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First-grade fund-raising with a twist of over-functioning mama

February 27, 2014 - April Leiffer Henry
On the days when Mike picks up Elliot from school, he usually calls me right after they get home so I can chat with Elliot about his day. Yesterday during that call, my two favorite guys informed me that I had homework.

“OK,” I said, brushing it off. “I’ll look at it when I get home.”

As soon as I walked in the door, Elliot reminded me about my homework. “Where is it?” I asked.

He retrieved his backpack, where he fished out a handful of papers. He promptly shoved them in my direction and, bouncing up and down with anticipation, pleaded, “Can we puh-lease do this so I can get a prize?”

I looked at the papers in my hand and knew immediately what they were for – the dreaded magazine fund-raiser. If we wrote the names and addresses of 10 friends and family members on the slips and returned them to school, those 10 people would get a packet “from Elliot,” asking them to subscribe to a magazine they don’t want or need. Part of the profits would then go back to the school. In this particular case, the money raised will go toward a first-grade class trip. This is the third fund-raiser in which Elliot has been asked to participate recently – all for the same trip.

As I stood there looking at Elliot, trying to decide how to explain to him that he was going to end up prize-less, the thoughts in my head swirled around like paint splattered on the spinning art machine I played with as a kid.

“Elliot, I know you really want that prize, but I’m sorry, we are not filling out these forms,” I told him.

Of course, he didn’t understand. Shoulders slumped, he replied, “But I really, really, really want that disappearing ink!”

“I know, buddy. But I do not want to bother 10 people we love by asking them to buy magazines. I would rather donate some money to the school than ask people to buy magazine subscriptions. Besides, the prizes are going to be junk.”

Elliot has heard me utter similar statements about prize boxes items. The trinkets are always small, therefore easily lost, and usually breakable.

“Maybe we can buy you some disappearing ink for your birthday,” I added. “I’m sorry you’re disappointed, but these forms are going in the trash.”

Mike chimed in: “My co-worker is always trying to sell stuff for his kids’ fund-raisers. I never buy anything.”

Mike finished cooking dinner, and while we ate, I had a realization. “I think your co-worker has sent those magazine fund-raiser forms to us before, and I never even told you. I just threw them away,” I confessed.

“It’s OK. The only things I’m open to buying are Girl Scout cookies,” he responded.

Of course, I continued thinking about the whole fund-raising dilemma throughout the evening. I have so many thoughts.

The first thought is this – despite what my husband might say about me being a no-fun rule follower, I do support field trips.

“April,” you may be saying, “some children might not be able to participate in field trips if it weren’t for fund-raising. Perhaps their parents can’t afford to make a donation like you can.”

Very true.

I suppose school fund-raising is already optional. There aren’t any real repercussions for the students who don’t sell. Could a donation option be added to the already elective fund-raising?

Baseball associations allow parents to do a buy-out, rather than sell products that no one really needs. When I signed up Elliot to play tee ball as a 4-year-old, I went ahead and paid the optional fund-raising fee because I knew I didn’t have the time or desire to sell anything.

It works similarly with hockey. There is a registration fee for everyone. Those who choose to participate in fund-raising receive credits to their account for whatever they sell. I’ve never received those credits, and that is fine by me.

Then I think, why am I so in a tizzy about all this, anyway? And why has fund-raising become mostly the parents’ burden?

Because younger and younger children – even preschoolers – are being asked to participate in fund-raising? Because we don’t go door to door selling things anymore? Because we do everything on the computer now? Because we market, sell and buy via social media? Because we are a helicopter motherhood of over-functioners, doing things for our husbands and children that they can do for themselves?

I don’t know about you all, but I feel responsible for all this fund-raising nonsense. Like if I don’t sell five bags of pasta in the shape of the Flying WV, the school is going to think I’m a negligent mother. And while they’re at it, they might arrest me for sending in those store-bought Superman valentines from the Kroger clearance shelf, rather than homemade Minions.

By bearing this ridiculous burden, am I teaching Elliot that he can count on me to do his work for him? Is that OK sometimes? I certainly don’t do it all the time. He knows he must make his own bed, put away his own clothes and help me set the dinner table.

And then, there are the grandparents and aunts and uncles who are saying, “I don’t mind buying something. I would like to help Elliot’s school!”

I still feel weird about it because, how many pencils scented like cotton candy does one really need? I fear I am feeding the let’s-buy-meaningless-stuff mentality, which is similar to the issues I have with the commercialization of Christmas and other holidays, for that matter.

Speaking of stuff for the sake of having more stuff, I'm still trying to sort out how I feel about students receiving prizes for participating in fund-raising activities. In the case of the magazine sale, Elliot would've gotten something just for writing down and turning in the names and addresses. That is before anything even gets sold.

When I was in school, I remember earning prizes by selling a certain number of boxes of oranges. Have fund-raising companies bought into the everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality? Is this their way of saying, “Since the parents aren’t requiring their children to be responsible for selling, we are going to bribe them”? Our houses and cars don’t need anything else cluttering them, do they?

Finally, I feel I must point out that all of the above commentary is in no way a judgment of other students and parents and their choices to participate in fund-raisers or not; nor is this piece a condemnation of school teachers or administrators. I would love to have a thoughtful, respectful discussion about this topic. Please join me!


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