Hacking the Sign-Up Sheet

Hacking the Sign-Up Sheet

Image credit: Annie Kronenberg

How a busy single mom can brilliantly (and easily) participate at school

As single moms, we have lot of things to stress about as we struggle to raise our children in a non-nuclear-family fashion. As our ESME community knows, guilt and worry often can dog a Solo Mom. That’s why we reach out to one another to remind ourselves how much we are getting right.

But anyone with a child who is elementary school–aged or older also quickly understands just how much having your child in school can test that Solo Mom confidence you have worked so hard to build. There are the teachers who may just not get it or who may or may not be judging your child based on your Solo Mom status. And then there are the parents.

Volunteering is a vocation, a competition, and a triumphant return to high school for some elementary school parents, although it is often couched in terms such as “It’s for the good of the children,” and “We all want to help make this school a better place, don’t we?” It soon occurs to you that you are getting the side-eye from parents who are sure you have doomed your child’s future through your lack of participation in the tile-wall fundraiser.

Yes, of course they accept that mothers work! Of course they know that life is complicated. And of course you are doing it alone. But, as one well-meaning parent said to me: “If you don’t want your child treated differently, then perhaps you should participate more.” Thanks for the advice, pal!

So here you are, Solo Mom. Adding more stress to your bagful of guilt and self-recrimination. The bad news is that this will go on through high school. If we wonder why kids applying for college seem to have résumés that go on for pages filled with extracurriculars piled upon activities, look no further than the first-grade room parent, setting her blazingly unavoidable example for all families to envy. Forever!!! [Please cue echoing voice of doom for that last bit.]

Then, something even worse happens. Your child starts to give you the side-eye: “Why can’t you do more? Why can’t you be perfect? It’s all your fault!!!” [Please channel screeching tween voice for that bit.] You begin to buy into the idea that by not volunteering, you are condemning your kid to social-outcast status. You not only are not a typical nuclear family but also can’t even volunteer and be part of the larger social fabric that makes modern society great! [Please try excited sportscaster voice here.]

All your child wants is for you to be one of the popular “plastics” moms. But how? How can you do one thing more? [Please add anguished hysterical voice here.]

It’s simple: hack the volunteer sheet and sign up for brownies—from a mix.

Here’s what you do: The minute a sign-up happens, you offer to bring brownies. No matter what the occasion—the harvest feast, the family tradition banquet, the teacher’s brunch, Chrismukkah—the answer is brownies.

Sure, you can rush out to the store at midnight and find the last batch of cupcakes, which are certainly not the lemon bars you signed up for. Or you can preorder cookies at the organic bakery and realize that you have paid more for them than you paid for gas this month. Or you can even get the fancy brownie mix that requires three sticks of butter and four eggs, so you basically made them from scratch.

But why? Your kids don’t know the difference. They just know they get to eat the burnt crusts—maybe even for breakfast. Stick a sign on the brownies that says: No Nuts Except for Chef. Actually, don’t do that after your offspring reach double digits. They will toss it before they get to school. Gawwwd, Mom. [Please insert teen snark voice for that bit.]

Here is why brownies are great: one bowl, one pan, no shaping, no slicing, very little stirring, and 45 minutes to bake, at the most. No one cares what they taste like; they always smell great because they are brownies. They get you high even without the illicit added substances you remember from high school. And the cheaper the mix, the better the high. This is volunteering, not a gourmet baking class.

Always keep two or three boxes of mix in your pantry. Here’s a tip from one of ESME’s own: if you use Amazon, buy a bunch of them for $1 each. The beauty of this is that as a Solo Mom, you don’t have a significant other second-guessing your choice of product or stepping in as the gourmet police. And the next time someone tries to guilt you into manning the ticket booth at the Halloween Spookathon for two six-hour shifts, you can shrug and say, “Sorry, I already told the bake-sale people I would bring brownies!”

Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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