Category Archives: Charities

A Prom Where Everything’s Legal (well, almost everything…)

I don’t know exactly when/where I came up with the idea. Maybe it started in the shower.  I think it really took hold while driving in my minivan a few years ago, listening to an all-70s radio station, high on coffee so my brain was firing pretty good… and suddenly it hit me—wouldn’t it be a great fundraiser for a school PTA to host a dance just for parents? Not a party, not a dinner, but a dance.  I mean, think about it—I’m always hearing moms complaining that there’s nowhere to go out and go dancing anymore.  You either have to be into country music; or hanging out with 20-somethings at clubs with weird, one-word names like “Liquid”, listening to a professional DJ spin something called “House” (no thanks); or opt for a smoky bar with a local band that needs to turn down their amps (and spend more time practicing); or attend a wedding reception, something that happens less and less the older you get. A dance just for parents would be perfect.   And then my brain really got going, and hit on the idea of a prom theme. Why not? I could envision the possibilities…people digging out their old prom attire and attempting to wear it again or going to secondhand stores and finding something really tacky; music from many different decades; a slideshow on the wall showing attendees’ old high school photos; tacky souvenir portraits taken in one corner (with a balloon arch and a plastic palm tree?)…And think of all the things we could now do that were taboo at our “real” prom…drink, stay out all night, sleep with our date…


 


The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was onto something.  People would be excited about getting to go to a prom with their spouse/significant other, especially if they didn’t go with him/her in the first place, or getting to go again even if they did go together, or finally getting to go to a prom if they never did at all…When I ran the idea past Andy, he said it would be a good fundraiser maybe for a junior high or high school’s PTA, since they actually have dances for students, but as I mulled it over even more, I came to the conclusion that a parent prom was perfect for an elementary school, for the simple fact that since elementary kids are too young to have dances, the parents ought to have one instead.  Elementary parents are a younger bunch, anyway, and might be a lot more excited about doing something like this. I also found out that having a prom for parents has been done successfully in other towns (Seth Myers mentioned one a couple weeks ago on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update”).  Of course, when you get an idea for anything, you usually end up being the person who gets to make it become reality—  so I’ve just spent the past school year as our elementary PTA’s Vice President of Ways and Means, and our Parents’ Prom is this weekend.


 


Reactions from area adults have run the gamut from curiosity and skepticism to enthusiasm and sheer giddiness, and luckily those last two emotions have moved over 100 people to buy tickets. People really are digging out old prom wear and finding old photos. (My own high school dance dresses, amazingly found intact at my mother’s house after over 30 years, have enough elastic in them to where a couple actually fit, but they’re so butt-ugly I can’t bring myself to wear them…I mean, whoever thought powder blue was a flattering color? And I think I’d need full-body Spanx in order to wear any of them successfully, anyway!)  People are inviting friends who don’t even have kids at our school, and they’re excited, too.  People are ordering corsages, planning where they’re going to go for dinner, sending song requests to the DJ, lining up babysitters …

I think everyone’s kids are totally embarrassed by the whole thing (“Mom, I’d better not see any photos of that on Facebook!!  Pleeeese tell me there won’t be any cameras there!!””) but any money we raise will go to their school, so they’d better get over it. Not only do I plan to take a lot of pictures, I especially look forward to having one of my kids snap a photo of us just before we walk out the door.  I can see it now.  “Say cheese, Mom!  Um, no, I mean, CHEESY!”

10 Ways for Overcommitted Parents to Say No

Lately, I’m often reminded of something a friend of mine once said in a Christmas card note, just after she’d listed all the volunteer activities in which she was involved, like PTA and Girl Scouts: “It’s ironic that the things we do to benefit our children keep us from spending quality time with them.”  At the time, I’d barely started a family and couldn’t relate. 16 years later, with at least 13 of those years spent on various volunteer boards, I can. And now that my husband has gotten involved as an office-holder in “stuff” like PTA as well, we’re doubly aware.  This year, we’re officers or committee chairs in 10 organizations combined, and in one, we each hold both a board position and a committee chair. In addition to doing our regular jobs.  I keep a white board on the wall just to keep track of volunteer responsibilities.  What happened to my vow of cutting back? Obviously, it got lost in the shuffle.  The one thing that’s kept us positive about volunteering this year, kept us from totally drowning, is the shared decision that when several of our volunteer commitments end in May, we’re not taking on any new ones.  At least for a couple years. Maybe four.  Maybe 10.

In order to do that, we have to stop volunteering to volunteer, and we have to say no (and stick to it) when people ask us to volunteer.  That used to be hard for us to do (thus the reason for our current state of being)– but now that we’re burnt out, it’s not hard at all. 
Oh, yes—even though it’s only February, we’ve already been asked to do several things for the next year.  Will you be Treasurer for the Local Council of PTAs? No. Will you be on the board of the Junior High PTA? No.  Will you be President of our P.E.O. chapter again? No.  Well, then how about Recording Secretary again? No.  Each time we say it, it helps boost our confidence for the next time.  And I don’t feel guilty at all, because recently I had an “Ah-hah” moment involving simple math: Since I’ve held so many volunteer positions over the years, numerous ones within each organization, and there are far more members than there are officer and committee chair positions, that means there are a lot of members who have never held an office or chaired a committee.  Not once.  And there’s something wrong with that.  Yes, we overscheduled parents all know the sad refrain we hear a lot: it’s hard to get people to do those jobs.  But I now say, if not enough people can step up to the plate, then the organization shouldn’t exist, or it should merge with another so that it can. 10% of an organization’s members should not be constantly doing the work for the other 90%, and if they keep doing it, then nothing’s going to change.  And that 90% will never get the chance to hone their leadership skills.  It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to us.

That’s #1 on my list of how I am currently saying no.  But nothing is ever One Size Fits All, and sometimes there can be pushy people who won’t take no for an answer– and so I offer up to you even more ways to turn them down:

10 Ways for Overcommitted Parents to Say No:



  1. No, it’s time to share the load.  I want to give others a chance to get involved.

  2. No, I’m already doing too many other volunteer jobs and don’t have room for more (and if you don’t really have any other “official” volunteer work, remember, being a parent counts as a huge volunteer job!!).

  3. No, I need to spend my more time with my family.

  4. No, my health (or sleep, or whatever ailment) is suffering from being too over-committed, and I need a break

  5. No, if I accepted that position, I wouldn’t be able to devote the time needed to do the job well, and I care about this organization too much to do that.

  6. No, but I would be able to do that job next year (or fill in the year) if you would please ask me then.

  7. No, I’m not sure if I’m going to be a member of the organization next year.

  8. No, I promised my family I wouldn’t take on any more volunteer jobs and I can’t break my promise to them

  9. No, but I can give you five other names you might want to call.

  10. No. (or the nicer but still succinct “No, I’m sorry, I can’t.) (or you can always add, “Unless it includes free maid service, once a week for a year.”)

If you’re new at this, remember that people who are seeking volunteers ALWAYS, intentionally or unintentionally, play down the volunteer time that will be involved. It is always more time-consuming than you’re told it will be.  And, also remember this: the people asking you to get involved are not the parents of your children, you are.  They will not be the ones left standing around wondering, “Where has all the time gone? Why didn’t I spend more time with my kids? Or myself? Or my spouse? Or my house? Or my friends?”  Don’t get me wrong– volunteering in the school, church, and community is a good thing, and it’s good role modeling for your kids—but so is modeling the ability to bring balance to your life, and to say no.

“Valen-tinies” No More: Cards With A Heart

Gee, I never realized how many “lasts” happen when it’s the last year of elementary school for the youngest child in the family.  I already posted about the “last” parent preview film for Human Growth and Development.  Lately it’s hit me that coming up is the last Science Fair (Yippeeee!!) and the last class Valentine’s Day party.

Amazing…over a decade of buying valentines for my kids to stuff in their classmates’ “valentine mailboxes”.  Somehow it all seems a little pointless compared to when I was a kid.  I remember going over every valentine later in the day…they came in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes people made theirs, sometimes they bought them, but kids carefully picked out which ones they wanted to send to which friends, depending on the verse.  We girls would be thrilled if we got one with an especially nice verse from a boy (I once got one that said, “Valentine, it may be cold outside, but inside my heart is warm” …I stuck it in my diary and cherished it for at least a year…) Sometimes candy was taped to the valentines.  It was a fun day—I felt sorry for the Jehovah’s Witness kids whose parents would pick them up and make them miss the party…

Fast forward to today, when there’s not much to valentines anymore.  Literally.  For those of you who may not know, most kid valentines now are about 2” x 2” (when opened!), and usually decorated with something from pop culture, like Buzz Lightyear or Hannah Montana, with barely enough room for even the words Happy Valentine’s Day.  They almost seem like miniature ads.  I call them “valen-tinies”.  We’re all expected to go out and buy a box, have our child sign each one on what little space is left, and take them to school on the big day.  By the time they get home from school toting a sack of the valentinies they’ve received, all they care about is eating whatever candy is left, and the valentinies are all thrown away.  Seems like a ridiculous waste of money, to me.  And gas, and time, if you think about the parents who have to drive to a 24-hour drugstore to buy a box of whatever’s left, the night before the party… (been there, done that! )

I used to try hard to help my child give something a little more memorable when my older daughter was in elementary school.  One year I found inexpensive, pink and red flat heart-shaped “fun foam” goggles that fit nicely in an envelope.  When she got into upper elementary, we started a tradition of making music CDs for everyone in her class, with 4-5 of her favorite songs to share, complete with custom-made, heart-themed CD labels. (Now that’s something people kept…well, most did…)

With Emmie, I was tapped out of new ideas, so she languished in the world of valentinies until last year, when we saw actress Julianne Moore on a TV talk show promoting Save the Children valentines, a set of valentines designed by children. They were pricier than the box of tinies (a box of 24 cost $25), but the money went toward a good cause: fighting childhood poverty around the world.  Emmie loved the idea and we ordered a set.

I’d forgotten all about it until this year, when we got a catalog in the mail showing valentines designed by children at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  A box of 32 is only $5, and they are precious.  I just checked online, and Save the Children is still offering a set of Valentines, too, this year including cards designed by children and celebrities including Jordin Sparks and Corbin Bleu. We haven’t decided which we’ll choose, but we’re definitely going to pick one of them, and we’re going to have to put our order in ASAP in order for them to arrive by the big day.

So, here’s hoping my readers with young children might also like to choose this unique way to share some love at the class Valentines Day parties. Here are the links:

http://savethechildren.org/valentines and www.childrensart.org.  Let me know if you know of any other charitable valentines!

Search for a Cure

I get sidetracked a lot when I’m cleaning the house, but sometimes that’s a good thing.  Like the other day, when something caught my eye as I was throwing away the “dog newspapers”– the ones we put on the kitchen floor for Luke when we’re going to be gone awhile.  Luckily, this particular issue of the Dallas Morning News was “unused” and I sat transfixed, reading a story about a suburban Dallas family with 3 children, beaming at me from the crumpled paper in matching black sweaters. 

Just a few years ago, Michelle, the mom, had been a typical “normal” mom, encouraging the kids to do their homework, volunteering in the classroom, cooking with her daughter, cheering her son at his hockey games…and then her behavior started to change. She stayed in her bedroom a lot, reading romance novels.  She’d say strange things.  At first, doctors thought it was some kind of depression but it was eventually discovered that she has frontotemporal dementia.  I’d never heard of it before.  Nicknamed “cancer of the soul”, it’s a fatal disease that slowly destroys brain functions such as social skills, language, empathy and compassion.  Adults with FTD regress to childlike emotions and behavior, ending up in their own world. The husband/dad in this family first suspected something was wrong when his daughter said to him one day, “I can’t remember the last time mom hugged me or kissed me or told me that she loved me,” and when he told his wife, she brushed it off and said, “I’ll get to it.”  Eventually she was roaming the neighborhood in her bathrobe and jeans, digging in trash.   The family now visits their mom/wife in an Alzheimer’s care center– she has a distant look in her eyes, doesn’t talk, and sometimes pretends she’s jumping rope.  The daughter, now 15, can’t handle the visits and wishes her mom would just hurry up and die.  The entire family is stuck in an awful waiting game.  While some FTD patients seem to have a genetic link for the disease, many others do not– Michelle falls into that “struck at random” category.  There is no cure, and FTD currently affects 250,000 people in America, usually between the ages of 40 and 60.  Michelle is 49. 

Talk about “hitting close to home”.  A suburban stay-at-home mom in her late 40’s with children, including a teen daughter.  Talk about being thankful for health! It also made me check out the Association for Frontotemporal Dementias (AFTD) website, to see what’s being done in research.  It looks like there are a few dedicated researchers out there who have made some strides in creating treatments that lessen the severity of symptoms, but it’s not exactly a disease that gets a lot of attention.

I wanted to do something to help.  As I navigated through the site’s “Donate” page, a logo caught my eye with the words, “Goodsearch. You search, we give.” Have you ever heard of Goodsearch? It’s a search engine, like Google, that you can use to search the web, and every time you search, the nonprofit of your choice earns a penny.  Seems small, but I probably do at least 10 web searches a day, and if everyone does the same, that could be a lot of money.  I went to the Goodsearch site (www.goodsearch.com)
and read more. The beneficiaries are numerous (over 84,000 nonprofits), and just about anything you can think of: ALS, SPCA, Special Olympics, schools, AFTD…   What a great idea, and it’s been around since 2005, featured on major network news programs like ABC and CNN.  You can search the web via the Goodsearch site, or install the Goodsearch toolbar on your computer for free. It’s powered by Yahoo, so if you’ve ever used Yahoo search, it’s basically the same thing.  They also offer “widgets”, and I plan to put one on my blog sidebar soon.

So, I wanted to share this information, since it’s one of those “why not?” kind of things that makes a lot of sense, does a lot of good, and doesn’t take a lot of effort. And if you think it’s as great as I do, pass it on.  Maybe the power of the Internet can eventually raise enough funds to wipe out these awful “surprise” diseases, or at least find a cure.