Why I’ve Moved to the Back of the Line

A rose so lovely

Every year, our school carnival rolls around a few weeks before school is out. And every year, I dread it.

Now, if I were still a kiddo, I would count it among the highlights of my year. What is not to love? Besides a gazillion other small people running around having fun, you have cotton candy, cake walks, crazy colors sprayed in hair, and a table full of crippy-crap for purchase especially the blow-up bats that can then be used to bonk people on the head for the duration of the evening.

But as a parent, the gazillion small people, the sugar high, the washing out of the hair dye and the constant monitoring of the “bat wars” while trying to fulfill volunteer obligations is enough to send a parent over the edge.

But not this year.

No, this year, I planted myself in the sun on the small hill overlooking the chaos where I may or may not have been enjoying adult libations poured from a stainless steel water bottle. I let my little guy know where he could find me and off he ran with a buddy doing whatever it is 9-year-olds do at a school carnival while wearing fake mustaches and a half dozen rubber band bracelets up one arm. I simply chatted with other parents who joined me from time to time. They’d leave to fulfill a volunteer shift and return a half an hour later. And I did not budge.

I did not budge because I’ve already had my turn. After 11 years at this same grade school, I’ve done my share of clipping candy to a fishing line at the “Go Fishing” booth.

A young mother joined me whose eldest is a couple years ahead of my third grader. She explained that this was the first year she hadn’t volunteered to help at the carnival and she was riddled with guilt over it. She said she could barely sit there and try to relax. Those of us gathered around reminded her of all the ways she’s helped out at our school.

I confessed that I sat there guilt-free because, “I’ve already had my turn. Now, it’s someone else’s turn. And you too, you’ve had your turn. You get to move to the back of the line. Someone else gets to step up.”

“Yes, I get your point, but I feel badly because a friend of mine volunteers for everything. She’s out there right now and she’s definitely already had her turn.”

I replied, “I know this is hard, but you cannot let yourself feel guilty because someone else wants a longer turn or doesn’t know when her turn is over.”

And the group of us went on to talk about this. This taking of turns, the constant-guilt of not doing enough, and the inability to say no even when it’s clear we’ve already done more than enough whether this applies to volunteering or parenting or working.

We also talked about the people out there who never take their turn even when they are at the very front of the line. Those people who continue to say, “Go right ahead. You can go in front of me.”

Roses spilling over the rock wall

Later, I thought more about how many of us sit and wait patiently for our turn. Wait for someone to see our upheld hand and call on us and say, “Yes, Carrie, it’s your turn to go after the life you envision for yourself.” Even though, as adults, we’re no longer sitting in a grade school classroom and no one is going to just give us a turn. We actually have to cut in line and take a turn.

And then, how sometimes, we’re headed down a path where we approach our tasks with dread and exhaustion but we aren’t able to recognize that we need to move to the back of the line. Our turn of doing whatever we’re doing – heading up PTA committees, shuttling our kids around to 15 zillion activities that they may not want to go to, organizing focus groups to determine whether a shift in logo colors will bring in more business – is over.

My friend said, “But I worry that if I don’t do it, who else will? Who will step up?”

I replied, “Someone will. These things turnover. Trust me. After over a decade at this school, someone always moves to the front.”

When I got home, my hubs (who avoids the school carnival like he would the swine flu) asked if I survived.

I told him, “You know it was the best carnival I’ve been to yet. After all the years of helping out, I just sat up on the hill chatting this time. Will was ready to go before I was. I finally got to relax there in the back of the line knowing someone else was up in front.”

And there’s your “food for thought” for the week.

Have a lovely weekend!

With love,


  1. Paige Richardson says:

    This is perfect, I feel the same way as I am headed to field day at Springville at this very moment.

  2. I have no guilt not volunteering at ANY kid crowded, sugar-laden, noise defining event. I sit. I watch. I chat. And then, round up my kids and go home. But, I’ll need to remember the steel water bottle next time. 🙂

  3. I completely agree! After volunteering for tasks that felt like torture and coming home feeling put out, exhausted, and grumpy I finally set my boundaries. After all, what is the point of volunteering to give my children a positive life experience if they come home to a negative one?

    Now I only volunteer if I’m good at the required task and (most importantly) if I’m excited/compelled to do it. If these items aren’t met I say no because I know there is someone for whom this task is perfect, and she’s not me. This time.

  4. hollyspearing says:

    I hear you Mrs. Minns! Schools are lucky to have us! It’s fun, rewarding, and after “having our turn” it’s nice to pass the torch. Thank you for your giving spirit!!
    Mrs. S.

  5. I love this piece… So true and so wonderfully written. My kids aren’t in school yet but I plan to take this to heart one day.

  6. Carrie,

    You were the best Copy Queen ever! You put enough time in when Hannah and Jack were in 4th grade to last a lifetime of volunteering. Shed that quilt.


  7. Loved this, Carrie! I don’t have kids, but I imagine I’d be a little like your husband when it comes to these things…