For the Love of Chicken Salad

19 05 2009

I’m a sucker and a wimp. A WIMP, I tell you. Today was the day I was going to walk into the botanical gardens volunteer appreciation luncheon and turn in my pseudo-resignation. And I couldn’t do it. Just couldn’t. Because there was the head of the education department at the front door smiling warmly at me. Then he said–get this–“Hello, Gigi. I haven’t seen you since the salamander festival. We missed you there.”

And there was my docent partner from last year, who was mysteriously reassigned to another docent team this year. Curses. I miss her.

And the guy in charge of wildflowers with his adorable, trendy glasses and not-so-subtle glance down at my, um, name tag. The name tag, incidentally, was meant to be worn around the neck, hanging from an elastic band that was so soft around the neck it was almost silky. Damn them. Always paying attention to the smallest detail.

Then there was that chicken salad on multigrain bread that I ordered, which was everything I’d hoped it could be. As if that weren’t enough, my box contained a giant chocolate chip cookie, Baked Lays (that’s right, Baked), fresh fruit (the stuff you hate to cut up yourself, cantaloupes, melons), and on the table, huge, sweaty jugs of sweetened AND unsweetened tea.

So I downed my worthy-of-a-last-meal-before-execution boxed lunch and listened to a presentation about proposed changes to the gardens. Treetops this, new greenhouse that. Yada yada yada. And then the moment of truth. I went to slip out the back door at 12:57 while the presentation was still going. The program was set to end at 1. I just needed not to make eye contact with anyone on the way out, and all would be well. But the director of the docent program stood at the back door. She was tall and thin, and she had cropped silver hair, like my old fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Mulligan. “Here, take this as a token of our appreciation,” she whispered. I looked up at her and offered a reluctant smile. Were her eyes turning liquidy? Unbelievable.

She handed me a $20 coupon off any class offered at the gardens, and the clincher–this little fake bird in a mossy bird’s nest, wrapped in a plastic bag with earthy ribbons. Why, why did I go? I should’ve known I wouldn’t stand a chance.


Something’s Gotta Give

14 05 2009
These ladies were painting in the rose garden on my last day

At least the roses are in bloom

I’m holding out for the luncheon. That’s it. The food was good last year, and as soon as I polish off my chicken salad, I’m going to tell them that I can’t volunteer anymore as an education docent at the botanical gardens.

Here’s the drill: school groups come to the botanical gardens on a field trip, and we offer them guided tours that match the state science curriculum.

I can think of a hundred reasons I don’t want to do it anymore–it’s a three-hour chunk of time, twice a month. Invariably I’m due to lead a school tour the day before a story deadline. I rarely look forward to going and instead have come to view it as a burden. And my docent partner, a retired teacher, can be a bit overbearing. But I’ve decided to go with this one: I no longer have the time to devote to this worthy endeavor. Because I don’t. I have officially overscheduled myself.

Do you think it’s awful I’ve decided to break the news to them at the volunteer appreciation luncheon? I figure it’s as good a time as any. Unless, of course, they bestow on me some silly volunteer award that I obviously don’t deserve, just because they sense I’m about to jump ship and they’re…desperate. In which case, I’m sure to feel overloaded with guilt and won’t have the guts to back out. At least not right then.

At least this way it will give them time to recruit more volunteers during the summer when they don’t give school tours. That’s my rationale, anyway.

The fact is, things are different for me now. Freelancing is lonely work. But either I’ve really come to relish working alone, or I’ve found better ways to get my social fix. When I signed up to volunteer two years ago, I wanted something that would get me out of the house. Being outdoors with groups of kids seemed like a nice gig, and it made those unbearable lulls during which I was working on, oh, nothing, a little easier to swallow. It was a distraction.

But I’ve since gotten a little busier with work and volunteering at the kids’ school. Add in their extracurriculars and a few Spinning classes, and you’ll understand why the best weekends are those that have nothing on tap.

So today was my last tour. Of course, it had to be this insanely bright and delightful group of kids who must have been sent over from some parallel universe where no one has ADHD or stifles a yawn during your lengthy description of rainforest adaptations. (Actually this group was from a Montessori school, but close enough). One second-grade boy walked around with a clipboard saying he was cataloging plants. I looked at his paper, and it looked like an early sketch of an Audubon Society field guide. His favorite subject, he told me, was biology. Three girls, also about 7 years old, said they liked math best. Pinch me.

With these kids, I hardly noticed the three hours go by. Quitting this was going to be harder than I thought. But something’s gotta give.