Mama Madison: Volunteers? Anyone?

Bringing the spirit of helping into the new year

Hard as I (pretend to) try, I just can't seem to make a single one of my New Year's resolutions stick. As of today, things are already on the downhill slide, and I know I probably won't be eating five servings of fruits or vegetables a day (don't tell me it's five of both, please), exercising more regularly, or keeping up with the ever-Sisyphean task of folding laundry by months' end.

The only New Year's resolution I've ever managed to keep much past February was the commitment I made to lowered expectations back in 2008. I've really rocked that one.

But my inability to stick to a self-improvement regime has in no way kept me from asking my kids to consider what goals we should set as a family for the new year. And each and every January 1st we all sit down to dinner and come up with a group resolution.

This year we are all going to volunteer more.

I'll admit, I've struggled with the best way to get my kids involved in service activities in the past. Sure, they've grudgingly done what little volunteer work I've required them to do, but it's always been done out of a sense of obligation (and not wanting me to yell) as opposed to genuine altruism. I guess I had always hoped that I'd have the kind of kids that bounced out of bed on a snowy morning to help the elderly next-door-neighbors shovel out from the storm before settling into a Simpson's marathon. Instead, I need to threaten to delete the fifteen-plus Halloween episodes they have stored on TiVo before anyone budges from the couch to do the right thing. And while my two younger kids have been accompanying me on Road Home shelter overnights for years, I think they keep returning for the gooey cinnamon rolls fellow volunteers always bake for breakfast. I was genuinely hoping bringing them along would help them develop compassion for homeless families, and it has to some degree. But what they've developed even more of is the desire to play video games all evening with some of program's younger guests.

But this year I've decided to revisit my resolution, and lower my expectations, this time with regards to the kids' motivation for volunteering. Isn't it more important that they just do it? Do I really need to stress about why? Isn't it possible, that if they volunteer enough, even if it's for a Bar Mitzvah project, or a school service requirement, or simply because they want to eat baked goods for breakfast, that they might develop enough of a taste for it (volunteering that is) that they'll continue giving back long after they've been required to do so? I guess I've accepted that while it's might be outside forces, namely me, that is making them volunteer, the work they are doing is still valued by those on the receiving end.

My oldest and I will be kicking-starting our family resolution in just a few weeks by volunteering at Lily's Luau, an inspiring fundraising event that benefits epilepsy research at UW-Madison. I've been involved with the Luau ever since its inception and I'm psyched once again to don my grass skirt and lei to help organize the registration table. And my son is actually excited to help out with the silent auction this year. Sure I think a large part of the thrill for him is the chance to eat unlimited coconut shrimp and flirt with the cute teenaged volunteers wearing coconut bras. But I do think, in some ways, he might be starting to "get it."

Lily, for whom the event is named, is a dear family friend and fellow classmate at West High. My son has known her since the very first day we moved to Madison. He's seen her struggles and seen her triumphs when it comes to living with epilepsy. He is looking forward to hearing other people affected by seizures share their stories and watching the video that explains how the money raised that evening funds important scientific research.

It's pretty great to see his desire to get involved with a good cause ratcheted up a notch. And wouldn't it be wonderful if this were just the beginning? Perhaps this might be the year that I can shift my expectations meter, at least when it comes to my children's volunteering, from "lowered" to "great"?

It's a resolution I'd be proud to see broken.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: When mom gets a new roomie

This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition. It was my husband who had originally signed up to chaperone the event, thinking that spending a few days with his 11-year-old daughter and her compatriots would serve as an excellent anthropological experience. But when an unexpected work obligation made it impossible for him to attend, it was me left holding the bag

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.

Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.

Helping your kids stick with music lessons

Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.

A summer camp quiz for parents

If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.

Mama Madison: Lessons in dining out

I know, in the grand scheme of things, that my kid issues, when it comes to dining out, absolutely pale in comparison to those of parents whose kids have special needs. Many kids, especially those who are on the autism spectrum, are disturbed by changes in their routine, or anxious around noisy places. They may not be able tolerate waiting for a table or standing in line. So unfortunately, many of these families just avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.

Mama Madison: Natural vs. un-natural parenting

It's weird to admit this, especially in a city surrounded by as much outdoor beauty as Madison. But frankly, I'm just not that into nature. I'm more of an indoor kind of gal. Give me an afternoon at the Chazen or the Wisconsin Historical Museum over the Arboretum or Olbrich Gardens any day.

Mama Madison: Theatrical talent close to home

Lavish costumes, gorgeous sets, a full orchestra and a concession stand where nothing cost more than two bucks and you have a pitch perfect experience at the theater. Oh, and did I mention the ticket prices were just $10 dollars apiece? One could afford to take the whole family for a live theater experience for less than an evening at the Lego movie would cost including popcorn.

Mama Madison: Race to shame

I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.

Hancock Center addresses bullying through body movement

It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders -- 10 boys and six girls -- enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.

Mama Madison: Get in the picture

Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.

Mama Madison: Welcome to the Parenting Olympics

Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.

Mama Madison: Facebook's instant nostalgia fix

Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.

Mama Madison: The kindness question

Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.

Toddlers take to tablets

Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.

Mama Madison: Science or study hall?

This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.

Mama Madison: MTV provides a teachable moment

In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.

Mama Madison: Planning for the MLK holiday

In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.

Mama Madison: The long vacation

It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.

Mama Madison: Cheating 101 at Middleton High School

Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.


Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!