I expected that my predominant emotion when I drove up to Concord-Carlisle Regional High School to drop Tim off the first time would be apprehension.
Instead, to my surprise, it was liberation.
I didn’t know this place, true, and that was unnerving. But the up side to being a stranger suddenly became obvious: I didn’t have any pre-existing commitments here. I wouldn’t be likely to recognize people if I were to walk into one of the buildings on campus. I didn’t have any projects under way that needed attention.
All of this may sound more like I’m the one going off to high school rather than Tim, but I’m afraid after nine years as a parent volunteer at my kids’ school, this is how I think. At our local K-8 school, from which Tim graduated last June and Holly just started sixth grade, the campus is full of reminders of tasks I’ve undertaken. Seeing the school library reminds me that I’m in charge of scheduling volunteers once again this year. The lunchroom reminds me that I need to make a vegetarian entrée for next week’s teacher appreciation luncheon. The playground reminds me that it’s time to sign up for recess duty. The familiar faces of staff and other parents remind me of dozens of pre-existing relationships that I try hard to maintain.
At CCHS, I have none of those associations. Last summer, a woman in her eighties whom I was interviewing for a memoir project told me about what it was like when she moved from a suburban community where she’d raised her family to an apartment on Beacon Hill. “It was wonderful,” she said. “I didn’t owe anyone anything. I hadn’t served on their committees and they hadn’t served on mine.”
For some reason, her turn of phrase amused me. It doesn’t exactly have the poetic eloquence of an ancient Native American proverb, but those words were echoing in my mind as I dropped Tim off for school: “I haven’t served on their committees and they haven’t served on mine.” It’s impossible to go through nine years at our local school without taking on myriad tasks and responsibilities as a parent volunteer. Most of the time, they’re a lot of fun; it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to get involved in so many child-related events and projects.
But the high school gives me the irresistible sense of a clean slate. I don’t know the reputations of Tim’s teachers or the distance between his classrooms. I don’t have opinions about his schedule. I don’t know anything about any of it, and best of all, I’m not on any committees yet. I have yet to make a single misstep as a parent here.
The time will come, no doubt: for committee work and for missteps as well as for good memories of presentations, student productions, football games. There are new people to meet and there will eventually be new tasks to undertake; I don’t know of a single school, public or private, that doesn’t draw heavily on parental participation these days. But so far I haven’t taken on a thing. And so instead of the expected feeling of strangeness, I approach this new phase with a sense of relief.