As a new school year begins, parents of young children often find themselves roped into various kinds of “volunteer” duties at their children’s school. While I’m past that stage of life myself, I remember what that was like and so does Laurie Gelman, whose latest book, You’ve Been Volunteered, takes us once again to the Kansas City school district where Jen Dixon, star of the earlier book, Class Mom, finds herself sucked into the maw of being a class mother again. If you want to look on your issues, present or remembered, of those “volunteer” efforts with a sense of humor, Jen Dixon is a great guide.
She’s been to this rodeo before, having two adult daughters in addition to 8 year old Max. She’s lived kind of a wild life in her youth (she alludes to it here and there in her dealings with her 20-something daughter who’s wandering through Europe with her boyfriend’s rock group), so she’s not exactly like the (mostly younger) mothers of Max’s contemporaries. This comes out vividly in the emails she sends out to the other mothers, which are frankly pretty funny and the sort of things I would write if I had no filters and didn’t care what people thought of me.
During the school year, Jen finds herself caught up in running the school safety patrol (and you have to admire the head of the PTA who finagles her into this; it’s very deftly done) in addition to the usual class mother duties (calling the other parents at 4 a.m. when there’s a snow day, for instance, or making sure there are sufficient chaperones for various school outings). Her husband has buried himself in work in an effort to create and franchise a new set of yoga studios, her son is falling in with a bad crowd (for third grade, at least), her daughters are giving her a hard time, her parents are getting older and more in need of her help, and the rest of her life is filled with incident and accidents of various sorts. She’s very funny when she’s trying for a girls’ night out and her husband is left alone with their sick son (the series of texts between her and her husband, who apparently has no idea where anything is in the house he’s lived in for years is made even funnier when she intersperses them with her private commentary), and the drunken email she sends to everybody in the class list when she and her husband are out in Vegas is cringe-worthy but funny at the same time.
This isn’t a deep book or one that forces you to confront serious social issues. This is a lighthearted funny book with a flawed but believable protagonist, surrounded by realistic (if maybe slightly exaggerated) family, friends and fellow third grade parents (and third grade kids, too). It’s a quick read, and if you need a break from all your life stresses, spend some time with Jen and her cast of characters in You’ve Been Volunteered.