My Foolproof Escape Route

Nothing gets you out of your own head faster than spending time with children.

by Sharron Kahn Luttrell


Last September, I began the school year with good intentions. At our first PTO meeting, I signed up for the volunteer email list and indicated which events I would be available for. I put a check next to the book fair, one of my personal favorites. (If I’m lucky, I get to run the cash register). I put my name down for the Halloween party. Oh, and the holiday shop (cash register again). And I signed up for a bunch more.

Then life crowded in. I accepted a new job. I had a major family function to plan, and I took on a challenge that involved weekly classes and a year’s study. My dog was edging toward the end of her days, which made me realize that 15 years of my own life had flashed by. I spent most of the year inside my own head, mulling, worrying, looking back, and preparing for what was to come. Every once in awhile, I’d emerge, look around, and be surprised to find myself in the present. Then the thoughts would start again, drawing my attention back inward. Meanwhile, the volunteer requests kept popping into my email box. My head was so cluttered, I couldn’t bear to take on one more thing. So I turned down—or worse, ignored—most of them.

Had I made room for the book fair or the holiday shop, I would have found what I was craving: a brief vacation from myself. When you’re around children, you have no choice but to crawl out of your thoughts and be in the present. The minute you try to slip back into your own head, they’ll pull you out again.

Last October, I did manage to break away for a shift at the PTO Halloween carnival. For hours, I stood in front of a giant jack-o’-lantern cut-out and showed a stream of costumed kids how to aim a Velcro ball at its eyes, nose, and mouth. Some of the kids were tentative, throwing the ball so lightly that it curved gently downward and bounced once or twice on the floor before rolling to a stop half a foot short of the target. I’d guide those kids to a spot an arm’s length from the jack-o’-lantern and encourage them to try again. Others would wind up and rocket the ball so it would bounce off and ricochet across the gym floor. I showed those kids how to throw underhand. And there were a few children that day who hit the target dead-on their first try. They were as surprised and delighted as I was.

By the end of the party, I was exhausted. My back hurt from retrieving the Velcro ball, and my jaws ached from smiling. But the only demons marching through my head that afternoon were little kids in Halloween costumes.

At every stage of my kids’ lives, there have been moments when I’m struck by the privilege of having unrestricted access to children. As babies, I’d dance them across the living room to the mirror where our eyes would meet and they’d break into a gummy smile. When they were in preschool, I’d go into their classrooms and let their world wash over me. Now that they’re older, I listen to their backseat conversations with friends and I leave my grown-up world behind.

I don’t know what this year will bring, but I hope I remember how fortunate I am to have children in my life and how easy it is to hitch a ride with them for a quick mental getaway. Really, all it takes is a laminated “volunteer” tag and a helpful expression. I may be tired at the end of my shift, but in my head I’ll feel brand-new.

Sharron Kahn Luttrell volunteers for parent groups at two schools in Mendon, Mass.


# Angie 2010-02-10 17:30
What a great article. I would hope this would help others to volunteer and have fun. For all to soon the opportunities will be over.

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