June. The month every year when this working mother wants to cry, “You were right! I can’t have it all! I surrender!” In fact I did cry last week when I found out my son was going to be inducted in the National Junior Honor Society. I’m thrilled for him, but sad for me because I’ll be out of town the night of the ceremony. I was okay missing the end of year concert. I was slightly disappointed to miss the art show and a little more disappointed to miss the end of year carnival. I’m taking a red eye so I won’t miss a field trip but it’s looking unlikely I’ll be able to go to field day or the fourth grade state project fair. As a working parent, I accept that I will miss many events throughout the year and I am mostly okay with that. But June! June is the cruelest of the months taunting me daily with a calendar of activities in which I cannot participate.
Even though I can’t attend these events, it doesn’t mean I’m off the hook for planning for them. June is full of permission slips to be filled out, checks to be written, sunscreen to be applied, new khakis and gifts to buy. There are gifts for the teachers, the classroom aides, the crossing guard, the dance teacher and the soccer coaches. Every day is a new opportunity to sit down at my desk and suddenly remember what I forgot. Johnny is going to fry in the sun on the fifth grade harbor cruise because I forgot the sunscreen. Suzie won’t be playing soccer in the fall because the deadline to enroll was yesterday and I missed it. Buffy can’t buy a book at the book fair today because I didn’t give her a check. And Junior will be the slob in the front row at the event tonight – unless I run out at lunch and buy him a new white shirt and that’s not happening.
June might be easier to manage if my boss were more supportive. Sure she has no problem with me attending school events during the day as long as my team and my clients know where I am and I get my work done. And yes she encourages me to check my personal email at work so I can nab the choice volunteer assignments and book the early teacher conferences before the other parents do. But Friday, after my daughter handed me an assignment sheet from her teacher for a project due the last week of school and the words, “Parents are also encouraged to assist,” printed on it, I put in a last minute vacation request – for the entire month of June – and so far my boss is ignoring it.
In hindsight, agreeing to three business trips this month was a bad idea, but in my defense, when I booked my flights weeks ago, I didn’t even know about half of these events and I was still waiting to hear if I’d be chosen as a chaperone for the fourth grade field trip. I wasn’t, but I had already booked the red eye.
I’m convinced that even the most organized parent (which I am not) working for the most family-friendly company (which I do) can’t keep it together during the last weeks of school (or September and December for that matter). So I have a solution to fix the problem. Parents need a union.
Unions protect their members from unfair working conditions and give them access to collective bargaining. That’s exactly what parents need today. Our parents organized at work; we need to organize at home. After all, we spend more time with our children than mothers did 40 years ago, and most likely we’re probably spending more time at work too. And yet, there are still only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week. That hasn’t changed in the last 40 years.
So if you are of the mindset that teacher’s unions led to better schools, then perhaps you’ll support the idea that a parents union could lead to a better homelife. First, we’ll need to draft a contract and I suggest we look to the schools for guidance. In my school district, the union contract stipulates:
- That no change in the school schedule will increase the length of a teachers’ day. Likewise, when we organize, no school projects shall increase a parent’s day. The parents’ union will protect us from trips to Michael’s arts and crafts store after the kids go to bed to buy poster board for little Sally’s presentation on The Sunshine State (that’s Kansas for thsoe of you who don’t have fourth graders).
- That the administration will provide union employees with at least seventy-two hours notice of the date and estimated length of a meeting. When parents unionize, the administration will no longer be able to inform us at 3 p.m. that our child will be featured in the art show – at 7 p.m. School concerts and dance recitals, advertised as two hour performances, will no longer be allowed to run for 3 and a half hours. The violas will just have to limit their repertoire to four or fewer concertos.
- That union workers will receive a 30 minute duty-free lunch period every day. Our contract will stipulate that if we don’t have time to scarf down dinner in between work and any child-related activity including but not limited to an evening conference, soccer tryout or Little League game, we will be home no later than 8:30 so we can get the kids to bed and pour a glass of wine by 9. In the event that isn’t possible, the union will at least ensure we can use the bathroom without interruption at least once per day.
- That union workers will be allowed 15 days of sick leave per year. Our union will be a powerful union – one that can guarantee all parents at least fifteen days off of work, in June.