Saturday, November 01, 2008

Why do I volunteer?

Lately, a few of my friends have commented on some of the things I spend my time on.

Like, why do I volunteer so much?

I've been thinking about this. Especially as it pertains to my role as The Guitar Lady at one of the local libraries. This is my tenth year volunteering weekly for a Baby Music and Books program. I don't know that I've ever done anything for ten years. (Well, except piano lessons. Those went for 14 years, but it wasn't my idea, or my money fueling the streak). Ten years ago, a friend of mine who also had a 3 year old, had an idea to put on a program at the public library that involved helping new parents integrate literacy into the lives of their little ones. She'd been involved (as a spectator/audience) at a similar program in Boston, and had really benefitted from it, and wondered if it could be implemented here. Her only obstacle was that she felt she couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. Oh, if only she could get in touch with a local musician. Or, at the very least, someone who wasn't afraid of belting out "I've been working on the railroad" in front of people.

Now, I've never been known as a woman who can keep her mouth shut, so I'm sure it comes as no surprise to you that the first thing out of my mouth was "Oh, I could sing that. In fact, I used to play the guitar, and I bet that song only has 3 chords"

And so was born Babies And Books.

Eek, I was a mess those first few months. Performance anxiety? I haz it.

But those babies? And those mothers? And those toddlers who look up at the guitar with unvarnished admiration and awe? They kept me coming back, even though my armpits squirted the most toxic nervous sweat stink for the entire first year.

Oh, there were plenty of reasons to stop.

And you know what? It was almost always the parents that made me want to stop.

This was a FREE SERVICE that we offered to the parents, and nearly every year, we'd have some small subset of entitlement-minded over-achiever parents who felt that the entire universe rotated with their own family at the hub. Or they'd grouse to me about how there was "too much book-reading and not enough singing" or they'd grouse to my friend "could you find someone else who knew more songs", or they wheel in 15 minutes late, and then complain that the session is too short, or they'd push in their baby's zillion-dollar super-sized stroller that does everything but make a latte, and then complain about how there's never any space in the venue, or they'd plop their baby down on the floor, plop themselves down on a comfortable chair "nearby" and then ignore the child (who usually was a bruiser, or a bully, or a tumbler), or they'd just sit there, WHILE WE WERE WORKING FOR FREE, and chat with their neighbour about who was seeing who, and what their baby was doing, and how Little Johnny was allergic to this or that, or was the next Einstein. Argh.

I am still trying to figure out a nice, polite, and STINGINGLY SARCASTIC way to let those parents know that they are a ferocious pain in the rear, but the right words still elude me.

For every bad parent, though, there were many great parents. And grandparents. People who realized that what we were doing was donating our time and giving back, and they knew that every hour we spent with them was an hour that we weren't spending doing things for ourselves. I have the greatest admiration for those parents who'd come with flowers from their gardens, or little bags full of their 'family secret recipe Christmas cookies", or gift certificates for the local grocery store (hey, I wasn't being paid, and this was a nice 'payment'). Once, I had this fantastic mother organize a collection after I had one of my miscarriages, and I ended up with a sweet gift certificate to the local mall, the only stipulation being that I had to spend it on *me*. Yup. Love those parents.

But really? I come back, year after year for the babies. The babies, they are in my blood (and the fun part about entertaining other people's kids is that you can hold the kid, and bounce him on your lap, and then, if they start to fuss? You just GIVE THEM BACK.) A few years back, I was in the Post Office of the town I do "babies and books" in, and I felt like I was being watched. I turned around, and there were two kids in private school uniforms. They were probably 8 and 10, I'd guess.

"Do you remember me?" one asked.

Eek! I looked to their mother for a hint, or a sign. She smiled, "Honey, when you knew The Guitar Lady, you were still a little baby. You've changed so much, I'm sure it would be impossible..."

I bent over and looked her in the eye, "My goodness! Did you come to Babies and Books? I bet you were one of my Solid Gold Dancers when we used to sing all the songs with the actions!" (this is always a good guess. The kids that remember are often the ones that were most involved.) "I would hardly recognize you, you're so grown up!"

She beamed.

And that, my friends, is why I volunteer.

Because the kids?

They love me. Every last one of them.


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