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!

 

 

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4 Super Crappy 2016 Resolutions

new year resolution

In the spirit of the New Year (or as my company’s language-challenged marketing department calls it, “The New Starts”), I have come up with the following list of resolutions to make myself a better person.

1. Stop referring to that kid in Corinne’s first grade class as a douchebag, just because his parents gave him a pretentious Italian name.

After all, his great grandfather’s cousin’s neighbor’s dog’s brother’s owner did come from Sicily. In all fairness, this really does make him nearly full-blooded Italian.

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In fact, given that two of my eight great grandparents immigrated from Tuscany, I am going to rename my children. From now on, they will have to answer to Raffaella and Alessia. It might take some getting used to, but it’s all about your heritage, right?

 2. Be less ambitious.

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If I stop trying to produce accurate results at work, I won’t be annoyed when my efforts are blocked by idiots. As I’ve learned from my friends in IT, the data doesn’t have to actually be correct if no one is going to check it.

 3. Play more strategic board games with my kids.

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The idea here is not to enhance their cognitive abilities, rather it’s to improve my self-confidence. There is really no better proof of one’s own intelligence than beating a 10 and 6 year old at Clue. In fact, by conveniently forgetting to explain all the rules, I can greatly improve my chances of continual game domination.

 4.  Find out what my offspring are actually watching on YouTube.

This is particularly important since Elizabeth has been talking a lot about Bronies (adult dudes who like My Little Pony).

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In other words, I probably need to intervene before some 35 year old Furry in a Rainbow Dash costume shows up at my door.

That said, if his name is Massimiliano, he works in IT and likes to play Monopoly, then in the spirit of the New Starts, I should probably welcome him in.

Nazis on Black Friday?!

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Yesterday was Black Friday and with my friend Giselle visiting from Canada, we thought it would be fun to show her this unique shopping spectacle. Little did we know that we would be the real spectacle.

We had decided to hit the stores a little later in the day. This was not based on any strategy to sleep off the turkey and stuffing hangover from the day before, since with a bunch of little kids in the house, no one was sleeping much. Instead, the idea was to avoid the fist fighting over electronics that generally took place in the early morning hours. Don’t get me wrong – I’m usually up for a good beat down. Giselle, on the other hand, didn’t think it would make a good impression at work if she showed up with a black eye and missing teeth, even though that would clearly add some authenticity to her American vacation.

Having first crossed off a few other items on Giselle’s vacation checklist, we arrived at Target in the late afternoon, ready for our Black Friday experience to begin. I managed to quickly impress her with my expert parking moves as I swerved to cut off an old lady in a sedan and smoothly squeeze my SUV into a newly vacated space.

Giselle is used to tactical driving to avoid insubordinate elk and the occasional wayward moose but wasn’t accustomed to using such techniques against the elderly in demonstration of the holiday spirit. But that’s how it’s done here in the wild west of Christmas shopping. It’s dog eat dog and there’s no sympathy for kids or the aging.

We entered Target, grabbed a shopping cart and started throwing in everything that was at least 40% off. Who cares if it fit? It was cheap and that was the point. This went on for at least an hour and a half before we started running out of steam, not to mention space in our carts. As we turned the corner to head to the checkout line, we ran into my friend and future in-law, Joy. (Refer to 80’s Wedding to learn more about my fifth-grader’s wedding plans.)

Joy had been watching a new series on Amazon which, as I understand, projects a world in which the Germans and Japanese had won the second world war, and she found a Target store full of aggressive holiday shoppers to be the opportune place to ask some thought-provoking questions.

After the customary hugs and greetings, Joy turned to my husband (who is literally half German / half Swiss and grew up in both countries) and asked him point blank if the word Obergruppenführer was insulting. Without blinking an eye, he dryly replied “Yes, that’s a Nazi.”

Now, to be fair, I’m sure worse insults had been thrown on Black Friday, but my six year old Corinne was having none of this Nazi nonsense. As my husband went on to further explain the meaning of the word to Joy, Corinne jumped in front of him protectively with both arms stretched and yelled at the top of her lungs “MY DAD IS NOT A NAZI!!!.”

As you might imagine, the relatively quiet section of the store that we were standing in got even quieter as we and every other patron within earshot tried to figure out how to react to this informative revelation. Luckily, Canada came to the rescue. This awkward moment of silence turned humorous when suddenly Giselle (who had been behind a rack of discounted toddler clothes) popped her head up in shock and broke the silence with “So what’s this aboot?” (Yes, I had to throw in the standard Canadian vs. American linguistic joke…sorry, cheap one, I know.)

One look at Giselle with surprise on her face and bunches of cheap clothes in her hand, and I started to laugh. Joy and my husband immediately joined in on the laughter. Relief washed over us as the moment passed. Corinne, however, failing to find any of this humorous, burst into tears. After a few minutes of sobbing, I was able to comfort her with another 40% off deal. A panda hoodie with ears and Corinne was back in business…and Giselle could go back to Canada with a great Black Friday story and her teeth intact.

 

 

Computer Compassion

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A few years ago my mom sat me down to ask me a question. Given her serious tone and the fact that uncomfortable conversations in my family often start with “a question”, frantic thoughts began racing through my mind. Had she discovered I’d tried smoking? Oh wait, that already happened….high school flashback. No, from her voice, I could tell it was certainly something graver.

After a few seconds it hit me. My palms got clammy as I realized my cover was blown. Somehow she had figured out the dark secret I’d been hiding from my family, my neighbors and all the PTA moms: I’m a negligent parent and, gulp, I sometimes forget to send the kids to school without breakfast or jackets or, on really negligent days, both.

I was about to break out into tears and several mea culpas about my pathetic parenting when my mom jumped in with her question, and to my relief, I realized the conversation was taking a far different..though probably equally disturbing… turn. She wanted to know about technology.

You see, as my mom explained, she had been chatting with her friend Diane  who, according to my mom, is “really good with computers.” What came next left me speechless.

Apparently Diane had told her it was possible to do something called “copying” and “pasting”. Fascinated by this possibility, my mother wanted to know if I knew what this was and if so, if could teach her how to work this magic.

This was the last thing I expected. As my mind raced to determine the appropriate response, I’m pretty sure this was the look on my face.

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Clearly I was in a quandary. I was torn between laughing at how impressed she was by this advancement in modern technology and crying at the realization of how hard her life must have been through this point without the ability to copy and paste.

Luckily I managed to reign in my emotions and did neither. Instead, composing myself, I took the road of compassion and answered her question seriously. After all, I’m no spring chicken myself and will certainly have to ask Elizabeth and Corinne these same kinds of questions. When these moments happen, I would prefer they show similar restraint.

In fact, I think these moments are closer than I’d care to admit. This is based on the fact that I’ve already started losing my mind and, as recent studies have shown, failing to grasp technological concepts closely follows the loss of one’s mind. (This is not to say my mom is nuts…she reads my posts and I still want Christmas presents, so I am definitely, absolutely, positively not saying this.)

My decent into insanity became evident a few months ago when I tried opening my office door at work with my car remote. This was particularly disturbing since my office door doesn’t even have a lock. A few weeks later I tried to use the remote control for my garage door at home to enter the parking structure at work.

I would like to openly blame my children on a daily basis for driving me over the edge, but have come to the conclusion that if I do this, they will conveniently not teach me how to copy and paste. I’m safe as long as they don’t read my blog.

Birth of the Crappy Christmas Letter

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In honor of the holiday season and with Christmas just around the corner, it seems appropriate to share the story of the birth of the Crappy Christmas Letter.

Instead of getting depressed reading your friends’ holiday letters about their awesome vacations in tropical lands or their toddler’s uncanny ability to speak 5 languages fluently, you can feel good about your life as I regale you with stories of how my plumbing backed up and spilled sewage and toilet paper onto our front lawn. (Refer to blog post #2 “Plumbing and 3D”)

So, gather around a warm fire (unless you’re in California, in which case, don’t start a fire; we’re in a drought and you don’t want to burn down the whole block right before Christmas) and get in the holiday spirit as you enter the world of my crappy life…

“Opening Remarks” – My First Blog Post

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Disclaimer

This blog[1] was my cousin Wayne’s idea. If you find it as ridiculous and nonsensical as I do, then I’ll give you his contact information and you can complain to him directly. Wayne is a writer/director/producer, so if you are indignant enough in your complaint, you might land yourself free tickets to his dinner theater (which is excellent, by the way). In fact, maybe if I complain, he’ll send me free tickets. I’ll give it a shot and let you know how it goes.

Background

In all fairness, I suppose I can’t completely blame my cousin. After all, he was just trying to help me find a more suitable forum for my middle-age ramblings[2]. You see about 10 years ago I had taken to expressing myself (that is, dumping on everyone) through an annual Christmas letter. After all, it was cheaper than therapy. However, as I got older (better said, as my kids got older), my life became increasingly more dramatic – which meant I needed more cheap therapy – which meant longer, crappier Christmas letters. Unfortunately, like with many things, holiday letters have a point of diminishing marginal utility. Statistical testing has shown this point to be about 4 pages. In other words, if you send people holiday letters longer than 4 pages in length, they will find more utility in using it to line their cat’s litter box than in reading it.

I knew I had reached this point when I stopped receiving Christmas cards from people with cats. The true enlightenment came however when I started getting requests to provide my letter in an audio format. This request came exclusively from people who had no cats or litter boxes to line, which meant that they were forced to read it and more than likely would need to take a day off work to get through the whole thing.

I try to be accommodating and took this request seriously. After careful consideration, though, I was forced to admit that an audio version was out of my league. Although I had joined Toastmasters over a year ago, I was doubtful that I could get through a 12 page letter without peppering every pause with at least one “uh”, “um” and, the real signature of failure, “you know”.

The logical solution was to simply send out mid-year update letters. This worked for awhile, but it proved not to be a viable long-term solution. This year the jig was up. It was clear to anyone who read my June update letter that an update to the update letter would be forthcoming. This was mainly due to the fact that we had purchased a house that everyone started affectionately referring to as “The Money Pit”. In Italy they have a saying about the city of Naples[3] which can also be applied to our money pit: “le storie non finiscono mai” which translates to “the stories are never ending.” How many updates to updates can you do before physics steps in and you go back in time? Luckily, right when I found myself on the edge of the swirling black hole of update letters, my cousin entered with his blog idea.

Birth of the Blog

Wayne was a child computer genius. In elementary school he could do pretty much anything with his Tandem computer, and I secretly suspect he may have invented hacking. Consequently, he has automatic credibility regarding anything computer-related, including blogs. In all honesty, it didn’t take much convincing. I was almost immediately on board, since being a blogger clearly meant I could quit my job compiling boring statistical information into PowerPoints and instead could drop my kids off at school and hang out at Starbucks drinking vanilla lattes all day.

Whether or not anyone actually reads this will be seen, but at least trees and everyone in my address book can breathe a sigh of relief.

[1] For disclosure purposes, this may not actually meet the definition of a blog, since I don’t actually know what a blog is. Using the term “blog” makes me feel cool, so I’m going to stick with it.

[2] Yes, I’ve already started to ramble in my 40’s. I’m certain my kids will catch on by the time they’re in high school and start making plans to move abroad…permanently.

[3] On second thought this may not actually be an official Italian saying. Well, in any case, I can personally confirm that at least one Italian has said this. His name was Carlo. Sorry Carlo, I don’t remember your whole name or I’d give you more credit. After all, that was 20 years ago.

Corporate Dream Careers

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In Elizabeth’s elementary school yearbook, the pictures of the graduating sixth graders are complemented by a blurb stating each child’s anticipated profession.  Some common ones are movie star, football player and astronaut. While certainly great dreams, these aren’t necessariy the most realstic goals, statistically speaking. I fear that when these children compare their yearbook blurbs to their actual jobs in 30 years, there may be some disappointment.

To avoid this outcome, there should be a better understanding of all the dream-worthy, yet realistic, jobs out there that kids can aspire to. Elizabeth is only in 5th grade, but to help her and her friends understand the true breadth of fascinating professions before it’s time to commit to their dream jobs in 6th grade, I’ve put together the following descriptions of some positions found in the corporate world:

Facilities Manager

This is a multi-faceted position. First, you are in charge of the physical assets of the company. In hopes of getting promoted, you will spend hours tinkering with the broken photocopier before giving up and calling the professional repairman.

You are also responsible for figuring out how to save space by reducing employee cubicles to the size of a hamster cage. To minimize employee frustration, make sure the now smaller cubes are each outfitted with a hanging water bottle and salt lick. Put an exercise wheel by the printer to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Lastly, you coordinate entire office moves. As long as you act important, no one will question you on why it took a week to move the coffee machines to the new location and another whole week to move the coffee.

Career Tip: Instill fear among co-workers by holding a clipboard and walking around with people in suits. If you speak in a low voice and point animatedly to various cubicles as you mumble words like “headcount” and “bottom line”, everyone you pass will start boxing up their belongings as they wait for the call from Human Resources.

Call Center Representative

This is the ideal job for those who both love to talk and have a sadistic streak. You are the first point of contact and a stringent gatekeeper. You will enjoy further frustrating already annoyed callers by insisting they don’t need to speak with a supervisor, even though you’ve tried unsuccessfully for an hour to resolve their problem. For added pleasure, put callers on hold every time they threaten you with legal action.

Career Tip:  Increase your performance bonus by changing your voice and posing as the supervisor you finally agreed to transfer the caller to.

Accounts Payable Clerk

This position requires a high attention to detail with little tolerance for error. Your daily mission is to review and process department bills and employee expense reports for payment. As protector of the company’s coffers, you take your job seriously and are careful to reject business trip reimbursements of tips to hotel valets and bellmen without a paper receipt.

Career Tip: Wield your power by routing invoices that don’t meet your high standards to a holding queue. For added fun, don’t  mention this to the person who needs the invoice paid and act surprised when he/she questions you in a state of panic.

IT Manager

This is a job which requires strong technical and no people skills. You are saddled with budget cuts but rather than admit this, you assert haughtily that you can resolve every problem, even finding the coffee that Facilities lost in the move.

Career Tip: Stay ahead of the game by pretending to be extremely busy and hiding behind voice mail, so you can never be held accountable for these untruths. While you will be well compensated for your technical savvy, if you get hit by a bus, no one will send you flowers…though this might be because Accounts Payable won’t reimburse sympathy gifts.

IT Support

This is an entry-level position with a steep learning curve. Although you will be hired for your many degrees in computer science, when you hit the real world you’ll receive no training on how to deal with end users in a live production environment.

Career Tip: Be sure to figure out ahead of time who you can blame when you accidentally remove users’ access and delete their files.

Marketing Director

This is a job for high energy, goal-oriented individuals who don’t let rules stand in the way of a good idea. You’re tasked with coming up with creative strategies to get new customers. To do this, you do your best to alienate the legal and compliance experts who have to sign off on your wacky ideas, by acting like you know how to do their job better than they do.

Career Tip: Make everything a “marketing emergency” so no one will have time to realize how bad your idea really is.