering required from a parent each year. Complaining about it shows someone didn't read the contract. A swim meet requires tons of volunteers. Let me count for an 8 lane pool with electronic touch pads (many more are needed if there aren't touch pads) off the top of my head: 24 timers, 1 head timer, 2-4 stroke and turn judges, 1 starter, 1 head judge, 2 computer entry, 8-10 concession stand volunteers. This is about 45+ people-jobs for one session lasting 3-4 hours. Competitive swim meets easily run 5 sessions (Friday night through Sunday evening). Do the math in your head: almost every parent has to do something volunteer-wise each and every meet. Thus it is mandatory to volunteer which job you will accomplish.

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 10:52 AM

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 10:52 AM


Thanks for giving me a heads up, no competitive swimming for my kids!

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 10:54 AM

It is raining in MD. We all walked out to the windows and stared. You would think it was a blizzard.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | October 19, 2007 10:54 AM

Okay, meesh...;)

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 10:55 AM

Here's a gripe form my soccer coaching perspective. Kids whose parents only bring them to games. I swear if I was not in a Y league. I would bench these kids for the game. I know it is not their fault but is very unfair to skip practice and then expect to play. I had a talk with my worst and only offender's dad and in avery dry voice asked if there was some reason he was missing practice. The kid was at the next practice bright and early.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 10:57 AM

pATRICK - just wait until your kids start swimming and tell you they love it. Try to say "no dear because I don't want to volunteer and support you in your dreams"....One guess says you'll knuckle under...he he he...It get worse even when they get older and swim practice is at 5:30am (though luckily only 2 miles away).

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 10:58 AM

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 10:58 AM

Your right, and since fate has an evil sense of humor, he/she will probably be good at it and then I will be screwed.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 11:01 AM

dotted,

We had the miserable, authoritarian, mandatory volunteering neighborhood swim team requirements this year. There is no friggin' way our daughter could have participated if DH had not had a flexible job schedule because we had to be at the pool by 4:30 on (home) meet days. I had hoped that if we moved up to competitive swimming with a local, paid league, that the mandatory volunteering would let up. Are you telling me, it's the same or worse than the neighborhood leagues?

btw, I miss Fred, LizaBean, TakomaMom, singlewesternmom, and many more who either didn't make it past the registration phase, weren't willing to wait for Leslie to get bababooey under control, or have been attacked by one-hit trolls accusing them of - God forbid - making off-topic comments. The level of discourse has hit snooze more days than not since Labor Day.

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 11:04 AM

"My mom played bridge ALL THE TIME. Didn't ever volunteer, never got a job, made sure the house ran. Talked about us a small amount, I suppose, I have no idea.
But she was always playing bridge cause it was her passion. ALL THE TIME. Bridge master, etc. ALL THE TIME. Never talked about it tho."

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 10:26 AM

My former girl friend must have played a lot of bridge, too, because she became a Life Master. She talks a lot about her three kids -- they are all lawyers now -- but never about bridge. I mean, what's there to talk about? The same 52 cards every deal? The one-eyed Jacks? The one-eyed King? Getting angry at your partner for not returning your opening spade lead, only to find out after the 13th trick that she didn't have any spades to return? Who wants to hear about that?

And Leslie, what is this, using the word, "Vampires"? Hallowe'en isn't until the week after next.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | October 19, 2007 11:05 AM

While I understand that these things can get out of control, I'm wondering why it seems that only the things that Leslie values are worth doing well. Maybe making these things nice and organized are of value to these parents. This is how you build a community. Something that is sorely lacking in many areas today. A lot of work that people don't see often go into these things and the failure of someone to participate or communicate can make a lot of work for others.

Did it occur to you that maybe this mom is "super organized" because she has a lot of other things going on and for the lunch to be successful she needs to know in advance? Contrary to popular belief, SAHMs are not just sitting at home waiting for an opportunity to make their lives meaningful. If they did a half-a$$ed job, then you would probably call them lazy and wonder what else they have to do that is keeping them from making the lunch nicer. Maybe they should just cook for everyone themselves.

I get stuck helping with the Thanksgiving luncheon every year with the same parents every year and I'm amazed at the number of people who never help, and never say thank you. If you don't appreciate it, then don't go. If you hate the school luncheon, then talk to the school. I find it interesting that you want to harsh on the people who are supporting your school and your children. Maybe all the volunteers at your school should just stop and see what happens. Oh, wait, you'd probably complain that the spring play wasn't very good. Generally the volunteers are working at the behest of the school.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 19, 2007 11:05 AM

KLB - weather brings out the little kid in each of us - the same adults who crowd the windows watching rain were the same kids who ran to the windows to watch the police car drive by...

sick kid at home today: just try try try to help a 17 year old. He's never too big to cuddle, but way too big to put to bed, hold as he sicks up...

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 11:06 AM

matt: well, mom never talked about much of anything, really.

The point was, that's what she did all day, but never had to tell people about it to get validation from them.

As opposed to some people I have associated with who have to tell you every little detail so you know oh how busy they are.

And yes, mom DID discuss bridge with other people who played - she and her boyfriend could dissect hands for hours.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 11:07 AM

MOXIEMOM, I guess my dig is the EXPECTATION from those who love to volunteer and get together is that everyone wants to spend their precious time off attending a meeting on whether spirit days should have red shirts or green shirts or if their should be a spring get together. Educate my kids, we have plenty to do with our free time.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 11:08 AM

moxiemom

"I get stuck helping with the Thanksgiving luncheon every year with the same parents every year "

It's a choice.

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 11:09 AM

there (sp)

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 11:09 AM

MN - You're in North Raleigh right? try Raleigh Swim Association (they are the wahoos even...so you'd like that) swimrsa.org or New Wave Swimming at newwaveswimteam.org You only volunteer at the meets the organization hosts. Some organizations host more than others.

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 11:16 AM

MOXIEMOM, how are you "stuck" doing anything?

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 11:17 AM

moxiemim

"Maybe all the volunteers at your school should just stop and see what happens. Oh, wait, you'd probably complain that the spring play wasn't very good."

PLEASE do. If you would STFU, cancel the spring play, the fund raisers, the Science Fair, and all the other B.S., I will send you a big fat check!

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 11:22 AM

I help with the Thanksgiving luncheon because my children enjoy it and if parents like me didn't do it then it wouldn't happen. Most of the things I do with our school is because the children enjoy it. They enjoy making mother's day gifts - it is special and important to them. Spirit day (we dont' actually have it) is fun for the kids. They enjoy it and it builds a sense of community. If you don't want to take part then politely say no. Simple as that.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 19, 2007 11:33 AM

If you would STFU

By the way, nice mouth. You kiss your kids with those lips? Classy, classy gal.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 19, 2007 11:34 AM

moxiemom

"I help with the Thanksgiving luncheon because my children enjoy it and if parents like me didn't do it then it wouldn't happen."

That's a choice. Drop the martyr act.

"By the way, nice mouth. You kiss your kids with those lips? Classy, classy gal."

You gotta be kidding! Have you ever been on a schoolbus with kids over the age of 10+?

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 11:44 AM

"If you would STFU

By the way, nice mouth. You kiss your kids with those lips? Classy, classy gal."


HA! That was a good one. Too bad fred isn't here to give you quote of the day. Well done!

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 11:45 AM

pATRICK

"HA! That was a good one. Too bad fred isn't here to give you quote of the day. Well done!"

Hold your award until you attend a few swim meets!

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 11:51 AM

dotted - am enjoying all your comments today and thanks for the tip re: Raleigh Swim. fyi - I'm in Cary, otherwise known as HOA-hell. Meesh is in Apex. WorkingMomX and johnL are North Raleigh. I think. Right, guys?

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 12:02 PM

Listen gang, I know this stuff can be annoying, but I really think that you forget that most of this comes from the school and the volunteers are for the most part, well intended parents who love their kids like you do. So, if we are going to gang up on someone, people who give of their free time, SAHPs and WOHPs both, seem like not the best target. How about the people who won't be involved with their kids and their school work/activities at all - that seems to me a greater evil than volunteers. And, yes Patrick, much as it pains me, I agreee, the expectations can be unfair, but on the other hand I think there is an expectation that "someone" will step up and make some of these things that are special and fun for the kids happen.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 19, 2007 12:02 PM

I actually have to go to the preschool pot luck next week. I plan on bringing a bucket of KFC. I am not at all embarrassed by my level of participation. I am attending the full day preschool field trip to the pumpkin patch. I plan to bring mini cupcakes from the Giant. Again I don't feel bad at all. I am totally ditching the 8 notices about field day which occurs a week after that. Sometimes, it feels like I am enrolled in school myself. Expecting parents to show up three weeks in a row. I don't understand why we can't rotate parents. Like parent group A do first week, B does second, and C does third. I wouldn't sweat it Leslie. If any one ever asks me I just tell them I am a WOHM.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 19, 2007 12:03 PM

moxie - I love it! Great quote!

chitty - the best bus ride I've chaperoned must have been the middle school orchestra bus trip 3 hours away...best behaved kids I've ever seen

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 12:05 PM

moxiemom1

"Listen gang"?!!!!!!

High school musical!!!!

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 12:05 PM

hey chitty, today I'm going to be letter girl and change the "c" in chitty to an "s"

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 19, 2007 12:08 PM

moxiemom1

"hey chitty, today I'm going to be letter girl and change the "c" in chitty to an "s" "

Thank you, letter "girl".

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 12:11 PM

MN - Sorry about the location confusion! Forget Wake county summer swimming...it is just too big and unwieldy! For you, swim with whatever team is going to use the new TAC facility. By the way, I think I'm always confused because MN=Cary=beige just doesn't compute.

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 12:13 PM

These posts just put fear in me for future school issues.

I can see asking people to bring a particular kind of dish so it's not all chips or whatever, but I sort of thought the point of a potluck is that it is (as rockvillemom said) scalable. If 10 people come and 9 bring things, there are 9 things, and if 20 come and 18 bring things... etc.

But I have a different perspective on the broader issue of how parents get involved.

I think a lot of the weirdness has to do with the expectation that the way we treat the "seriousness" of school social or somewhat superfluous (Scholastic book club anyone?) events is somehow related to our care about our children's education.

Personally I think it's become almost a deflection policy to try to get parents' energy focused on the social/fundraising and stay out of the core administrative issues.

If parents are obsessing about the casseroles, what are they NOT looking at in terms of whether curriculum, class sizes, and standardized tests are serving our kids. Not to mention the effects of a good night's sleep on learning.

Anyways, that's pretty serious for a Friday but whenever I see the mothers blamed I get a little twitchy. They are operating within a system that pushes them in that direction.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | October 19, 2007 12:14 PM

"whenever I see the mothers blamed I get a little twitchy. They are operating within a system that pushes them in that direction. "

It's a choice the mothers make.

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 12:16 PM

One note...bang...one note...bang...one note...bang

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 12:19 PM

foamgnome, *high five* - we do what we can and ignore the prodding to leap ever higher.

moxiemom, I don't read Leslie's original column as dissing volunteers, generally, but then I pay more attention to what everyone else writes than what Leslie writes. Leslie's issue, and mine, is with certain volunteers' need to control every single little aspect of every event. I'll add I wonder whether some events matter to the kids or have merely been on the schedule since 1993 and no one has ever once looked up to ask whether those events are events that bear repeating the next year or should either be scaled back or taken off the sacred calendar. Today, for example, is Grandparents' Day at my children's school. It is clear to many parents that this event originally was a great concept that has, over the years, grown barnacles of un-greatness. Trust me, the kids do not look forward to spending 15 straight school days practicing the same 9 songs for a single day's presentation. The kids DO enjoy having an opportunity to have their grandparents visit the school, their classrooms and have lunch with them. Maybe simpler and scaled-back would be better and would require fewer volunteers. Maybe fewer events would mean more gratitude, a more diverse crowd of volunteers, and higher participation rates. Maybe everyone could discuss this without getting either defensive or snarky. Dya think?

On a related note, I got a request to bring baked goods for a weekly church program last week - it expressly required that the baked goods be homemade, then said that boxed mixes qualified. I decided that anyone seeking volunteers but imposing granular restrictions along with dispensations should not be surprised if she ends up making all those tasty boxed mixes of baked goods all by her lonesome. She made her choice. I make mine. No one should feel martyred.

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 12:21 PM

I have to wonder how many of our problems revolve around the inability to just say no to things. I can't comment on the school events, because I don't have kids. But, it seems people tend to commit themselves to all of these different events and social gatherings, or give some "well, we might come", because they're worried about saying no and maybe offending someone.

There are many polite ways to turn down an invite. There's also many polite ways to accept an invite. Picking one will let you say yes or no without forcing yourself into too many committments and without leaving the organizers or hosts guessing about your attendance. If I can't make something, I don't dance around the issue. I'll just send my regrets and try for the next one. Really, it's okay to just flat out say no sometimes.

Posted by: Sitka1 | October 19, 2007 12:29 PM

"On a related note, I got a request to bring baked goods for a weekly church program last week - it expressly required that the baked goods be homemade..."

MN, interesting. My issue with the school has been that for some reason, we aren't allowed to bring homemade stuff to school events anymore. The food has to be storebought and individually wrapped. So on the rare occasion when I might want to bring something yummy that I made myself, I find myself toting processed garbage instead. Not that I want to spend all night baking, but once in a while, I enjoy it.

Posted by: Emily | October 19, 2007 12:31 PM

"By the way, I think I'm always confused because MN=Cary=beige just doesn't compute."

Thanks, dotted, for the fine compliment, LOL. I like to think I am an inside-the-beltline girl trapped in a Cary budget. Our home is equally inconvenient to everywhere, and completely indistinguisable from all the transplant lemmings. OTOH, all are welcome to stop by and share adult beverages any time.

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 12:32 PM

Emily: maybe has to do with allergies? they want to make sure what is in the food?

How are you feeling?

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 12:34 PM

MN: I'll be over soon!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 12:35 PM

MN -whoo hoo! May I virtually invite myself or is that yet another social faux pax having never received a virtual invite?...oh the mind boggles.

Emily - peanut allergies at one past school made no homemade. Then the no-sugar rule meant you had to prove there was no-sugar, so it had to be store back or nothing. Chapel Hill school board voted this summer to remove all soda machines from school grounds. That is what the vote says. Interestingly, the one in the teacher's lounge stayed, though they are no longer allowed to transport said soda beverage to their classrooms. Idiocy in action.

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 12:39 PM

Really, it's okay to just flat out say no sometimes.

Posted by: Sitka

You say you have no kids Sitka, well, if you could help teach this to all the adults you know without kids, I will work on the ones that have them.

It's not that hard people! Yes, I will miss you if you can't come to my party, but I will be annoyed/angry if you don't RSVP. Minimum standards at least folks!!

Posted by: robinwfcva | October 19, 2007 12:41 PM

Posted by: Emily | October 19, 2007 12:31 PM

Emily - I've experienced all three sets of rules with schools. No homemade. Only homemade. Anything goes. This was the first year I received the, "everything must be individually wrapped" rule. At 10 p.m. the night before, practicality required that DH stop by Wal-Mart and pick up individually-wrapped junk under the Little Debbie brand. I understand it's faster for the teacher, but wasn't any sort of way to celebrate DD's birthday. Oh, well. At least this year, at this school, we don't have to contend with the "no peanut butter" rule. NTTAWWT.

I agree with you that I'd much rather bring in homemade treats, but mostly it's the rules, rules, rules against which I rebel. Oh well. This is small stuff.

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 12:41 PM

At my kid's preschools, we couldn't bring anything homemade cause it HAD to be kosher. Big pain, cause I had to drive to the next town over for cupcakes, as the market near us doesn't have a kosher bakery.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 12:44 PM

What does NTTAWWT mean?

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 12:48 PM

Seinfeld: "not that there's anything wrong with that"

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 12:53 PM

Hey MN,

I'm in Cary, too (though I can walk to coffee, movies and restaurants from my neighborhood). I'll share some adult beverages anytime. I'll even bring the vodka. :-)

Posted by: newsahm | October 19, 2007 12:53 PM

atlmom, dotted and newsahm - I think we have the makings for a great virtual party. (newsahm, we can make it real, even, LOL. I am jealous of your walking-distance options, and jealousy is a rare emotion for me.)

atlmom - wow, the kosher requirement would be an extra-fun burden. I suppose that's what you buy into for the benefit of having your kids attend a sectarian school. We have a few of those belief-specific burdens, too, but they don't impact birthday celebrations. Do you have a school cafeteria that keeps kosher?

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 12:58 PM

The preschool my first son went to had lunch/snacks brought in from the JCC (they are a small school, intown, which is not where the JCC is).

So that wasn't a problem, it was mostly with birthdays or whatever.
Where my son is now, we have to provide a dairy (non meat) lunch - which is not a big deal - they don't share food, so they aren't really saying it has to be kosher. They hope to have an up and running kitchen at some point - but really, my kid probably won't be there by then. :)

The thing is, we (and, I assume, other parents) do keep kosher in our home, so food we produce would be kosher, but it's not certified (wouldn't *that* be funny - having the rabbi come to make sure your food is okay!). So we'd have to buy rather than make cupcakes.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 1:03 PM

For my son, in kindergarten, he brings lunch four days a week, so he's starting to learn more. He already knows he doesn't eat pork (thanks for preK - which was govt funded - and they had lunch, so he had to know), but he doesn't know as much about shellfish (which they don't serve at any school I know of). The biggest is the milk/meat thing, cause he always buys milk for lunch but I know he also has hamburgers. He'll learn, it's not the end of the world to us (or we'd have him at a jewish day school).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 1:05 PM

From the 10/22/07 issue of the Federal Employees News Digest:

"But according to The Hill newspaper--which, as you might expect, covers Capitol Hill--congressional staffers already get up to 6 weeks of paid maternity leave. If the boss OKs it. Most do." Mike Causey

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 1:07 PM

of course most get approved - the approver isn't paying for it. The chances that they have a budget and are accountable is slim to none. So they just approve and someone else pays for it.

Great system.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 1:09 PM

I like our little enclave of NC people here. MN, I'd love to come by for beverages. What dish have I been assigned?

I'm actually a big fan of Cary. That's where we go for all our shopping needs (Trader Joes, Whole Foods, etc). I also like North Durham.

Posted by: Meesh | October 19, 2007 1:29 PM

And here is a question for those no longer in DC: If you had to move back to DC, where would you move under these circumstances: a) money is no object, or b) money is an object?

For me: money is no object: Great Falls, VA. money is an object: Fairfax county townhouse somewhere is my likely choice.

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 1:41 PM

MN wrote: "We have a few of those belief-specific burdens, too, but they don't impact birthday celebrations."

Now you've piqued my curiosity, MN. 'Splain!

Posted by: mehitabel | October 19, 2007 1:42 PM

"The biggest is the milk/meat thing, cause he always buys milk for lunch but I know he also has hamburgers. He'll learn, it's not the end of the world to us (or we'd have him at a jewish day school)."

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 01:05 PM

What's he gonna do when the school starts celebrating Hallowe'en?

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | October 19, 2007 1:46 PM

MN: What I meant was, sectarian-based FOOD restrictions?

Posted by: mehitabel | October 19, 2007 1:46 PM

'"whenever I see the mothers blamed I get a little twitchy. They are operating within a system that pushes them in that direction. "

It's a choice the mothers make.'

Mnnn yes and no.

You show up at the school and say you want to be involved. So you're given fundraising and potlucks to sign up for.

Okay - yes. You can say "no, and I want to see your language curriculum while I'm here."

But on the other hand where are the invites for parent volunteers on curriculum decision making bodies and the list to sign up for the pro and anti NCLB lobby groups?

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | October 19, 2007 1:54 PM

mehitabel - no, food restrictions are not part of the sectarian landscape in which we operate.

dotted: If money was no object: Old Town, Georgetown, Chevy Chase, or somewhere up Connecticut. Money is an object? Del Ray or North Arlington. I cannot imagine having an opportunity to house shop with the only question being, what would I like to own, LOL. What a cool fantasy.

Meesh, We spend more time in Apex than we do in Cary, LOL. If we were childless (not because I'm fearful but because the kids have geographically convenient friendships with kids whose friendships we'd like to encourage), we'd look at living in Durham. The negatives I hear have the same racist tones as the ones typically spouted about living in the District. Yawn, as pATRICK would say. The positives are price, coolness and downtown living. All good, from where I sit.

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 1:57 PM

Cary has both a Trader Joe's and a Whole Foods? I'm envious...rumour has it that Whole Foods is coming to Richmond, but the locally owned grocery chain (Ukrop's) has been quite effective in keeping Trader Joe's out.

As for Dotted's question: If money is no object: Old Town or maybe Chevy Chase. If money is an object: likely a rental close in...if I can't afford to buy in the area anyway, no sense in living too far out...

Posted by: kate07 | October 19, 2007 2:02 PM

Thanks for the clarification, MN. Must.Consume.More.Caffeine ;-)

Posted by: mehitabel | October 19, 2007 2:03 PM

MN: I can't recall how long since you left DC but Del Ray and N. Arlington home prices might cause a need for smelling salts. ;-)

I live here in a house bought pre-real estate boom but if money were no object I'd live in the Rosemont section of Alexandria which offers nice proxmity to Braddock Road metro or Cleveland Park. Ah dreams...

Posted by: tntkate | October 19, 2007 2:05 PM

dotted, that's fun to think about because I really did like the DC area.

If money were no object, I'd probbaly like to live in Georgetown, Kensington, Great Falls, or Mount Vernon. If money were an object, I would like Columbia or Herndon. I don't know many places in VA. I bet there are some nice cheaper places to live there.

What's funny and sad is that when money is an object, there's still nothing we can afford within a reasonable commuting distance, so moving back under any circumstances is a fantasy!

Posted by: Meesh | October 19, 2007 2:08 PM

Dotted : if money wasn't an object, Northwest. If money were an object - well actually it is, so we left. I sitll miss it though!

Shandra - I do think that not a lot of parents go to the school board meetings except when they are unhappy. I think to shape the curriculum of the public school system takes a herculen effort and expenditure of time that is unreasonable for most families. I think a lot of parents do their best to shape things around the margins as best they can. I guess it comes down to how you define involved. Some of the reasons that I'm involved are that it allows me to get to know their teacher in a way that I wouldn't; it allows me also to get to know their friends; and I also get an opportunity to really get to know how the classroom works in addition to helping to make the "fun" experiences happen for my kids and all the kids in the class. Knowing the kids in the class is very helpful when my son or daughter has a problem with another child.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 19, 2007 2:10 PM

herculean - oops!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 19, 2007 2:13 PM

MN: I can't recall how long since you left DC but Del Ray and N. Arlington home prices might cause a need for smelling salts. ;-)

I live here in a house bought pre-real estate boom but if money were no object I'd live in the Rosemont section of Alexandria which offers nice proxmity to Braddock Road metro or Cleveland Park. Ah dreams...

Posted by: tntkate | October 19, 2007 02:05 PM

tntkate, The best thing for me to say is, money being an object is all relative, LOL, and the price gap between my first-choice neighborhoods and second-choice neighborhoods is substantial. I keep on top of DC-area prices more than I want to admit.

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 2:20 PM

"Some of the reasons that I'm involved are that it allows me to get to know their teacher in a way that I wouldn't; it allows me also to get to know their friends; and I also get an opportunity to really get to know how the classroom works in addition to helping to make the "fun" experiences happen for my kids and all the kids in the class. Knowing the kids in the class is very helpful when my son or daughter has a problem with another child. "

Rubbish! Sounds like a bunch of phony reasons for you to be a SAHM! How "involved" is your husbad with the kids' school???

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 2:20 PM

Dotted, this is a fun game!

If money were no object, I'd definitely want to live in the District -- I used to live in Penn Quarter and would have loved to live in one of the condos there. With a kid, probably I'd look at Georgetown or Cleveland Park. Maybe Bethesda, if we decided to do a suburb.

If money were an object, then probably we'd live in Frederick, and I'd be killing myself commuting to downtown. We used to live in G'burg, and could not afford our home there now (and we just sold in 2005!)

It's amazing how one's view of "expensive" real estate changes once you move to a cheaper area. We were just looking at some Parade homes a few weeks ago -- 450k for 3500 SF homes with all of the upgrades, and we thought they were outrageously priced. And yet my crappy, poorly-built, 2300 SF tract home in Gaithersburg is currently worth the exact same amount (and its value has fallen substantially since the last time I checked).

Posted by: newsahm | October 19, 2007 2:38 PM

Chitty - what a bunch of judgemental hogwash from you!

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 2:40 PM

Er, I mean I worked in Penn Quarter.

Posted by: newsahm | October 19, 2007 2:40 PM

newsahm - you said it! There are people moving here from the Bay Area calling Chapel Hill, NC cheap...Which is difficult for me to imagine!!

My decision-process on where to live in DC is overwhelming dependent on two things: a great high school (my kids are teens) and a great walkablility factor. So maybe Great Falls is not 'it' right now after all...whereever gets me into Langley, TJ, or the like with walkability.

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 2:44 PM

Chitty, you're a bore. You could never get the amount of respect that moxie gets on this board. Isn't it time you slithered away?

Posted by: Meesh | October 19, 2007 2:49 PM

Aaaahhhh, the helicopter parents. They're the reason I don't miss teaching!

I'm pretty sure I will never become a "professionally competitive parent". I will probably say no to most requests for my assistance, write a check instead of spending time when I can get away with it, and leave the organizing up to the women who are much better suited than me to do it and who have more unstructured time than I've got. God bless the SAHMs who help out in school and the PTA, and I mean that with all my heart. Between a full-time job, three kids with activities and a husband I'd like to date more, I have enough on my plate, and too much to do what I should.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 19, 2007 2:52 PM

"a husband I'd like to date more" woo hoo! Another great one! I'm with you WMX

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 19, 2007 3:00 PM

"Maybe all the volunteers at your school should just stop and see what happens. Oh, wait, you'd probably complain that the spring play wasn't very good."

PLEASE do. If you would STFU, cancel the spring play, the fund raisers, the Science Fair, and all the other B.S., I will send you a big fat check!

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 19, 2007 11:22 AM

The high school did something like that--for $50, they will NOT ask your children to beg their family, friends and neighbours for junk to raise funds for the school coffers. In addition they threw in some sort of local business coupon book.

There was a stampede of parents wielding checkbooks to get in on THAT. It was so popular, they had to get more of the coupon books.

I'm blunt enough to say no, regularly, to these sorts of things. On occasion I say yes, bring whatever those in my "if your last name begins with..." group are assigned, browse and beat it. I'm not interested in the sales pitch that invariably follows.

The smartest ones hold us hostage by begging for money first, then releasing us for the food.

Life is too short. Make a decision. Follow through. Move on.

I was so excited to see rain today and in a fit of vain hope, the horses are inside, in case of a thunderstorm. Ha-ha-ha-ha!

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 19, 2007 3:00 PM

MOXIEMOM, I guess my dig is the EXPECTATION from those who love to volunteer and get together is that everyone wants to spend their precious time off attending a meeting on whether spirit days should have red shirts or green shirts or if their should be a spring get together. Educate my kids, we have plenty to do with our free time.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 11:08 AM

Ohmigod. I actually agree with pATRICK.

Speaking of whom, how's your dad?

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 19, 2007 3:02 PM

Matt: we love halloween, we celebrate halloween, why do you ask?

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 3:05 PM

Ohmigod. I actually agree with pATRICK.

Speaking of whom, how's your dad?

Well, I always thought you would come to your senses one day;0. Anyway. He gets confused pretty easily it seems but pretty much the same.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 19, 2007 3:07 PM

Rubbish! Sounds like a bunch of phony reasons for you to be a SAHM! How "involved" is your husbad with the kids' school???

Yup, you've got me pegged! You should work for the FBI.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 19, 2007 3:25 PM

Ah, once again, I get to contemplate my luxury - having a SAHD. I don't get asked to volunteer for anything, and if some organizer manages to catch up with me, I simply refer her back to DH.

He volunteers pretty regularly at younger son's elementary school, but when appropriate he says no without any problems, and doesn't get hassled. I think the other posters are right that this is an area of life that's just easier for men, somehow.

The middle school older son attended didn't seem to have anything for parents to do - except for frequent requests to write another check for this, that, and everything else.

The high school he's at now doesn't seem to beg for money all the time, but once in a great while will ask for parents to drive field trips, which would be easy with our minivan, but DH doesn't usually find out about the request until older son is already gone on the field trip. We attended an IEP meeting last week while older son went with his drama class to "King Lear".

Posted by: sue | October 19, 2007 3:29 PM

Yesterday DD brought home a slip asking for $20 for Halloween, spring basket, and
teacher gift. I guess it is a bargain but
it seems a lot for kindergarten. I will
be actually able to attend the Halloween
party.

For our first school potluck they had way too much food. I brought grapes and applesauce and both were popular. DH thought I should have brought something for dessert. The kids had enough sugar and I also told him DD was sweet enough just the way she is.

Posted by: shdd | October 19, 2007 3:48 PM

How about re-titling this essay "Volunteer Dominatr*ces"?

Catchier, periodically more accurate.

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 19, 2007 3:55 PM

I hate the fundraisers even more than I hate the store bought, processed, individually wrapped food requests. I think the fundraisers are ridiculous. This year, we have been asked to sell gift wrapping paper, coupon books, candy, art. We have also participated in the bookfair, which is pretty much the only one I don't mind. I would much rather write a check each year to the PTA than be nickled and dimed for these ridiculous, expensive, and unnecessary items that are pushed by the fundraisers. I buy my wrapping paper on sale every January, don't need those ridiculous coupon books, and don't need overpriced chocolates that nobody in my family is going to eat anyway. And I don't participate in the fundraisers I don't like, but I do feel bad that they market it to the kids at school, and my son has to endure the "you will win such and such prize if you sell this much" and then be disappointed because I refuse to buy into the scam. So I tell him that no, he will not be getting any prizes, and that I will buy him some small toy or book to make up for it. I also send the PTA a donation every year, that can go straight to their profit margin. But I generally refuse to participate in the fundraisers.

Posted by: Emily | October 19, 2007 4:21 PM

Emily, I am so with you. Same here. The school won't accept monetary donations, so they say that if you want money to go to the school, you have to buy the stuff. Yuck.

When I was growing up, the only fundraisers we had were for special stuff we wanted to do - like french club or whatever - or the band would raise money. But not FOR THE SCHOOL. That's what my taxes are for, right?

Gets me so angry.

Then they had an ICE CREAM PARTY for the 'kids' who sold enough - when, the kids didn't really sell at all. Really - I coulda screamed. ICE CREAM?!?!? aren't you trying to teach my kid something. Great. now fatten them up.
Well, really - they gave the kids who didn't go to the 'party' more time on the playground, and I think my kid enjoyed that more, but still...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 19, 2007 4:31 PM

I think one fundraiser should be called the peace of mind fundraiser. For some amount of money, you will be placed on the fundraiser do not hassle list. You will not get coupon books, or candy catalogs, or gift wrap catalogs, or any such thing. All you need to do is cough up the donation money and the school will leave you along for the rest of the year. I think it would be a hit.

Posted by: Emily | October 19, 2007 4:36 PM

I wanted to touch back on women being more competitive then men...

I have noticed a difference in competition, definitely. Male competition tends to have more of a clear goal. For instance, in the male dominated company I work at, the men tend to compete for who is considered the "best" at their job, or the most talented. They compete for lead positions, and offices. There is jealousy when one gets more money/more office/pat on the back from boss, and they try to justify how hardworking they are by citing the hot projects they are working on or how late they worked last night blah blah blah.

I've noticed the women don't compete for clear goals. It's less important who makes more money or who has a better office, or promotion. Instead there's a lot of backstabbing and negative gossiping about other women who are in completely different departments. And I think, who cares? You don't even work with that lady, and neither of you is in the same chain of command! Women also try to justify to one another how hardworking they are, but they tend to go off on tirades about their kids, and their kids' school/soccer practice or whatever. You never hear the guys bring up hot projects at work AND how busy they are with their kids. However, I have noticed that in some cases (not all) women can work better on a team together, assuming they achieve some kind of base level of friendship. Granted, there is the possibility of backstabbing/gossip/jealousy, I've also seen women have tighter working bonds and produce better work for the good of the team rather than competing to see which one of them is the alpha. So I guess it goes both ways. Ok post a lot longer than I wanted it to be, pardon the length.

Posted by: _Miles | October 19, 2007 4:37 PM

"I've noticed the women don't compete for clear goals."

I guess it all depends on the women and the business they are in, Miles. In my industry, the women and men who are attorneys compete for very clear goals indeed, LOL. The women and men who are in support roles aren't evaluated or rewarded on their goal-setting, so they compete on different terms. Water finds its own level.

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 4:50 PM

Posted by: mn.188 | October 19, 2007 04:50 PM

Perhaps that's it. Given the lack of women in "business" or in fields where competition breeds promotion (law applies here), I'd guess women don't get to practice their competition skills for worthy causes very often. In my male dominated industry, few women are in any position where they would need to or would benefit from competing. The ones who compete the most heavily, are those in support roles who can not possibly benefit by dragging down some other woman's reputation. My guess is women have been "competing" throughout human history. But only in the last couple decades are they actually in a position to compete for something. I think once women get to an equal level with men (which they are in some fields, and some companies, but not all) that will be a real testament to the progress of women. In my limited experience, where women work in an industry where they are vastly outnumbered, they rarely compete directly against their male counterparts. I can't explain the why.

Posted by: _Miles | October 19, 2007 4:57 PM

Just in from loooong biz trip to california. Catching up on comments.

For the record, I really like school potlucks. It's not about the food. It's about seeing other parents and the teachers. Which is one reason why I don't want to see them escalate into a formal dinner party.

Women ARE competitive, Meesh. It's part of being human. We wouldn't have survived as a species if we weren't. But what I see happen is that competitiveness in women is deemed unhealthy, unnatural or unfeminine. As a result our competitiveness goes underground and becomes cattiness and worse. We are all better off if we just admit women are competitive -- we want to be the best moms we can be, keep our kids safe, and raise good little people. What's bad about that?

Posted by: leslie4 | October 20, 2007 1:00 AM

I am just now getting involved in this nonsense. My daughter has only been going to preschool for a couple of months but I've already learned who the "organizers" aka "operators" are in the group. The same 3-4 moms seem to do it all, and I've heard from some of the other moms, that it can get a bit "cliquey and political" which is why I do my best to stay out of the fray.

There is a Halloween party this week and a sign-up sheet was posted last week with specific requested items, and how many people should bring each. I am the second person responsible for "finger sandwiches". I guess I can't complain, at least I can select what kind and how many. Some of the other moms got roped into bring a specific color of frosting for decorating cookies.....!

Posted by: viennamom | October 22, 2007 8:48 AM

That's because men and women approach teamwork in different ways. From my experience working in groups, and academically (reading the results of several studies), women, as a gender group, are more prone to seek a consensus from the other group members before moving on to the next topic. Women want each person in the group to feel they contributed to the solution(s). Men, in contrast, seek a group leader (either de facto or de jure) to direct the actions of the group. Having each person contribute to the solution(s) is less important than accomplishing the mission of the group. I am not saying this is a universal truth. I am saying these are the gender tendencies I have personally observed, and that my observations have also been observed by social science researchers.

One reason I have heard from a number of women is that the women do not want to be perceived as challenging the 'maleness' or 'manhood' of the men as the women feel that doing so will create an 'us vs them' mentality in the men as well as sabotage the woman's chances for promotion by having the woman perceived as a b*tch. It's gender stereotyping. A man who is competitive with other men at work is just a man. A woman who is competitive with men at work is a ball-busting man hater who's trying to prove she's better than the guys. Again, I am not stating these as universal truths; these are personal opinions I have formed after observing and talking with women in male dominated work environments (specifically, the sales industry).

Admitting women are competitive is not a bad thing. The problem is the form(s) in which the competition manifests. I am not a parent myself, but I observed my mom and other moms while growing up. I also have had the opportunity to observe mothers of small children in today's world. I do not see the competition as healthy when the 'winner' is defined by who hand makes their pot luck dish and the 'loser' is who bought their dish at the store. Where the 'winner' is who can organize the most extravagant Halloween party or party. Why do I not see this as healthy? Because then I hear the 'winners' berating the 'losers' as bad parents. Where do the 'winners' get the right to declare the 'losers' as bad parents because the 'losers' didn't spend hours making cookie dough from scratch, baking the cookies, and hand decorating them with colored icing and sprinkles? Where do parents get the right to call other parents 'bad' parents because those parents don't volunteer for every little thing?

I think this atmosphere of competitive parenting actually has a negative effect on the kids. Why? Because I think these competitive parents turn into helicopter parents. The kind of parents who, when the kids are at university, talk with their kids at least once a day - and certainly after every exam. How will the kids ever learn to function as independent human beings if they forever have their parents looking over their shoulders?

I guess I am a bit close to this subject because my own mother was occasionally labeled a 'bad parent' by the competition because my mother didn't volunteer at every opportunity or hand make a dish for every pot luck. It didn't matter to the competition that my father was at sea (he was a Naval officer) and when he was (about 5 months out of the year) my mother was effectively a single mother, or that my mother was working full time, or that she was going to school for a degree. Yet, despite this 'bad' parenting, both my sister and I graduated high school and university with honors and have turned into productive, law abiding, members of society.

Posted by: SeaTigr | October 23, 2007 2:58 PM

You didn't rsvp and complain about being hounded? I don't get it. Just rsvp and half the problem is solved.

And btw, I work, manage realty with my husband, care for an elderly parent, volunteer, and have my own health issues on top of all this, and my family is moving. I've organized things like this in my sleep, and I know to rsvp when I receive an invite.

Posted by: mamajude413 | October 24, 2007 4:43 PM

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