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!

 

 

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The Volunteer, Part 1: Scalloped Potatoes

potatoes

Last year at this time I was experiencing some down-time at work and was able to help out at Elizabeth’s class Thanksgiving potluck party. This was a first, since until that time, my responsibilities creating important looking spreadsheets at work and pretending to be a subject matter expert on those spreadsheets had never permitted me to participate in any of my kids’ school activities.

Fortunately Elizabeth viewed my volunteering as a special treat and not a necessary evil. This is certainly only because she is still several years away from her metamorphosis into a disgruntled teenager. My attendance at the Thanksgiving party would definitely be a special treat for me too, since I would finally have the opportunity to observe my child interacting in the wild with an entire herd of her species. For optimal tracking and observation purposes, I wondered if I should tranquilize her and tag her ear before setting her free at the school gates that morning.

As much as I was looking forward to this event, however, I couldn’t help but feel a certain panic as the date approached. Since I spent my days in the corporate world, I was frighteningly unfamiliar with any aspect of the human condition that took place outside my office building on weekdays between the hours of 8am and 5pm. (With the one exception of the El Pollo Loco drive-thru during lunch hour.) As a result, I found myself intimidated by what would be my certain inferiority as a volunteer.

For those of you without school age children, there is much more parental volunteering these days than when I was growing up in the 70’s. Every classroom at my kids’ school has at the very minimum a room parent, a reading parent, an art parent , a few paper-correcting parents and a handful of other parents that help out with other odd tasks as needed, show up at all the school events and know everyone. When you think about it, it seems like a lot of staff for the teachers to manage; on the plus side, at least they don’t have to do performance reviews for these folks.

Volunteers for most of these roles are solicited during Back to School Night at the beginning of the year, and every year on that evening, my husband and I look at the sign-up sheets in awe of all the names of parents able to make these commitments. (Then we feel terrible about ourselves and go home and drink).

It looked like I would finally be able to put the bottle of Jack Daniels down and join in the fun.

On the day of the party I arrived at the designated time and tried to gulp down my fear as I entered the classroom. At the teacher’s direction, parents were setting up serving stations at the kids’ desks. Someone handed me a bowl of homemade scalloped potatoes and a serving spoon. The next thing I knew, the signal was given and the herd began making its way down the food line. I quickly noticed that the wildebeests..uh kids..were strategically bypassing the healthy obstacles on their way to anything primarily made of chocolate.

My maternal instincts kicked in. There was no way I was going to let this group stampede by the nutritious dishes to feed only on sugar. Resisting the urge to tackle them and force vegetables onto their plates, I instead took the approach of a carny, encouraging them to step right up and try the creamiest, cheesiest , most delectable potatoes ever created. I had no idea who actually made the potatoes or what they tasted like, but it didn’t matter. The mom in me was determined to get some vitamins into these kids. At that moment, in my mind, unless  you were lactose-intolerant, you were eating scalloped potatoes.

My potato sales pitch went well, and as I surveyed the empty casserole dish, I realized that volunteering wasn’t scary. It was just about being a parent. Maybe I should rephrase that sentiment; being a parent is scary, but volunteering doesn’t add any incremental terror.

As I digested this enlightenment, I heard a voice ring out. “Anyone want to volunteer to do the class art lessons?”

Stay tuned for Part 2.