I volunteered a lot in the community — once upon a time — in the “before motherhood” chapters of my life story to this point. Volunteering was important to me. Essential. Community service projects filled my free time. It was how I decompressed from my “real life” of work and school. It is how I met most of the friends I made as I moved from city to city in the years after leaving my parents' home.
I imagine it was probably engrained from childhood — that viewpoint of volunteering as a dominant hobby. My parents always served their community in various ways, from church projects to coaching youth sports teams. Parent service hours were a requirement of my private elementary school, and my Catholic High School regularly offered opportunities for students to engage in community projects.
It is common enough, I believe, for parents of young children to step back from previous activities. Parents are busy. Finding time to participate in anything but parenting is hard. Medical parenting adds an additional layer of difficulty. In addition to the limits on free time that traditional parenting affords, you also have the constant threat of medical emergencies, hospitalizations and unexpected doctor’s visits throwing an extra big wrench into whatever plans you attempt to create for yourself.
Nearly five years of medical parenting, plus 2.5+ years of pandemic chaos, significantly impacted the range and variety of my direct involvement in the community. No doubt about it! I did still volunteer with various organizations. I still volunteer. I serve on nonprofit boards and county commissions. I speak at fundraising events to support Seattle Children’s Hospital. I collect and donate needed items at local collections.
But surely, it is not the same kind of volunteering. It is not the boots-on-the-ground, sweat-on-the-brow type of labor-intensive work that I did before motherhood. I rarely commit to anything in person these days… mainly because I have no idea what is going to happen in my life from day to day. I am no longer a very reliable person if what you need from volunteers is a commitment of availability at a specific place, on a specific date and time.
Given everything that happens in our lives, I feel like that is fair to say and, also, that I deserve some grace due to the unpredictable nature of our family life. And yet…
I miss volunteering. I miss those community service projects. I miss the hugs and the hard-labor and the celebratory happy hours with new friends after a long day of time invested in a shared mission. I miss that a great deal.
Today, my husband took over parenting duties for an hour in the middle of the day so that I could volunteer at our local senior center to prepare items for a fundraiser craft sale. It was a quick job, but an important one as the funds raised help support ongoing programming for older adults in our community. So, for one hour, I worked side-by-side with members of the senior center fundraising foundation to collect, sort and price out beautiful, handmade craft items.
In that hour, I called home twice to ask about Malachi and ensure that no health emergencies had emerged in my absence.
Is he okay? Does he seem uncomfortable? Any signs of pain? Seizures? It's hard leaving your child with medical needs at home. It is hard no matter how many times you have done it before. You never know when the next emergency will hit, though, the fact that it will, at some point, is a certainty. It is a game of roulette. And you know it.
Yet, despite the added logistics and the anxiety that now accompanies my involvement in community service, I drove away from the senior center today, after just a single hour of work, with a smile on my face, my energy notably lighter, and immensely happy that I decided to get involved.