I am one of those people who can’t say no, who feels they need to put themselves forward for EVERYTHING. But it hasn’t always been like that.
When my eldest was at playgroup, I was in awe of the committee – a small group of ladies who organised lovely parties and fetes and raffles, whilst also having overall management control of playgroup staff. I was eternally grateful to them for everything they did. And eternally guilty that I wasn’t doing it. I knew I just didn’t have the time.
But with my younger son close to starting school and my daughter close to starting playgroup, I felt maybe I at last had the time to do my bit. So I joined the committee. I became secretary. I would have liked to be chair, but wasn’t sure if I had the time.
For two years I pulled together agendas, attended meetings and minuted them. I also organised Christmas parties and leavers’ parties. Which involved an awful lot of wiping and sweeping. And a fair amount of resentment of the parents who swept in at the start of the party and out again at the end without putting a single paper plate in a black bin bag. Who did they think was doing that for them and their little angel????
Being on the playgroup committee gave me the confidence to aim higher. I had always wanted to be a school governor. I am passionate about my kids’ school, their education and other kids’ education and, yes, I am a little bit nosy too.
I was warned, but I didn’t really believe it. Being a school governor is a big commitment. You are lured in by ‘one meeting every half-term’. That’s OK, one meeting, I can manage that. But then there’s committees. Which meet at least three times a year, often a lot more. And you end up on two committees. And there is endless paperwork to read. And you are responsible for a subject or, more likely, two – and have to meet with the teacher in charge of that subject and visit the school to find out how it is taught. And, although there’s no obligation, you feel compelled to help out with reading and school trips.
There is not so much giggling at governors’ meetings as there was at playgroup meetings. The meetings are longer and there are men there (no men at playgroup meetings!). And the governors tend to be older – currently the only two governors younger than me are the two teachers. And you don’t organise parties and fetes – that’s the responsibility of the ‘Friends’ aka the PTA. (One of the few things I have never volunteered for, although I have wrestled with my conscience about it.)
When I became a governor I wanted to contribute and make my mark from the word go, although I wasn’t sure how. So when they asked for a secretary for the education committee I volunteered. They were very grateful. Funny that. They must have thought I had ‘mug’ written across my forehead. Then I went along to premises committee – which at that time was made up of the chair of governors, the chair of the committee, a builder and me. The builder is a great governor (and I’m not just saying that because he is probably reading this!) – he asks the right questions and has loads to offer with his knowledge of buildings and health and safety. But writing isn’t his forte. After a moment’s squirming, I knew what I had to do. So within weeks of becoming a governor I was secretary of both the committees I was on – two of the four committees available. Out of 16 governors, clearly I was doing way more than I should have been.
But I just can’t say no and I can’t bear those uncomfortable silences when everyone looks down and waits for some idiot to say ‘It’s OK, I’ll do it!’ Like I did every time the clerk was away from full governors. Which is a totally different kettle of fish. Much more in-depth. Once I really did try to say no – I had a lot on at home and work and I was feeling depressed, the last thing I needed was a big pile of minutes to sort out. But I did it anyway.
When the Beavers leader left, I had a terrible wrestle with my conscience. My boy was in tears at the potential for no more Beavers. I could do it, couldn’t I? I just had a job, three kids, school governors, a husband who is hardly around… I knew I couldn’t. Thank goodness two brilliant ladies stepped up quickly, because if they hadn’t, I know I would have caved in.
My husband never understood this compulsion to always say yes. Until he volunteered to run my son’s under 8s football team. It came close to breaking him for a while, but he soldiered on. With you-know-who behind him, helping put up and take down the goals and collecting all the money. And seriously considering training as a coach to help him and take the pressure off… Sod the extra pressure on me and the two non-football playing kids. Thank goodness (again) another Dad and a teenage footballer came along when they did.
And finally… rugby. Before Christmas, the coach asked me and two other mums if we wouldn’t mind keeping score and doing the substitutions for a match. At the next match, it was just me. Keeping score and doing the substitutions. It’s my job now. I must say I love it. I like feeling like part of the team and getting to know the boys and the other parents.
I’ve also helped out at the second-hand kit shop a few times and when an email came round asking for volunteers to work in the bar and kitchen I was ready to reply instantly. Help in the bar? Why not? That sounds like fun. But my husband stopped me. ‘You don’t have to do it. Someone else can do it.’
So I’ve said ‘no’. Well, I haven’t said ‘yes’ at any rate.