Finding Time to Volunteer

help-686323_640I’ve recently become a stay-at-home-parent (and blogger – see my stuff here!). Briefly, I’ve taken a one-year leave of absence from my paid work as a bank lawyer to spend more time with my children, and re-set the rhythm of our family life. On my blog I talk about  lots of personal things, and argue that the world needs to see stay-at-home work as valuable work, and that we should not bifurcate our view of the parenting function in a gendered way.

In one of my first posts, I responded to an item from a SAHM that got a lot of attention in the mommy blog world when she wrote about why she regretted her choices. One of her issues was that she got “sucked into” a world of volunteering. Though I kept my original response levelheaded, what I really thought was “WTH? If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it!” I linked this piece on how to say no to volunteering and all the issues that go along with saying yes or no. It’s an excellent article, worth reading anytime and especially in the context of the current 4Mothers1blog series.

As I was getting ready to leave paid work for my leave, almost everyone asked me “What are you going to do?” Though I found the question a bit frustrating – hello, didn’t I just say I’m going to be a stay-at-home-parent? – I know what they meant.

What in the world would I do with all that extra time? Ha. I am finding out that, as anyone who’s spent more than one day as a Stay at Home Parent (SAHP) knows, there is actually not a whole lot of extra time. Taking care of the daily activities and to-do’s of running a household take hours every day, and not in one nice chunk that can be carved out. That care is fragmented throughout the day, leaving few opportunities for non-SAHP projects.

And that’s my main point – if you have time, find something you love (as Nathalie wrote earlier in this space this week) and volunteer to your heart’s content.

But first, make sure you have the time! If you plunge ahead and accept too much, you will soon feel squeezed and resentful.

One of the reasons I decided to take a leave of absence and re-set my life with my children was that I found my priorities slipping, every day. The kids could always be “later” while I sent one last email or unloaded the dishwasher. I firmly resolved, before leaving paid work, that I would not take up any new challenges, learning opportunities, projects or personal activities during the year I would be on leave. My work would be my kids and family, and I knew that if I embarked on, say, learning Mandarin, it would quickly take up my time and my energy that I’d dedicated to SAHPing.

I believe being a SAHP means developing a new set of skills, or at least re-deploying old skills in a new way. Transitioning into that will take some time, like developing a new set of muscles. To have the time, the energy for that, means not taking on new items – at least not immediately. Much as I’d like to finally finish decorating my house – new rug here, non-IKEA dresser there – projects like that are firmly on the back burner for now.

Still, I have an exception, and it’s for a perfect volunteering opportunity. I’ve long attended the kids’ school council meetings. For the upcoming school year, I’ll run as co-chair. Before committing, I’ve done my homework – how much time is involved, what’s the nature of the work, how many meetings, what are the typical questions and problems we don’t see in the public meetings? I’m ready. Also, I think this volunteering opportunity dovetails perfectly with my goal for a LOA and SAHPing. I’m looking forward to being involved with my kids’ lives and school especially. I see this as a great way to integrate more into the school culture and community, something I’ve been missing since my oldest started junior kindergarten. For this, I will make time.

Volunteering will fulfill you in so many ways – it’s a way to exercise your brain differently, a way to give back to your community, a way to build your resume if you’re thinking of going back to paid work someday, a way to network, a way to make new friends…if you have the time!

Meet X, c. 2011.

Last week, the internet universe erupted with the story of baby Storm. Storm’s parents, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, have decided not to share Storm’s sex with anyone outside a small circle of people, most of whom were present at Storm’s birth, until such time as Storm and the family are ready to share.

Needless to say, the internet loves a controversy. First reported in the Toronto Star, Storm’s story has been featured in newspapers, blogs and twittered about around the world.

I admit, upon reading this story, that my first reaction was to be disturbed by the family’s choice. Even I, a child of the 1970s, whose gender consciousness was formed almost exclusively through repeated exposure to Free To Be, You and Me*, was confused. This just seemed like a truly difficult and uncertain means to put into practice something that parents have been trying to do for the last 40 years —  to allow their children to come into their own understanding of who they are, as free as can be from socializing messages of what “boys do” or “girls do”.

As the mother of two boys, I tried (admittedly, not perfectly) to allow them to develop their own understanding of who they were without too much interference. As toddlers and young children, they were allowed to explore, even when that meant wearing purple t-shirts, purple snow suits and kilts, kitchen sets and dishes for birthday presents, and, for a while, renaming obviously male body parts by their understanding of the female equivalents. Both of them played with the idea that it would be better to be a girl than a boy, and eventually came to where they are now. And it occurs to me that Storm’s parents were heavily influenced in their decision not to share Storm’s sex or gender by their experiences in raising his older brother, who undoubtedly went through the same age-appropriate exploration as did my own.

As open minded as we might have tried to be, it never would have occurred to us to present them, to the world, as anything but males.  They are clearly male, and they are both clearly boys, and they are who they are, in both cases, a work in progress. And  upon reading Storm’s story, and being reminded of both X-A Fabulous Child’s Story and Free to be You and Me and all those similar messages which permeated my own childhood,  and all of which were a product of the rise of feminism in the 1960s, it occurred to me that 1970s are long over. Those books, those references — they’re from a different time. Hadn’t we all moved on?

Judging by the outcry over Storm’s parents’ choice, apparently not.

And so, after reading Kathy Witterick’s explanation of her family’s choice in Sunday’s Star, I conclude that theirs is a brave choice. It’s not the one I would have made, but I hope (since I’m still somewhat skeptical) it is the right one for Storm.

*oh yes, and then there was this, which definitely left a mark.

At Issue: Storm of Controversy — the “Genderless” Baby

Baby Storm and older brother, Jazz. Credit: Steve Russell, Toronto StarLast week, an article in the Toronto Star about a Toronto family who had decided to keep their third child’s gender a secret made headlines around the world.  Today, baby Storm’s mother, Kathy Witterick, responded to the outcry over the family’s decision.  Reaction to the family’s unorthodox choice has been polarized, with some suggesting that the family is just using Storm to conduct a sociological experiment — one with uncertain consequences. Others have been supportive of the family’s right to raise their children outside the “gender binary“.

Join 4mothers this week as we explore this topic.

When Bird Woke Up, He Was Grumpy

When Marcelle woke up, she was grumpier still.

We’re on day two of a project to convert our household of larks into early birds. It’s a new world for us: Peter has returned to school part-time and has new job that requires him to be out the door early. I’m trying to accommodate his schedule, the boys’ activities, and the demands of my job. All of this means that I’m trying to get up and out the door significantly earlier than I used to, and consequently, every one else is up early too.

So far, so good.  I’ve not yet bitten off the head of any of my colleagues.

The week is young, yet.

We’re really not morning people. Not one of us. If I were to give in to my own natural rhythm, I’d happily fall asleep at 3 a.m and wake at 10. I’m also a frequent insomniac. Over the Christmas holidays, the boys regularly stayed up until 10:30 (not entirely with our permission, granted) and slept until 10 am. It’s a pattern I’ve seen before. When the boys were babies, each of them transitioned from waking every two hours to waking every three hours to eventually settling into a pattern where they’d wake at around five to nurse and then happily doze for another four or five hours at a stretch. Their longest stretch of sleep, both of them, was usually at a time when most babies were dragging their exhausted parents out of bed for the day. It drove me crazy that our local parenting centre didn’t schedule any activities after 11 am, when my kids both were finally raring to go. Even now, we’re usually dragging their little tushes out of bed at the last possible second, both of them clutching their pillows, chanting my morning mantra: just five more minutes. Just five more minutes.

We live, perpetually, on Pacific Time.

It’s ironic that dawn is my favourite time of day, because I so rarely see it, unless I’ve just not yet made it to bed. This morning, as I set off to work, the sun was just barely pushing its light through the grey, snow dusted sky. I would happily have stayed out there longer, breathing in the damp air, feeling myself awaken to the day. But I had other priorities. As I squeezed myself onto a crowded subway car (so much busier than the one I usually take at 9:05) I wondered what in the world I’d gotten myself into, agreeing to join ranks with the worm eaters. Given my choice, I’ll take the cheese, myself.

Bet They’ll Both Go to Graduate School

Me: I guess we should take a look at what’s in the boys’ RESP. Maybe we want to top it up before the end of the year?

Him: Sure, but it seems like a losing battle. It’s not like we’ll ever put enough in there to get them both through school. At least, not if they want to go away to school.

Me: Did I ever mention that I know a guy whose parents moved with him when he decided to go away to school? They sold their house in Toronto and moved with him. What do you think of that?

Him: No.

Me: Don’t worry. They’ll go to U of T, or whatever school is local to wherever we live at the time.

Him (emphatically) : They’ll live with us if they know what’s good for them. If they want to go away, they can pay for it themselves.

Me: We both lived at home and survived! And it’s not like U of T’s a lousy school or anything like that. Why should they go away when they can get an excellent education in Toronto?

Him: Exactly!

Me: (scratches head)

Him: (looks around)

Me:…..Wow. When did we become those parents? You know those ones? The ones that sound like our parents?

Him: About three minutes ago.