Granting Wishes

Of the many unspeakably tedious, or just plain humiliating, ways to volunteer in my children’s schools, surely permitting myself to be auctioned off as a dessert baker for six months was the single worst idea I’ve yet had for making a useful parental contribution to my children’s education.

It would happen, of course, that the family who bought this auction item includes several people who are allergic to flour. I don’t know exactly what they were thinking would be left in the dessert world once they ruled out flour, but enthusiasm for my baking — flourless and otherwise — has not been high. They are a nice enough family, but they don’t seem to actually like dessert very much. Our emails are very factual — what time, how much. We do not have lusty, liplicking, greedy chats about how much sugar, what kind of chocolate, whether it’ll get there still warm, whether to serve it with whipped cream. I could be delivering paint for all the happiness I seem to be bringing them.

Up there with the flourless dessert debacle was being a room parent in kindergarten. It happened early too, on the very first field trip. To a pumpkin patch. The parents learned that the school planned to transport their children in a school bus. A parent who’d obviously never ridden a school bus as a child wanted to know if the bus would have seat belts. The bus company’s response? Of course school buses don’t have seat belts. If we have to unbuckle all their seat belts, we’d never be able to get your children out of the bus if it catches fire. Maybe true, but the one-two punch of no-seat belts and the vision of the exploding school bus set off a conflagration, a monumental conflict. This conflict balkanized our grade, split it into (a) parents who loved their children and would DRIVE them on the field trips and keep them safe and (b) parents who were willing to risk their children’s lives to let the bus drive their children because the parents were too lazy, self-involved, or stupid to protect their children by driving them where they need to go. You get the idea.

Other things I’ve done: served salads to hungry, grouchy people who wanted sausages more than they wanted their greens, bought the gift wrap myself so I didn’t have to try to foist it on my colleagues, decorated classrooms with dusty spiders and ghosts, checked kids’ heads for lice. (I never once found one, until I found one in my son’s hair when I was on vacation, but that’s another story). I once had to count up and enter into a database the mandatory volunteer hours of an entire school and made so many mistakes and enemies in my effort to get it right without offending anyone that I had to send my children to a new school.

Singed, but not incinerated by my lack of success in finding a meaningful way to contribute, and vowing to never, ever attend another meeting of any kind ever again or do anything that involves: baking, telephoning, salad, or spreadsheets, I somehow fell into the shiningly perfect volunteering gig, one that I love to do for a variety of reasons, a volunteering activity that actually really, truly accomplishes something: grant writing.

Grant writing is wonderful. it is easy: you write, they grant. It does not involve any conflict. You talk to the teacher who has the wonderful project, and the grant writes itself. It shines with the teacher’s enthusiasm and commitment. You are the conduit for all that you love about the people who educate young children. And then if the money comes through, and often it does, the teacher gets to do something really fun, or really needed, or both, for herself and for the children. There are no meetings. There is no salad, no gift wrap, no driving. There is only you, the grant application, the teacher’s wonderful idea and the people out there in the foundation world who want to give money to people who care about children.

The slightly shameful thing? That it’s so easy. And fun. That nothing explodes when you do it.

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