The first nine years of my life as a mom centered on my boys’ Jewish preschool at our synagogue. As a new stay-at-home mom of a 2-year-old already toting a newborn on my hip, I was an easy target for the “powers that be” in the PTA to join their ranks.
And join I certainly did, from chairing preschool Shabbat dinners to organizing pizza and bagel lunch for the students to putting together the book fair. From early on, I found it easy to immerse myself in their school, filling my days with whatever needed to be done.
As my family grew to three boys in four and a half years, so too did my involvement at the preschool from a PTA volunteer to a vice president and eventually to president. I was in the building so often during those years, I often felt as if my boys and I spent just as much time there as we did at home.
Our early mornings were spent stocking the kitchen with cookies or fruit for lunch. In the afternoons, my boys and I would find ourselves setting up for one event or another, and by night, when they were in bed, I would be running to meetings, counting money that came in, or wrapping raffle gifts for the annual fundraiser. Though of course no paycheck arrived, it was a full-time job. A full-time job that I truly loved.
Then my oldest son headed off to our local, public elementary school, and those same moms that had grabbed me years earlier in preschool found me pretty quickly again. Livingston, our heavily Jewish suburb in New Jersey, isn’t so big, and my “sucker” reputation for “never saying no to helping out” made me an easy target once again.
Soon at my son’s new school I was chairing events and learning the ropes of my new PTA, while still running the preschool one. It was overwhelming to say the least, and before I knew it, my middle son was set to join his big brother in elementary school, and I was slated as a vice president for that PTA. I was juggling way too much and something had to give.
So I took baby steps away from the preschool. And when I say baby steps, they were just that. I still chaired lunch and checked the cabinets religiously to ensure that cookies were stocked, and though I didn’t have to, I was always popping in to the book fair to ensure that all was going smoothly. I still showed up at every preschool event at least five minutes early, just to be extra confident that all would go well.
I had poured so much love and devotion into that preschool over the past nine years, so it was hard to take those steps back, but as my baby’s time there came to an end (possibly before I wished it would) I was able to finally leave it alone.
When he graduated in June, I shed a few tears as I served my last pizza lunch, but I kind of had one foot out the door as I looked around that last preschool Shabbat dinner and recognized very few faces. My time there was done. In a blink of an eye the door was finally shut on that preschool PTA that had been so much a part of mine, my boys’, and even my husband’s life for these past nine years.
This September my family and I embarked on a beautiful thing. The best pay off to having three kids so close together is two full years with all three in one school! Not to mention no more preschool tuition—amazing!
So what did I, the PTA sucker, agree to do? Spend those two years as the president elect and then the president of the PTA. My calendar has been pretty filled with this new, “full-time job,” my own actual part-time job, writing, and the freedom to actually work out, and once in a while having some time to myself.
Although like any other synagogue, there were many avenues for me to be involved beyond volunteering for the preschool, as I felt my way through all these new responsibilities, I spent very little time at the synagogue. Until this past week.
My dear friend has now assumed the role of the PTA president there, which includes the religious school. In an effort to engage more religious school parents, she approached me about chairing a challah bake for women, particularly trying to engage moms like me who were finished with preschool. Of course she knew I could never say no to something like that, so back in November I agreed.
I had no idea (and in fairness, neither did my friend) know what I was getting myself into. I threw together a quick flier and really kind of forgot about it until mid-December.
Due to horribly unfortunate circumstances in our small community, the challah bake that we envisioned turning out maybe 30 women was transformed into a massive fundraiser in honor of a beautiful little girl in my youngest son’s class who tragically passed away suddenly this December. How could we not put everything we had into this?
With over 100 women registered for the event, we were freaking out and suddenly, I was right back to where I had began: running in and out of the synagogue building, shopping for the event, and spending two days in that same kitchen where I had served all those lunches over the years. The rest of my life was all put on hold. It was busy and hectic and extremely time consuming, but it felt just like coming home for Thanksgiving after that first semester away at college. It felt right.
After I came home from the event, thoroughly exhausted from being on my feet all day and closing down the building after cleaning up, I put my feet up and shed a few tears, marveling at how quickly the first years of parenthood have flown by.
I then began to think about this new path I was headed down. My boys’ elementary school is an incredible place, and I love being involved there. Though I certainly do not wish it away, in five years from now it will no longer be a part of our lives. It will be our past.
And believe me, for the next few years, it will be where the bulk of my time volunteering will be spent. But this week’s event made me realize that I still have a deep love and connection to my sons’ first school, which not only paved their paths for education, but paved mine as a parent volunteer. My youngest son’s graduation last year was not the ending I envisioned it to be.
I’m not sure where my place will be in the years to come, and please, those powers that be over there, don’t come knocking on my door too soon or too often just yet, for you all know I still wear that sucker badge. But I do promise, in time, my place will be there… somewhere.