A fine friend

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That’s our girl. She’s at a party right now to celebrate a friend’s ninth birthday. It’s a sleepover with a luau theme, featuring pool time, bowling, and watching the birthday girl’s big brother run a 5K in our little town.

When I was our girl’s age, my parents would never have let me be at a party from 2pm till 9am. Things are different. I’m different. Parties are different. I’m getting nearly hourly updates via text on how the girls are doing.

I told our daughter as I took her to the party, “if you need us, ask Ms. J to call me.” She “mm-hmmed.”

“I know you probably won’t need me, though.”

“Yeah, I never need to leave a party.”

And not this party, especially. The birthday girl is a lovely person–kind and enthusiastic, laid back, independent… I love our girl to be around her. This friend is heading off to a magnet school. Our daughter will miss her but said, “That makes sense, though. She’s so good at so many things, she’s so creative and smart, she’s really special.”

She said all this with such blithe generosity. Not even an atom’s worth of envy or self-doubt. (I fear I learned those two last things too early in life.)

She saw a piano in this friend’s house. “Oh YES! I can play ‘Happy Birthday’ for you! I’m learning piano.”

She is a fine friend. The finest. She has no idea how to be anything but.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep.

does a corporate wife = a PTA mom?

In a word, “probably.”

When we first learned that we’d likely relocate to Europe, my husband asked his employer’s relocation liaison whether the company had any support for spouses seeking employment. He described my past employment history, my current endeavors; it was really quite nice to hear him talk me up a bit.

But the liaison said, “Relocating requires a tremendous amount of time on the part of the trailing spouse, especially in that first year. Most spouses dedicate much of their time to volunteering at the children’s school.”

There you have it.

The school our children would attend is one of the best in the region; children do well there. That is to say, one would not volunteer at the school to help the children. One would do it to help herself.

Now, there are schools in the United States that will definitely benefit from the volunteer hours of parents. Schools can be desperately underfunded and understaffed. Volunteering helps the school, and is worthy. When you help the school, you reduce a certain amount of stress on the school, and the school has more energy and resources to devote to its students. Wikipedia is so handy sometimes:

Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity, intended to promote good or improve human quality of life. It is considered as serving the society through one’s own interest, personal skills or learning, which in return produces a feeling of self-worth and respect, instead of money. Volunteering is also famous for skill development, to socialize and to have fun. It is also intended to make contacts for possible employment or for a variety of other reasons.

But then there’s this. I agree with Bruce Feiler’s position that it is, in fact, “okay to skip that bake sale.” And he is absolutely correct that in some schools, “Volunteering has become a status symbol of sorts.”

At our children’s current school, a sweet, well-regarded, high-achieving, public elementary school, I’m on the PTA. I help the school as much as I can. It’s fun. I get to meet people, think about ways to raise funds to help the school, keep myself busy, and have an impact. I volunteer at the school because I like to feel smart and effective. (I also, admittedly, like to see how our local tax dollars are spent, and if I can help maximize or offset them with our fundraising efforts, yay!) Most of the parents seem to operate under the same premise.

But there’s something that can happen to a volunteer. A volunteer can start to feel entitled, and worse, like a martyr. I’ve heard, if a parent feels slighted: “After all I’ve done for this school…” Or, if a parent feels tired with all their volunteer hours, “Nobody helps at this school.”

It’s unbecoming. Or, it’s just a sign that those volunteers want to find paid work.

sea turtle

Here’s a poem written by our 7-year-old daughter. She thought about it for a couple of days, drafting it late into the night on her magna-doodle board, developing illustrations. She finally put it all to paper and told me it was for her principal at school.

Sea turtle, sea turtle, in the deep blue sea,
I can’t believe you’re just like me.
I’m so lucky, that I can see.

She had overheard me tell my husband that the principal is pretty excited about the school’s new mascot: the sea turtle. She found a copy of one of her favorite books (handed down by her cousins), and told me she wanted to give it to her principal, too.

Limu the Blue Turtle demonstrates that it doesn’t matter how you look, it matters what you do. Mean green turtles teased Limu because he was blue, so he made his own friends, who looked nothing like him, and with whom he had nothing in common. But he did right by them. He reunited an opihi shellfish with her sister and removed a piece of wood from a blue whale’s fin. In the end, the opihi offered Limu a place to live, and the whale saved Limu from a shark attack. It’s adorable.

She wanted to give it to her principal, but she noted that it had “scribble scrabbles in it.” (Some coloring on the inside of the cover, nothing major.) So, we got a new copy of the book for him. We went to the school this morning and dropped it off, along with a quiche for the PTA’s welcome-back-teachers breakfast. The kids and I went to the principal’s office, and she presented the book and her poem.

The principal stopped what he was doing and read the whole story to the three of us and the Assistant Principal. He was visibly touched, and said he’d share the poem and the book with the teachers because, “The students are just like those sea turtles, heading out on their own, relying on their own character, finding their way, and overcoming obstacles.”

Our girl was so proud.

She knows now, that she is a poet. She knows now, that when she thinks, and speaks, and shares, she has an impact.

Here’s to the new school year!