Worth the Exhaustion? OH yeah.

These are the busiest weeks of the year for your active-duty parents, what with recitals, and proms, the big Spring Songfest and good old Yay for Art Night. Watching them juggle everything reminds me of what humor columnist Erma Bombeck said when someone asked how her generation of stay-at-home moms managed, back in the time when women were pretty much on their own in the parenting department.

“We drank!” she quipped.

She was kidding of course; no parent could maintain the habit of daily cocktails and orchestrate the movements of even one child, never mind more than one. Not in this day and age, when being a parent is like being an air traffic controller. Fail to keep your signals straight and you’ll have your Pop Warner running back racing for the goal posts in his baby sister’s tutu.

So parents are bound to look a little rough around the edges. But what I wonder is, what’s my excuse, with my own kids all grown and gone? I asked myself this just yesterday when I shot out of the bed at 5:30 in the morning and didn’t sink back into it until almost midnight.

I asked, but I knew the answer, really. The answer is that four years ago I decided I wasn’t going to keep withdrawing more and more from the life of my community, just because my children were gone. Instead, I was going to dig back in.

In my early 30s, I began volunteering with my town’s local chapter of the National Program for A Better Chance which identifies academically talented students of color who, with their family’s support and blessing, leave home to attend rigorous public and private high schools all around the country.

In my town’s program, I started out working on the Student Selection Committee. Then old Dave and I offered ourselves as host parents to one of the young men. (All the ABC scholars in our town are male.) I spent two years as the program’s Writing Tutor and finally became Head of Enrichment and General Fun, if you can call it that.

I vividly recall that autumn when, to raise a little money, the guys decided to harvest a thousand pink hydrangea blossoms from my yard which they spent weeks fashioning into wreaths and festooning with delicate white lace ribbons so as to offer them for sale at a local crafts fair. Then they divvied up the profits and each one bought a Walkman, (which will tell you how long ago THIS was!)

Those boys were all born in the Nixon years. Could I really go back now and work with kids born in the … Clinton years?

I could and I did, and today, as the Chair of Student Life, I am more involved in the program than ever I was before.

Together the 8 guys and I catch live theater and we do Go-Karts. We Laser Tag and we hit the museums.  As often as their academic and sports commitments allow, we drive in to the city where they tutor young children in a nationally known after-school writing program.

It’s all fun of course , but I almost think the best fun comes when we’re just driving or walking or taking the bus to all these places.

Sometimes, riding home after tutoring the little kids, every last one of these teens falls dead asleep,  and my car goes utterly quiet but for the soulful croonings of everyone’s favorite, Bob Marley. It’s then that I feel a real bond with today’s younger parents, who I’m pretty sure, also say to themselves what I say: ‘Hey  I can catch up on sleep later. This is too good to miss out on!’

Photo by Mark Flannery ©MarkFlannery.com

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