72: Why I’ll Never Be Volunteer of the Month

72: Why I’ll Never Be Volunteer of the Month

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom's Survival Guide

Why I’ll Never Be Volunteer of the Month

Enough is as good as a feast.

~English Proverb

I sat in our favorite Florida restaurant on the beach with my husband, Kedron, and our two elementary-school-aged children. The warm January breeze drifted through the door each time it opened, refreshing my tired soul. We had pulled the kids out of school and left the northern cold and our busy schedules behind for one week. I was looking forward to visiting family and friends, and savoring lots of grouper sandwiches.

A week prior, my first book had been released. In a few days, I would run the Disney World full marathon. Needless to say, it had been a busy year. As I savored my fish sandwich, I relished the feeling of being wholly present — my body and mind fully connected to my family. There were no writing deadlines hanging over my head, no training runs that I had to mentally gear up for. Finally, I could just be with my family and not have fear niggling in the back of my mind that I should be doing something else.

A few months before our Florida vacation, my daughter, Ilana, had pointed to a picture of a mom in her school newsletter. “Why can’t you win the award for volunteer of the month at my school?” she asked.

I swallowed the foul taste of unnecessary guilt. I volunteer at the school once a week, and I know all the students by name in my children’s classrooms. But the women who earn recognition in the newsletter give more than a couple of hours per week. They head up carnivals and give hundreds of hours a month. Our schools are so blessed to have moms who can do that. But I will never be that mom, at least not while I’m writing books and running marathons.

“Honey, those moms give a lot of time to the school, and I am so glad that they do. They help our schools so much,” I replied. “But even though I don’t go to an office to work, my writing is a job. It’s something I believe I am supposed to do and that it helps other people. I do what I can for the school and your classroom, but I can’t volunteer like the moms in the newsletter do and still write books.”

Ilana shrugged her shoulders and replied, “I understand.” She bounced off to go play, as doubt crept into my mind. Did she really understand? Was I giving the kids and my husband enough attention? Was the sacrifice of time worth it to pursue my dreams or was I giving up too much? Even though Kedron assured me that I was keeping a healthy balance, I still wondered if years down the road my kids would gripe to a therapist about how their mom was never there for them and always seemed distracted. Some days, I wished for the defined boundaries of an office and regular working hours.

It was a continual tug of war to keep the balance and not let one area of my life overpower the others. I’d get up early, run a few miles, pack lunches, help at school, write, make dinner, help with homework, write some more, and repeat the cycle the next day.

I found I was always writing — little snippets here and there while the kids munched on PB&Js or between loads of laundry. If I didn’t have paper or my computer handy, the words replayed in my mind until I could write them down.

Running got me up early, and I was often home and showered before anyone else was awake. But as the runs got longer on the weekends, I left a sleeping house on Saturday mornings and came home to a day in full motion. Was it okay? Was it worth it? Was I missing too much?

Then she said it. Right there in the midst of our vacation lunch of grouper sandwiches on the beach, between a book release and a marathon, Ilana said, “It’s so cool to have a mom who writes books and runs marathons.”

Then I knew all that multitasking was okay. So was the forgotten homework, the missed field trips, lunches that weren’t creative, or the fact that I will never be volunteer of the month. It was going to be okay.

I was showing my kids the way to work hard and follow their own dreams one day, even in the midst of raising a family. They were learning that sometimes you sacrifice things, like the award for volunteer of the month, in order to reach for different goals. But what matters most — following your passions, being there for your family, celebrating together — those all can be balanced in a way that everyone wins. No matter what, we can support each other and be together, even if Mama is occasionally distracted and writing in her head.

My family cheered me down the finish line at the marathon, and a couple of weeks later we hosted a successful book release party. Each event was a family celebration. My name might have been on the book cover and the finisher’s medal hung around my neck, but we had persevered through the past year as a family. I couldn’t have done it without their support and understanding.

~Amelia Rhodes

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