Me vs. The PTA

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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!

 

 

What Kind of Parent are You? Take This Quiz to Find Out.

I’m a bad parent. There, I said it. No matter how much I want to be a good parent, I usually end up either yelling at my kids, drinking alcohol or staring at my iPhone. Sometimes, I even manage to do all three at the same time. If you are not sure how you are doing as a parent and would like some honest feedback, then take this quiz. (Note that if you end up with the result of “douchebag parent”, I probably know you and will see you at next month’s PTA meeting. Don’t worry, the results of this quiz are anonymous.)

1. Your daughter makes the school honor roll, you

A) Are proud of her. Her hard work is paying off.

B) Run out and stick the “My child is an honor roll student” bumper sticker on your minivan. Now all the PTA moms at drop off and pick up will be secretly jealous.

C) Are irritated that she still got a few B’s. Your competitive streak might be getting a little out of hand. You wonder if there is medication to help wackos like you. In the meantime, you find those third graders that got straight A’s and challenge them to a duel.

2. It’s time for your child to choose an instrument for the school music class, and he chooses the trumpet, you

A) Tell him that’s a great idea. What a fun instrument!

B) Enroll him in private lessons 5 days a week, so you can brag to your friends and everyone in the supermarket about how well he plays.

C) Try to convince him to play the flute instead. Trumpets are too loud and you’ve got your nerves to worry about. When he complains, you offer to let him switch out the flute for the triangle. Hey, the triangle is a respectable instrument!

3. Both you and your kid take karate lessons. You:

A) Love that you have found an activity you can bond over.

B) Make her wear her karate gi and belt to school so everyone will be impressed by her clear martial arts superiority. You decide to wear your gi and belt to the next PTA meeting for the same reason.

C) Accidentally split her lip while teaching her some sparring moves. After the bleeding stops, you try to console her by showing her all the bruises you got from your lessons last week. Two years later she still hasn’t let you live that down.

4. Your 7 year old has started putting on makeup every day, you:

A) Let her wear it around the house but explain that she’s too young to wear it in public.

B) Take head shots and send them to the nearest modeling agency. You can’t wait until everyone sees her in the next Walmart ad.

C) Get her to teach you how she does that neat thing with the eye shadow.

5. Your kids’ rooms are a mess, you:

A) Patiently explain that this is unacceptable and supervise them as they clean up. You help put away those toys that go on the top shelves.

B) Put everything away yourself. The Mom’s Club is coming over, and you want them to think your kids are neater than their kids.

C) Yell and scream. When this doesn’t work, you yell and scream louder and threaten to throw everything out that is cluttering your house. When your kids finally start cleaning up, you find at least ten items that have been missing for months, including the remote control. At least you can finally watch tv again.

6. Your children take swimming lessons in the summer. You,

A) Watch their progress at every lesson and cheer them on.

B) Take a video of another kid doing the butterfly and pretend it’s yours. No one can tell who that is in the water anyway, so your deception will never be revealed.

C) Watch the first five minutes and then drift off for the rest of the hour. You gotta sleep where you can; yelling at your kids all morning was exhausting.

7. Your child is hungry for breakfast. She asks for pancakes, you:

A) Show her how to make them herself and watch patiently as she spills flour all over your freshly cleaned kitchen floor. No worries; that’s why they invented vacuum cleaners.

B) Ignore the request and instead spend 2 hours making a “European” gourmet breakfast that your kid and the rest of the family hate. You then post the pictures on social media. Damn, you’re good.

C) Throw some frozen pancakes in the microwave but forget to turn it on, because you got distracted by the text message you just received. You admit you’re not good at multitasking.

8. Every night you,

A) Read at least 20 minutes with your child. It’s been proven that reading with children leads to success.

B) Falsify his school reading log so it looks like he reads 4 hours a day. His teacher will be so impressed!

C) Drink wine while you and your kid watch Wheel of Fortune. C’mon, people, that show involves reading! Good thing you found the remote.

9. You find out someone is bullying your kid before school, you:

A) Talk to the school principal and the bully’s parents to try to resolve the issue.

B) Cry to anyone who will listen about how your baby is being treated unfairly.

C) Tell your kid to jump out of the bushes and ambush the bully. Those karate lessons are expensive, so you mind as well get your money’s worth.

10. Your 11 year old wants you to teach the class’s volunteer art lessons for the third year in a row. However, her class is full of psychos who have managed to traumatize all the teachers they’ve had since kindergarten. You,

A. Agree to do it. In a few years, she won’t want you anywhere near her friends.

B. Bribe the class with homemade cupcakes. Make sure the yearbook committee shows up for the photo op.

C. Do it, but jump out of the bushes the next day and scare the crap out of everyone who didn’t listen. The principal forbids you from ever teaching art lessons again.

Scoring:

Mostly A’s – You are a great parent and undoubtedly played classical music for your kids when they were babies. Why are you taking this stupid quiz? Go do something productive as usual.

Mostly B’s – Congratulations, you are a complete douchebag. Like you, your kid is a sniveling brat with no friends. Maybe if the school bully slaps you a few times, you’ll wake up to reality.

Mostly C’s – Like me, you stink as a parent. You love your kids, but you’re too exhausted to have much patience. On the bright side, at least you recognize your shortcomings. That should count for something, right? Consider checking yourself into therapy and, in the meantime, don’t teach art.

Rate Your European Vacation – A Short Quiz

As much as I look forward to our family vacations, an analysis of our trips has revealed that there is at least a 50% chance that events of an inexplicable and downright bizarre nature will take place. In fact, these odds shoot up to 90% for our European travels. Now, don’t get me wrong – I love Europe. Not only did I live in Switzerland and Italy for most of the 1990’s, but I married a European. That said, I have noticed over time that our vacations to that continent seem to be increasingly stranger, not to mention somewhat distressing.

If you’ve recently traveled to Europe and are wondering if your vacation was fun and normal or weird and depressing, then take this short quiz. Just place a check mark next to any of the below occurrences you experienced. Once completed, total the number of check marks and read the result that corresponds with your score.

1. The flight is so outrageously expensive you wonder if the kids really need that 529 college savings account. On the bright side, the plane ride includes a dinner that is surprisingly delicious. In fact, you are even tempted to post a picture of your meal on social media… that is, until you realize that no one will be impressed, since the tin meal tray makes your delectable polenta look like a Lean Cuisine.

2. Your kids forgo the tasty food and instead down an entire bag of Goldfish crackers while watching an endless loop of Peppa Pig on the inflight entertainment system. You definitely won’t post a picture of that dinner.

3. Despite the lack of turbulence and the Dramamine you shoved down their throats, your kids take turns throwing up for the duration of the 12 hour trip. You pat yourself on the back for having had the foresight to pack everyone a change of clothes in your carry-on. Your happiness is short lived, though, when you realize you forgot the mouthwash.

4. You are staying at a three-star hotel, but the usual amenities that you take for granted are missing. Instead of miniature bottles of shampoo and conditioner, you inherit the half-empty bottle of body wash the last guest left in the shower.

5. You can’t use the body wash, because there aren’t any washcloths.

6. You realize after washing the remaining vomit out of your hair (with the shampoo you brought yourself) that you have to go to the hotel reception to ask for a hair dryer.

7. While handing you the hair dryer, the hotel’s manager proudly declares you can keep it in your room for the duration of your stay, since he “has enough of them.”

8. You’re grateful, since the last hotel you stayed in didn’t even have a hair dryer…you had to borrower one from your in-laws, whom you were visiting down the street.

9. The hotel maid nearly walks into your room twice while you are naked, since there aren’t any “Do Not Disturb” door hangers. You wonder if the door hangers are in the same dusty storage facility as the washcloths.

10. The shop across the street from your in-laws is literally called “ISIL”. Once you recover from the shock, you can’t help but wonder what they sell.

11. Your kid wakes you up at 3 a.m., because she fell asleep on top of the covers and is cold. You are not amused, since the combination of beer and sleeping pills you tried out to combat jet lag was finally starting to work.

Score

1-4 check marks: you had a little bad luck, but overall you really did have a great time. A little vomit and jet lag never hurt anyone, so stop complaining and go make a photo book of your adventure.

5-8 check marks: your vacation was a little rocky, but at least you got to visit family and friends. Don’t blame Europe; you had some weird experiences at that motel you stayed at in New Mexico. Next time bring your own washcloths and hair dryer and get your 7 year old to make you a “Do Not Disturb” sign. Also, stay in a more expensive hotel, you cheapskate.

9-11 check marks: to numb the pain, keep drinking beer with sleeping pills. The good news is, thanks to your kids, your memory is shot; give it a year or so and you’ll be ready to hit the Old World again.

 

 

 

 

Suck It, Crafters

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Everyone knows that to be a good mother, you must spend hours crafting with your kids. Thanks to modern inventions like blogs and Pinterest, crafting has risen from hobby to absolute requirement. This proves problematic if you are afflicted with crappy small motor coordination (known in medical circles as “CSMC”) and are from Generation X, meaning you were unaware of the crafting movement when you were trying to get pregnant. 

Had I understood that crafting skills would one day be the barometer in measuring my competency as a mother, I certainly would have planned my future differently. Don’t get me wrong; I am not suggesting that I would have chosen better birth control. I like my kids more than 50% of the time, which statistically-speaking, means they’re keepers. What I am suggesting is that I probably would have pursued a double major in college, supplementing my B.A. in Economics with a degree in Craft Shit.

On second thought, who am I kidding? Even Upper Division craft classes couldn’t help me conquer my CSMC. Because of my two left thumbs, I can’t cut a straight line with scissors or even fold a piece of paper in half neatly. I failed a summer school origami class when I was 7. In high school I never volunteered to make the bubble letters on spirit signs, because my bubble letters ended up squished on one side of the sign. I’ve never admitted this publicly until now, but my husband wraps Christmas presents better than I do.

Speaking of Christmas, my two daughters got a “style your own headband” kit last December (from one of my best friends no less…clearly she was pissed off at me about something). Using this kit, you were theoretically able to decorate plain headbands with lace, bows, ribbons and jewels. When I tried to help my 10-year old, I ended up with gobs of glue everywhere. As my daughter sulked in disappointment and I tried to peel glue off my body, my 6-year old took pity on us and neatly pasted a dainty piece of ribbon along the entire outside of my 10-year old’s headband. At least somebody in the family was qualified to be a mother.

As the reality of my incompetence sunk in, I knew it was time to take action. I needed a new approach if I was going to go head to head with the crafting mothers of the world.  I can’t tie bows, but I can create a PowerPoint presentation with bullet points, text boxes and process flows. So, suck it crafters. My kids and I aren’t going to build a birdhouse out of twigs and plant-matter we picked out together on our morning family nature hike and then decorate it with sequins. We’re going to sit in front of our computer with a cup of coffee and make slides in PowerPoint, and if I’m feeling really ambitious, we might even make ourselves a second cup of coffee and write some exciting formulas in Excel.

And when we’re through, we’ll pop a few Lean Cuisines in the microwave. Did I mention I can’t cook either?

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Power-Hungry Art Coordinator

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In my previous post The Volunteer Part II, The Art Docent, I discussed my role last year as a volunteer art docent for my oldest daughter’s class. This proved to be a fascinating experience, particularly because, much to my surprise, the behavior of a room full of elementary school students was not all that different than the antics I’m subjected to in company meetings.

This interaction was close enough to my corporate comfort zone that the kids can consider themselves lucky I didn’t break out a bunch of Excel tables and start lecturing on the importance of using the correct variables in your statistical regression models. (I’m not actually a statistician, but I work with one and have figured out how to imitate him well enough to sound considerably more intelligent than I really am. Look people, it’s all about perception.)

With this school year came a unique opportunity. The son of the volunteer lady who coordinated the art docent program was switching to the local school for smart kids. This meant her position was open. Since no one else wanted the job of coordinator (which should have been a sign to me), I jumped at the opportunity. After all, as coordinator couldn’t I wield my newly-gained power across not only the art docent program but maybe even the PTA? Who cares if I didn’t get paid? Since I had no actual power at work (and zero power at home with my kids), my dictatorial cravings would finally be satisfied.

Excited at the thought that people would finally listen to me, I immediately set goals, made a PowerPoint, and met with the school principal to align on said goals. I could barely wait to begin assembling my team of minions, um, I mean volunteer art docents.

Despite my and the principal’s enthusiasm, I quickly learned that running a volunteer program is not an easy task. This is primarily due to the fact that an astonishing number of volunteers are flakes with a limited sense of responsibility and urgency. In all fairness, I suppose this shouldn’t have shocked me, since they aren’t getting paid; even a number of salaried people at my corporate job are neither accountable nor timely for anything not directly related to a department potluck. (People love food…organizing it, making it, talking about it, eating it, etc.)

After the Back to School Night volunteer sign-ups, I had at least one volunteer for each of the 15 classrooms. However, as time passed and the first art lesson was only a few weeks away, half of the parents had stopped responding to my e-mails…and I suspected some of them had even changed their identities.

While I struggled with the concept of grown-ups signing up for something that they weren’t actually interested in doing, it occurred to me that the reason these people had gone into hiding may have something to do with the fact that they realized they would actually have to stand up in front of 30 kids and try to teach them something.

Having attended numerous official company meetings where adults spent most of the hour ignoring the agenda and competing for laughs (kind of like an episode of “Last Comic Standing”), I was used to free-for-alls and teaching unruly kids, while at times frustrating, was only marginally more frightening.

Sadly, there was no room for power-wielding despotism. To keep the program intact, I couldn’t afford to lose any more parent volunteers. There was clearly only one solution.  I was going to have to schlep the group to a series of meetings at my company…and follow it up with a potluck.

The Volunteer Part II, the Art Docent

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In the Volunteer Part I , I had ventured out of my corporate comfort zone of meaningless statistics and mind-numbing Excel spreadsheets to tackle volunteering at my then fourth grader’s Thanksgiving party. As I doled out someone else’s scalloped potatoes to a stampede of hungry 9 year olds, I found that these kids weren’t any scarier than the lunatics I deal with on a daily basis in the asylum…I mean business world. In fact, by the end of the party I even felt comfortable enough to accept the challenge when the room parent called out “Anyone want to volunteer to do the class art lessons?”

As I soon learned, this volunteer role had the official title of  “Art Docent” and required me to teach a series of 4 lessons in art history along with an accompanying art project for each. In other words, for most of the lesson I had to talk loudly to a bunch of unruly people about a topic they weren’t really interested in, while attempting to direct their attention to the accompanying PowerPoint slides. This was definitely familiar territory. I wondered if I would get business cards.

It turns out I didn’t get business cards, but at least the lesson materials were already prepared. All I had to do was edit the heck out of them for “better clarification,” which was a key management technique I’d observed in my interactions with our senior leadership team. (“Leadership Team” is pretentious corporate speak for the people that dump an urgent project on your plate and then immediately go on vacation somewhere without cell phone network coverage, leaving you to work through the holiday Christmas party to meet the deadline. On the positive side, at least you get to miss the crappy White Elephant exchange…)

As anticipated, there really wasn’t much difference between a classroom presentation and a business meeting. In fact, the cast of characters was very similar, which is probably due to the fact that many school kids grow up to be corporate folks.

Here are a few of the personalities I encountered during my lessons, which are also typically present in the business setting:

The Royal Pain: Puts his hand up every time you ask a question, even though he has no idea what you’re talking about and has been holding a sidebar conversation with the kid next to him since you started the lesson. When you move on to the next topic, his hand is still up.

Defense Tactic: Aside from slapping him, which would be illegal, there’s not much you can do. Take comfort in the fact that when this guy gets to the business world, he likely won’t make it out of the mailroom.

The One-Upper: This is the kid who, after you talk about Italian art, tries to impress you with his vast knowledge of Italian pasta shapes.

Defense Tactic: Since you used to live in Italy, continue the lesson in Italian for the next five minutes. Your Italian is admittedly a little rusty these days, but he won’t know if you confuse the word for faucet with the word for toilet.

The Politician: This girl sweetly reminds you how fun it was when you two sat together on the bus during last year’s class field trip. Unfortunately, this is also the same kid that nastily announced at the class holiday party last week that she re-gifted the Secret Santa present she received from your daughter.

Defense Tactic: Sweetly remind her back (in a low, sinister voice), that you know what she did last Christmas…

The Attention-Seeker: This brat complains the whole time that the art project is too difficult. Somehow, despite her complaints, she manages to complete the project within the given timeframe.

Defense Tactic: Give her the attention she so desperately craves by challenging this kid to a game of tetherball at recess. Then, wipe the court with her. If it looks like she’s going to win, however, claim sudden dehydration and explain that you urgently need a drink from the toilet.

Secret Santa Sucks

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My fifth grader Elizabeth had a Secret Pal gift exchange the last day before winter break. Although more politically correct in name, it sucked just as much as the not politically correct Secret Santa.

I had not played Secret Pal-Santa in years and unfortunately for both Elizabeth and me, I did not make the connection between Secret Pal-Santa and the trauma that can be inflicted by its nefarious relative, the White Elephant.

The original White Elephant gift game was not only a fun and comedic bonding experience, but it provided a convenient opportunity to transfer the clutter in your house to someone else’s house. Hate both that ugly statue that your mother-in-law gave you and the lavender perfume from Grandma? Put ’em together in the same bag. Problem solved.

Lamentably, the White Elephant took a turn for the worse about 10 years ago, when people were either too attached to that Chia Pet or too lazy to dig it out and wrap it. Instead folks went out and bought gift cards, food or alcohol, leaving the recipients of the true White Elephant gifts depressed and bitter.

This problem has been slow to be recognized by party organizers across the nation (or at least the state of California) who are in denial and still insist on calling it a White Elephant gift exchange. Most people have enough social cognizance to realize that, despite the name of the game, it is unacceptable to bring a White Elephant gift, particularly when the instructions include spending guidelines.

Still, there’s always that one person who refuses to conform and puts a damper on some poor participant’s holiday cheer. At work, this is usually a temp with nothing to lose or the guy in IT who is using the gift exchange as a means to extract revenge on you for bugging the heck out of him all year.

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Three years ago, thanks to one of these people I was the proud owner of a previously-enjoyed Queen CD box set. Not that I have anything against Queen, per se, and if it had been Queen singing the holiday hits, I may had felt differently, but who wouldn’t have preferred the Moose Munch / Jack Daniels gift set?

Familiar as I am with the perils of the White Elephant, I had regrettably not applied this knowledge to Secret Pal-Santa. When Elizabeth came home with a bio sheet on her gift recipient (favorite color, animal, hobby, book, etc.), we put our heads together. The directions were vague, but certainly we were supposed to spend some amount of money on something cool. I took a cue from my friend whose son is in the other fifth grade class and hit the 99 Cent Store, where Elizabeth and I had fun picking out a pretty little box and a necklace and candy to fill it with.

When the Secret Pal-Santa exchange day finally arrived, I couldn’t wait to finish up my PowerPoint, so I could get home from work and hear all about it. As soon as I walked in the door, I sat Elizabeth down to debrief her. She was not very enthusiastic about sharing the details, which I guess had to do with the fact that after all our effort, she only got a miniature cupcake that was suspiciously missing half the icing.

To add insult to injury, the recipient of Elizabeth’s gifts was not impressed with her 99 Cent store treats and was happy to share this fact directly with Elizabeth. In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to the fact that this pretentious little 10-year old’s bio stated that she loved shopping and iPads. Clearly chocolate and cheap fashion jewelry weren’t going to impress her.

Luckily, there is always revenge. Since I teach the class’s volunteer art lessons, I’m considering what kind of public humiliation I can subject this kid to during the next lesson. (This is why they should screen parents before allowing them to volunteer.)

The key to White Elephants and Secret Pals-Santas-Reindeer-Whatevers is, like most things in life, managing expectations. I think I will suggest that in future years the teacher add a disclaimer and note at the bottom of the instructions stating something to the effect of :

Kids: don’t get your hopes up; your Secret Pal’s parents might be emotionally-unavailable tightwads. If you get more than a crappy pencil drawing with a lot of erasure marks and your name spelled wrong, consider yourself lucky.

Parents: if the recipient of your kid’s Secret Pal gift is a snot-nosed brat, feel free to be an emotionally-unavailable tightwad. Better yet, give that kid a Queen CD box set.