Last weekend I went along as a parent helper to a sporting event one of my children was taking part in. In all the years my kids have been in school, I’ve never been a parent helper – not because I haven’t wanted to (I have), or because no one has ever asked me (they have – but not often), but because various circumstances have conspired to prevent me from volunteering to be a parent helper. You know what I mean. Events that only take place during school/work hours, notice the day before when it takes me a good month to clear time in my diary, my particular brand of humour falling completely flat when I met the person in charge… That sort of thing. Plus I’m an introvert, so it’s possible the look of sheer terror in my eyes when meeting new people puts them off asking me.
So I finally got my chance, and I was THRILLED. So thrilled! Until I learned that the sporting event was taking place deep in the bush, way off the beaten track, with no mobile coverage or flush toilets. Also I would need to bring gumboots because MUD. So much mud. I didn’t even own gumboots, and I didn’t know where to buy them. (Yes, I know how that sounds. But I’m admitting it, so give me some credit.)
I had volunteered, though, and I was FINALLY going to be a parent helper. So I bought some gumboots (pink with cows on them), stocked up on a heck of a lot of energy bars and water bottles just in case, and climbed into the school van with the other parent helpers and the kids, who pretended they didn’t know any of us even though we were literally in the same vehicle and driving them to their sporting event. We drove for 90 minutes, including a good half-hour on potholed, more-dirt-than-gravel roads in the deep, deep bush, listening to the hyped-up kids sing songs about potatoes and tacos raining from the sky and breakfast burritos.
When we got to the event, all the kids abandoned us, piling out of the van and squelching off in the mud, immediately getting filthy even though their sporting event hadn’t begun yet. We parent helpers pulled on our gumboots, rugged up in scarves and jackets, and toted the first aid kit and competitor lists and various equipment into the marquee we were sharing with some other school groups. Then we went about collecting and sorting our charges into their groups and haranguing them about their uniforms and equipment and what to do if they got lost in the deep, deep bush.
We watched them, we watched out for them, we reminded them about going to the toilet and having a drink and eating because they were hangry. We parent-helped them. We cheered them on, consoled them when things didn’t go well, found their lost jackets and misplaced backpacks and answered yes, we know there’s no mobile coverage out here, and no, I really don’t want you to sing the pen pineapple apple pen song again, and yes, you do have to go to the toilet in that portaloo. Please use this hand sanitiser.
Hours and hours later it was all over. We piled into the van (after the parent helpers collected all the gear and herded the kids away from the food tents and the other schools) and we started the long drive home. We stopped at a fast food restaurant and suddenly the kids were talking to us again because we were buying them milkshakes and chicken nuggets. We got back to the school and said goodbye and called parents who were late to pickup and discovered stray socks under a van seat. The kids were all exhausted. I was exhausted.
To all the parent helpers – thank you for all you do. And thank you for including me. I’m going to do it again, even if my kid pretends not to know me until chicken nuggets are on offer. I’ll see you next time, wearing my pink gumboots with the cows on them, toting equipment, herding kids. Also, I’ve got emergency chocolate in my handbag, in case you need it.
Editor, Tots to Teens