I remember the day I hit bottom: I was a wreck. My body ached. My head hurt. I felt like I did after that college weekend in Ensenada.

Flashbacks and regrets. Shame.

My editor had a talk with me. A colleague later explained, “We’re just worried about you.”

My husband wasn’t just worried. He was angry. “You’re a mother. You have a full-time job. You’re a wife. You can’t live like this.”

That weekend was a new low in my addiction, and I’m ready to admit it. I am a classroom volunteeraholic.

Rare is the tutoring, baking, fundraiser-hosting, field-trip-chaperoning opportunity that I pass up. On that lost weekend in June, commitments I had made with a quick “sure, no problem” months earlier came crashing together on consecutive days. I baked, cooked, organized, shuttled and ran so hard, I slept about three hours in three days. I felt so hung over that I looked around to make sure I wasn’t in Vegas and a tiger wasn’t in my hotel room.

So as the new school year opens, I am promising those around me that I will give up excessive volunteering.

And that’s the last thing schools want to hear.

With every school budget cut — and they have come in the tens of millions this year — blossoms a volunteer opportunity. Some schools have become so dependent on parent power that they’ve made volunteering mandatory. It’s a pernicious addiction, volunteering at your kid’s school.

It’s hard to say it’s a bad thing, because it plays into your parenting insecurities, no matter who you are. Stay-at-home parents are often relied on too much and have work heaped upon them.

Some of my mom friends told me they feel compelled to never say no, because they somehow feel a need to justify their stay-at-home decision.

“I’m not going to give up my career and then do this half-assed,” an uber-mom who left K Street lobbying for the world of pre-K told me after creating a precision spreadsheet to orchestrate a pumpkin-patch carpool.

And the parents who work outside the home often feel like they’re getting the stink-eye every time they check their BlackBerrys at pick-up time, so they overcompensate with baking, laminating, running the school’s website or writing grant proposals.

And of course there are the parents who work two jobs or have situations that simply don’t allow them to volunteer. They are often left alienated and shunned, wanting to help but finding no reasonable place to do it.

We lie to our bosses when we’re in the classroom; we lie to the teachers and our kids when we’re at work. We drag along the smaller children while shelving library books or pulling weeds in the playground.

My husband recently complained that I had invested more time and energy in our son’s preschool than either of our parents ever gave to our entire college educations. (I’m afraid he’s right.)

School fundraising fueled by parent volunteers has gone way beyond that hideous, door-to-door gift wrap racket. There are websites that put school auctions online, like schoolauction.com, or help you rally, con, coerce and organize your chump parents, like VolunteerSpot.com.

I found myself spending hours ignoring my children so I could master and run the school auction cataloguing and payment software. All, ostensibly, for the benefit of the very humans I was ignoring.

And that’s the moment when the volunteering binge began to seem powerfully stupid.

Every study known to humankind has shown that parental involvement is key to a child’s educational success. But I’m not terribly sure that all the work I was doing meant very much to my children.

“If you really like doing the auction stuff and charity galas, that’s cool. But call that your hobby, that’s for you,” said one of my mom friends whose three kids are much older than mine and whose hair, house and head are all much saner than my own.

I can accept that. But I also believe that being in the classroom, doing hands-on work alongside your children, lets you know what’s going on in the classroom and assures your child that you are part of his or her education. Should this happen once a week? Once a month? Or once a year?

It’s all so confusing.

Someone challenged me to go 30 days without volunteering, just to see if I could do it.

We visited my son’s classroom last week for orientation for the new year. I filled out the PTA sign-up sheet with abandon. Field trips? Check! Web site support? Check! Bake sale? Check!

And then I stuffed it into my purse.

 

Petula Dvorak is a Washington Post columnist.