Me vs. The PTA

tomato

As many of you know, I’m the  Power-Hungry Art Coordinator for my kids’ elementary school. This is a form of indentured servitude, I mean…um…a volunteer position which is responsible for ensuring each classroom has an art docent.

An “art docent” in this context is a fancy term for an innocent and unsuspecting parent who tries to instill an appreciation of art history on a classroom who would rather be doing anything else, with the exception of math. According to the inside intelligence I get from my daily waterboardings of…I mean friendly debriefings of…my sixth grade daughter, no one likes math. (And Michaela is in love with Evan, who doesn’t like her back and there’s a whole bunch of drama. But that’s another story.) In fact, the only thing that kept her class of little weasels from pelting me with tomatoes when I was their art docent last year was the thought that if I actually walked out of the room, they would be back to doing fractions.

So, as an art docent you have to put up with a lot of crap. As the coordinator of the program you also have to put up with a lot of crap. Not just the flaky parents I complained about in the Power-Hungry Art Coordinator post, but as it turns out, the dreaded PTA. (For non US-residents, the PTA is the Parent Teacher Association.)

Now, I am not a huge PTA fan. The way I see it, I have a full time job and don’t have time for moms in yoga pants trying to get me to part with my money, my free time or both. Last year, the Art Docent Coordinator was a member of the PTA and that was it. I had to pony up the $8 PTA membership fee and I was left alone to do my job. This year, as it turns out, I have been elevated to a PTA Board member…and by “elevated”,  I really mean forced to wear yoga pants, attend monthly PTA meetings and smile.

As I was soon to find out, there were other implications to being a PTA Board member. Namely, I was expected to give monthly oral reports of the “progress” of my program to the Board. I was reminded of my monthly presentations to the risk committee at work. There was a minor difference, however. At work, I was paid.

I had a real dilemma. This art docent program is not like the usual PTA stuff with committees, fundraising and budgets. What the heck was I supposed to report on? How many parents actually got pelted with tomatoes vs. expected tomato peltage? I imagined it…”and Mrs. Jones only had 3 tomatoes thrown at her this year vs. the six she had to dodge last year. This marks a decrease of 50% in flying objects.” No, unfortunately this first meeting was before I would have any data on the tomatoes, since the lessons hadn’t actually begun yet; that report would have to wait a few months.

I figured I would simply give them a few bullet points on what I did, which was pretty boring. When the meeting finally arrived and I began speaking, this strategy seemed to work well. As I explained that I had single-handedly matched the volunteers to their classrooms and was going to have an orientation meeting for the new volunteers at my house, everyone smiled and nodded with enthusiasm. Wow, they were paying attention to this crap. It was then that I gained a false sense of security and made the cardinal corporate mistake…never, ever give a committee too much information. Just keep it very high level or you will find yourself in trouble.

Buoyed by their enthusiasm on my first two points, I ventured on to explain that I had also e-mailed all the teachers to let them know the dates of the art docent lessons and the name of their art docent. It was then that the room fell deadly silent. As I quickly learned from the PTA president, aka my second boss, I had severely broken protocol. Apparently I was not allowed to e-mail the teachers directly. At the point, I nearly fell out of my chair. WTF? I quickly pointed out that this had not been an issue last year, to which the president replied that the protocol had been in place for several years. She elaborated that this protocol was in place to make sure there weren’t any inadvertent “misunderstandings”…i.e. that I didn’t haul off and start offending teachers by e-mailing them information they probably wanted to  know.

One thing was for certain. I did not sign up for this. If I was going to be reprimanded for doing my job by a committee, it was going to be by an annoying bunch of people wearing skirts and suits, not by an annoying bunch of people wearing sundresses (or yoga pants) covered in kid snot.

At least  I knew what I was going to do for my next report…and it involved bringing a case of tomatoes. Now that’s breaking protocol!

 

 

Stupid (but mostly true) Story of Workplace Terror and a Stapler

shining

With Halloween rapidly approaching, it seemed like a good time to share this tale of workplace fright.

As many of you know, I work from home. However, I also have an office assigned to me in the nearest company location, which is about 45 minutes away with no traffic…but I live in California, which means that the window in which there is no traffic is between 10 pm and 4 am and, of course, the week between Christmas and the New Year. Outside of these times, the drive is about an hour and a half.

About a month or so into this job I decided to brave the commute to check out our location and the space allocated to me…and print every document I could think of. C’mon folks, a crappy home printer is no match for an industrial machine that prints a 35 page document in a matter of seconds. (It takes Ole’ Bessie at home about a minute per page.) Oh yeah, and the last part of my mission was to kidnap a stapler. You never know how much you need a stapler until you go without one. This working from home gig is not for the faint of heart.

As I soon found out, my company occupies 2 floors of an 8 story building. (I did not know this before, because I had interviewed at our headquarters which are located in another state and had never visited this location prior to this fateful day.) Arriving at the entrance to our suites I knew something wasn’t right. It was extremely quiet. This was due to the fact that with the exception of the security guard, there was no one in sight. I turned right to go search for my office and ran smack into the facilities manager, whom I’ll call Igor. Igor had shifty eyes and a nervous habit of wringing his hands. He put on his best friendly voice, which was still faint and ghoulish, and asked me if I wanted a tour of the facility. Who could say no to a personal tour with Igor? What was he going to do…kill me? I laughed at that thought and quickly agreed.

As we walked down the hallway, things took a truly creepy turn. We passed rows and rows of deserted cubicles and not one other live human being. As we continued on I could hear the buzzing of copiers and fax machines, as they waited patiently for someone to press the button. The coffee machine had sputtered to life but there was no one there to drink the coffee. I wondered if I was being punked. I get this feeling often at work and figured this time it had to be real.

We turned a corner passed more empty cubicles, and then entered into one of several conference rooms Igor would show me, each larger and more elegant than the last. I finally broke down and asked him if anyone actually worked in this office. He was oddly surprised by my question and exclaimed that people did in fact work in this office…just not on the day I chose to visit.

Not to get too hyperbolic here, but it was at this point that I lost my marbles. This place was like the big deserted hotel in the movie “The Shining.” Similar to “The Shining’s” protagonist who went crazy and tried to kill his family, I was pretty sure Igor had gone crazy and killed all the other employees. Thoughts frantically filled my mind. Was I bound to be next? Did HR know what had happened here? All I wanted was a pleasant visit to what I thought was a normal office location and a stapler. Instead it looked like I might have to actually test out my karate training in the real world. I was definitely not ready for this.

I tried to stay calm as he showed me to my office and hung around to make sure everything was “working alright.” As soon as he left I shut the door and locked it. I figured I’d stay long enough to print my stuff and secure the stapler. After that, I was outta there.

After several minutes the lights started flickering, accompanied by a loud buzzing sound. I was certain the ghosts of the slain employees were trying to warn me to get out before Igor came back with an ax. That was it, my nerves were shot. I grabbed my stuff and ran as quickly as I could to the lobby and out the door to the nearest Starbucks with wifi.

And that’s why I still don’t have a stapler.