Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hidden Costs

As a matter of course, I volunteer. It gives us something to do, and the boys help me out. The boys’ school had a fundraiser last night, and I signed on to help out, thinking at the very least, having something to do will be a good thing for the three of us.

As I drove from work to their school, that old familiar pang started gnawing at my stomach. I almost didn’t notice it at all, since it has become so much a part of my life. But, since I was hyper-alert because of the snow falling over rush hour traffic, I paid careful attention to everything around me, and probably for the first time in a long time, everything I felt, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Because I was paying attention, I knew anxiety played huge in the gnawing. If I were honest with myself, I would acknowledge that putting myself out there is, truly, the last thing I want to do.

I am, and have always been, a shy and introverted person. Anyone who knows me casually would say that I am lying through my teeth, but anyone who knows me well can see it. I’ve learned—the hard way—how to play through the performance anxiety.

However, it doesn’t mean that anxiety has gone away.
So. I grit my teeth, smile until I feel it, and dive in. I see familiar faces and feel better. I retrieve my kids from aftercare and put them to work. They eat before the party gets there. Then Nic helps collect the money while we work the concession stand. He greets his friends. G does sprints around the cafeteria and occasionally chats up the friend, teacher, or aide that wanders up to him.

But this is the extent to which my kids participate. They don’t go into the gym and play with their peers. One stays with the adults and runs the concession, and the other one is happy to absorb the good vibes around him. I note this and file it away.

When we get home, I bark like a dog for no apparent reason. The boys have Pinewood Derby cars to paint, but that’s no reason for me to shout. They exchange knowing glances, and for the first time, I see it, even though they have been probably exchanging the same glance unbeknownst to me for years.

The phrase came to me while I was unwinding with a glass of wine as I cleaned the kitchen. ‘Emotional Hangover.’

Nothing bad happened; the kids rolled the way they always do. And my insisting on volunteering at every opportunity ensures this. Not every outing engenders success, but it does bring about constant improvement in their interactions with the community.

But I think until now that I neglected owning whatever impact this has on me and my own emotional well-being. No doubt, this benefits me, too.

But I would be a fool not to acknowledge that this also costs me. The funny thing is, the kids figured it out before I did. And oddly enough, they forgive me for it.
Maybe, my living, by itself, has taught them a whole new set of survival skills that I never intended to teach.

That suits me.

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