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: Tips and tricks for baby air travel

As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.

Mama Madison: Apple-picking time

The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.

Mama Madison: Baby feeding recommendations

I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?

Heartland Farm Sanctuary helps animals that help kids

Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.

Mama Madison: Back-to-school confidences

Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.

Mama Madison: Does back-to-school really mean a whole new wardrobe?

This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"

Mama Madison: Next generation of bloggers

Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.

Mama Madison: Returning to the workforce

This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.

Triathlons raise money to teach kids healthy habits

"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.

Mama Madison: Kids will find their own passions in their own ways

"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."

Vital work is being done at the Lussier Community Education Center, from community-building to STEM skills

"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."

Mama Madison: Parental dice rolls?

Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.

Mama Madison: My summer book list

For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.