I was reflecting yesterday on how my life this year, while calmer, less stressful and in greater harmony / balance, has not become any less busy with the end of my employment last December. My discretionary hours in the week have not increased at all, and in some ways have actually compressed as all three kids edge their bedtimes later (a trend that I'm sure will be reversed when the 2-year-old starts ditching her nap, a change of which there are already indications).
This struck me as strange until I realised that the reason is that I have several more Stuff & Things to do each week now than I did in 2010. Some of these are things like the toddler's Kinder Gym class, which is great fun for both of us; doing my own cleaning instead of having fortnightly cleaners; and my yoga class, which is proving to be a very good thing for me. Most, however, are things that are effectively volunteering jobs, big and small: from serving on school council to helping run the playgroup C and I attend; from helping out with school Breakfast Club once a fortnight to teaching Sunday School monthly; from spending two hours each Friday morning cutting up fruit for the school's Free Fruit Friday program to serving on another volunteer committee. Next term I'll be throwing two hours of fortnightly classroom reading help for my Prep child's class into the mix as well.
I don't think I'm particularly unusual in this; if anything, I think we as a family are pretty light-on in terms of what we do for all the organisations to which we belong. We do no volunteering at all for the community gymnastics club that all three girls attend (although we always participate in the fundraisers); we don't go to working bees, we don't help organise craft fairs or fundraising efforts or Bunnings sausage sizzles (although I will declare that I have become the unofficial onion-dicer for three separate organisations - because we don't help on the day, I have been tasked with preparing 9 - 12 kg on onions in advance. That's one heck of a lot of onions, I can tell you). I don't help with school cooking or do canteen shifts. There are lots and lots of things more we *could* do, without even moving outside of the school / church / community centre / gym club orbit we occupy regularly (let alone the many other opportunities to help out that abound in our area).
Nonetheless, we - or, actually, I, as volunteering falls to me in our division of marital labour - do what we can. Lots of people are like me, in all these places - helping out here and there, lending a hand, on a regular or ad hoc basis. And the bald truth is, without a quiet army of volunteers in all these areas, nothing could or would get done. Public schools and community centres are under-resourced to do the auxiliary work that raises funds and builds the richer web of connection and community that these places can foster. Churches are entirely "staffed", if you can call it that, by volunteers. Playgroups are run by parents and carers, gym clubs and other sporting clubs are administered, run and tirelessly supported by participants and their families. All these people, all these thousands and thousands of people, who just know that community can be found wherever you choose to build it, and that building it is everyone's responsibility.
I personally find it rewarding to volunteer, and am committed to continuing to buy in to the organisations with which I'm involved; in time, I'd like to offer my labour to other places that are desperate for help. I have no special expertise, but I have my hands and my mind and my willingness to join in. Oh yes, and I have my TupperChef Master thingy - so if you need a massive bucket of onions chopped, I am your girl ;-)