Fundraising vs. extortion

I’ve had it with fundraising solicitations from my kids’ school and daycare. Yet, part of me is afraid to turn down these “opportunities to show school spirit”.

Maybe it’s an irrational fear, but I can’t help but wonder if the quality of my kids’ care hinges on my willingness to play (or should I say PAY) along.

I understand they need to raise funds from time to time to pay for special activities – and I’m okay with that. But the frequency of these opportunities is becoming a problem.

For me, the “fun” of fundraising began to diminish when my girls entered the second grade. The first fundraiser that came our way asked us to eat dinner on a designated night at our friendly neighborhood McDonalds.

The night before (gee, thanks for the notice), I got notes informing us that a sliver of the night’s proceeds would go to the PTA. The kids eagerly presented the notes, jumping up and down, chirping, “Can we? Can we? Can we, please?”

I decided we’d go, doubting all the while the funds raised from eating greasy fast food would be earmarked for new health-education materials.

When we arrived, the place was a zoo. There was no place to park, nowhere to sit, and the Playland was absolutely packed. I was certain that if I let my two year-old in there, he’d get trampled for sure. The parents looked tired and annoyed. But still, we did our time and I can proudly say that we contributed a hefty 23 cents to the PTA.

A week later, I was presented with yet another opportunity to show my support. This time, I could order a bunch of overpriced, over-processed, pre-packaged meals from some vendor in cahoots with the PTA. Again, a few pennies would be “donated” to the school.

This time I decided to pass. When I failed to place an order, I got three separate “friendly reminder” notes per child (remember, twins). Still, I could not be swayed. We really couldn’t afford dropping $9.99 of a package of six Mini Chicken Cordon Bleu Bites.

I tossed the order form. Okay, truth be told, I crumpled it up and tucked it deep inside the garbage can, so the kids wouldn’t see.

About a month later, I got a flyer notifying me that in two days (they’d gotten better) the school was holding its very own Chuck E. Cheese fundraising night.

Ugh. I hate Chuck E. Cheese.

I’m sure there are nice Chuck E. Cheese restaurants out there, but I have not been fortunate enough to find one. The one near my house is noisy, dirty and full of sugar-crazed kids and their checked-out parents.

Also, this particular “opportunity” fell just before payday, meaning I didn’t have the extra $50-60 to drop. So there was really no way we could go, even if I was up for bad pizza and a singing rat.

I decided to ignore the note again, throwing it in the garbage, then burying it with coffee grounds. I hoped this opportunity would pass unnoticed.

Sadly, the day of the fundraiser, my kids came home from school with more flyers. They were also wearing “Take me to Chuck E. Cheese” stickers on their shirts and telling me we had to be there by 6, because that’s when their friends were going.

I resented the position the school put me in. “Gee, thanks,” I thought. “Now I get to be the asshole who has to tell them they can’t go.”

I gently explained that we were not going to Chuck E. Cheese’s this time and tried to soften the blow by announcing that we were having homemade ice cream sundaes at home for dessert. Normally the at-home sundae bar is met with cheers. This time, they cried.

The following week, I got an invitation to a jewelry party being given by one of my son’s daycare teachers. While this was not a fundraiser, I felt compelled to show my loyalty to the staff. Again, in the back of my mind, I kept wondering if my boy might get treated differently if I didn’t go. So, even though I really couldn’t afford it, I went anyway.

A week after the jewelry party, I got two more invitations in the daycare cubby – a candle party scheduled for that Friday and a Tupperware soiree the following Sunday afternoon. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

The final straw came when my girls brought home order forms for me to purchase an art project they created at school. Mind you, each week their backpacks are stuffed with drawings, paintings and projects, most of which I have to toss because there’s just no way to keep it all. And now they’ve asked me to buy their artwork?

I understand that fundraisers are important, but I wish they’d quit nickel and diming me at every turn, then priming my kids to put the screws to me if I don’t open my wallet.

If anything, all of these solicitations work against their goal of building strong school spirit. For me, showing school spirit shouldn’t make me afraid to peek inside the take-home folder. I'd like to participate more, but my single-mom income simply doesn't allow it.

I’d like to know if anyone out there actually participates in all of these so-called opportunities. And, if they do, what kind of job do they have where they can afford all of this junk? And what the hell are they doing with all of that cruddy frozen pizza?

Perhaps their generosity (or fear of repercussions from not participating) is matched only by the sheer size of their freezer.

Mad Dog, Crowbar and The Deuce

When I was in college, I dated a guy who talked incessantly about getting married and having kids. Actually, he was quite specific about it all. According to his plan we’d have two kids – a boy and a girl – and we’d name them Sam and Hannah. He’d be a successful architect and I’d be a high school English teacher. We’d live in a house that he designed in the suburbs.

We were eating lunch in the student union when described the future he’d carefully laid out. Leaning in as if to tell me something confidential, he said, “It’s a good thing you picked education as your major – you know, so you can have summers off to take care of our kids.”

Rather than jumping for joy, I wanted to slap him.

For one, I found it extremely odd for a 22 year-old guy have his future planned out with the same giddy excitement as a seven year-old girl. But mostly I was repulsed by the thought of moving to the suburbs and getting saddled with a couple of kids.

As I listened to him ramble, I envisioned my appearance morph – like in the Terminator movies – from a trim, tan co-ed into a sort of mom-monster. After the transformation was complete, I no longer resembled myself. Instead, I was a pudgy woman wearing a gingham dress with flower appliqu├ęs. My hair was pulled up into a bun and I was taking a piping hot loaf of bread from the oven. Around my feet, toddled a herd of young children.

Days later, I broke off the relationship and changed my major.

I felt empowered. I had a newfound sense of feminism. I would not be pigeonholed into a maternal role. No man or major could force me to become a soccer mom. Hell, I might not even have kids at all.

I envisioned a different future for myself. I’d have an exciting career, a killer condo and a sporty two-seater. The only kids in my future would be my nieces and nephews. I’d be a cool aunt, but frumpy minivan mom? Forget it.

Fast forward four years…

After college, I fell in love with a new guy – one who was way more laid back than the architecture major. He was less of a planner and more of a wait-and-see kind of guy. I loved his casual attitude, his go-with-the-flow style and his ability to let things roll off his back. He helped me reign in my type-A tendencies and, as he’d say, “just relax a little.”

After a few years, we got engaged. And, fully embracing his c'est la vie approach, when my birth control prescription ran out, I figured I’d just wait and see what’d happen.

About nine months after our wedding day, I gave birth to twin girls.

The shock of being pregnant – let alone with twins – was incredible. After missing a few periods – and yet testing negative on two preggo tests, I was stunned. But I’ll tell you what…the minute I laid eyes on my babies, something in me changed.

As I held them in my arms for the first time, I knew, deep down in my core, that I was put on earth for those girls. I was meant to be their mother. The love I felt – and still feel – can best be described as primal. It’s a fierce kind of love.

Mad Dog was born first. She’s adventurous and daring. She had most of her physical milestones first: from rolling over, to crawling, to riding a bike. She’s my free spirited one. She likes her hair “long, loose and crazy-looking”. In school, she challenges her teachers (“Why do I have to show my work if the answer’s right?”) and once got in trouble for doing the worm on the floor during research writing time. If I had to guess her future career, it’d be professional snowboarder.

Four minutes later came The Deuce. She’s the brains of the operation. From infancy on, she’s generally quieter and a little more reserved. An introspective child, she has exceptional attention to detail and is a top student. She’s a list maker and spends her time “managing” her siblings – a.k.a. bossing them around, then tattletales when they don’t comply. Nothing gets past The Deuce. Her favorite phrase is, “But Mom, you said…” I believe she’ll either practice law or live a life of intrigue ala Robert Langdon of The Da Vinci Code.

Five years after Mad Dog and The Deuce were born; we welcomed our son, Crowbar, into the world. As the only boy in the house, Crowbar has got the market on all things robots and airplanes. He’s been seen pushing an imaginary button on his arm, sprouting rocket boosters and lifting off. He’s a master of sound effects – from helicopters to missile launches to dinosaurs, the boy does it all. Despite being a little tough guy, he’s a cuddler and, frequently crawls into my bed in the middle of the night to fall back to sleep with his little hand in mine. I’m not quite sure what Crowbar will be when he grows up. At this point, I see him in a cockpit versus a cubicle – but it could just be the vrooming sounds I hear in the background right now.

Having children is definitely a life-changing experience. But my fear of negative change – losing my identity, my sense of humor, and my style – hasn’t happened. I don’t wear sack dresses and I don’t consider myself frumpy. I still tell off-color jokes and listen to the same types of music. My love of pop culture and dark sense of humor are still, securely intact.

The other day I found my old copy of What to Expect While You’re Expecting. Flipping through, I wondered why the authors didn’t add anything about change – specifically the changes you’ll experience when you become a parent. They cover the obvious physical stuff such as lactating breasts and post-baby bodies. But they don’t say anything about some of the most amazing changes.

With Mad Dog, Crowbar and The Deuce in my life, my heart has grown bigger allowing me to love each of them as deeply, completely and fiercely as the next. It’s a little like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch whose heart grew three sizes in one day.

You know, that’s a diagram they should add to the What to Expect… book. Ditch the diagram of the stages of dilation, and replace it with the Grinch’s X-ray of his heart growing. That's a change we can all be excited about.

Take my kids...please!

I’ve always found humor to be an important element in my life. Maintaining a sense of humor is what got me through being pregnant with and having twins.

I remember the day when, at 36 weeks, I waddled into my OB-GYN’s office and stepped on the scale to learn I’d crossed the 200-pound threshold. At that point I outweighed my husband by 25 pounds.

Instead of crying, I wisecracked about how they’d better wait an hour before taking my blood pressure. The shock of learning I weighed the same as a Volkswagen would skew the results for sure. (BA-DUM-DUM!)

I had the nurses rolling.

Fast forward to the delivery room. As I lay there in stirrups, with my doctor verifying that I was indeed 10 cm and ready to push, all I could think of was Chevy Chase from Fletch.

Despite excruciating pain, in between contractions I asked, “You using the whole fist, doc?

I brought a resident to tears with that one.

Humor got me through when my ex-husband left. Sure, I had my pity-party moments, but more often than not, I tried to keep up my sense of humor (my chin too).

It wasn’t too hard – after all, he did resemble Steve Martin from The Jerk when he left: “I don't need this stuff, and I don't need you. All I need…is this ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.

Good or bad, it’s a defense mechanism.

I also apply humor to my parenting style. I enjoy my kids and find that I can get them to be more cooperative when I use humor, versus soul-crushing discipline.

Just the other night at dinner, as the kids were poking at their respective helpings of casserole, I stood up and ceremoniously announced a new house rule. Holding my spatula like a scepter, in a grand voice (a poor imitation of Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, I admit), I proclaimed,

“Whoever complains about dinner, will receive another, delicious, nutritious and generous helping.”

My bit was met with eye-ball rolling. Impressions have never been my strong suit.

“Is this thing on?” I asked (still using the phony British accent), tapping the top of my spatula-now-turned microphone.

Granted, my humor is sometimes lost on my young audience, but someday, they’ll look back and appreciate that I made the effort. I hope that the kids’ childhood memories will be of laughing and having fun. Though, sometimes I wonder if I’m just giving them fodder for future therapy sessions.

But seriously, folks.

I think the use of humor in my house is having a positive effect. Humor teaches us to not take ourselves too seriously.

A few weeks ago, my youngest daughter and I were in the bathroom getting ready. I was putting on my makeup and she was brushing her hair. After studying her reflection in the mirror for a while, she asked me, “Mom, am I ugly?”

I put down my mascara and turned to face her. I gently cradled her face in my hands and said,

“Yes, honey. You are a very ugly girl.”

She held my serious expression for a split second before we both broke down laughing. She realized I’d caught her fishing for a compliment. I pulled her to me and hugged her. I assured her that she is very pretty and pointed out that it’s a little silly to ask a question for an answer you already know.

Any good comedian will tell you that it’s all about timing. I don’t want the kids to think they can joke their way through life or be unable to tell when I’m serious and when I’m kidding. And to be honest, we have our ups and downs in this respect.

Sometimes, when I’m laying down the law, they’ll crack smiles to try to charm their way out of trouble. Sometimes they can get me to break and sometimes they can’t.

Sometimes I have a hard time not laughing – especially when I’ve caught them doing something ridiculously naughty. Like the time my girls turned themselves blue.

They’d been outside playing with sidewalk chalk. Somehow, they thought it’d be fun to color their faces and bodies blue – including the brand new white turtlenecks I’d just bought.

Despite the Funniest-Home-Videos quality of the moment, I was livid. (We were set to leave the house within the hour to make an important appointment.)

The girls laughed, giggled and mugged funny faces, tying to ramp up the cute factor to avoid getting punished. Lucky for them it worked. Instead of scolding them, I grabbed the camera to capture the moment.

Though, I’m typically not a proponent of working blue.