Supermom Needs a Nap is a WIP and the follow-up to Supermom Breaks a Nail (available at amazon.com)
Do you remember being in school? There was a popular clique, a rebel clique and the in-betweeners who didn’t really know where they belonged and went along with whoever would have them. It was a confusing time, and we were all glad to get away from it. Do you know where those groups go after high school? To the PTO: Parent Teacher Organization. Yes, they’re organized now, rather than merely associated. I think they changed it because of Barbara Eden; being a part of the PTA made people think of Barbara Eden and no matter what age you are, if you have a bunch of people thinking about Barbara Eden, you aren’t going to get much done.
The PTO is the governing body of a school that decides how you and your relatives will spend your money. (You may not think it’s worth it to ask yourself how much wrapping paper is enough but I suggest you do, because you will find out sooner rather than later.) All the disparate school groups that once vied for playground dominance live and work together in beautiful harmony to better the school life of your child… for about 3 weeks into each new school year. After that, pack mentality sets in.
The point of joining the PTO is to prove that we are really, really good parents. We attend meetings and know everything that goes on at the school, ever. When a PTOer is next to one of those parents on the playground – you know the type, a parent who insists on having a life off of school property – we loudly ask another PTO person about some school event. Even though the non-PTO parent is still just reading their book when we finish our very important and loud discussion about PTO business, we know: they’re just bravely hiding their shame.
There are three tiers to the PTO: the First Tier consists of the officers. Like any group of animals, they sit facing the rest of us, their tented name cards informing the lesser beings who each officer is and how high up the food chain they reside. The top of the hierarchy is the senior PTO Co-President. The concept of PTO co-presidents is a good one – presidents serve for two years with terms staggered, so one is always outgoing and one always incoming. This way, there is always someone experienced heading the PTO, a seemingly solid system. But the reality is a little less diplomatic: the senior co-president dominates the PTO with an iron gavel and the junior co-president skirts the periphery like a hungry coyote until the senior is gone and they can take their chair as the Alpha.
The Second Tier consists of those who hold single committee positions but aspire to run for office within their child’s tenure at that school. They are tapped to distribute circulars, run a booth or send more emails than robotic spam generators trying to direct you to a discount sunglasses website. They don’t get any formal title but this does not stop them from making up their own:
“Please. Call me the Bake Sale Baroness. I make a mean Bundt and I have no time for people who aren’t ready and willing to do the same.”
“You can refer to me as the Signmaster. If you have something important to say, it’s worth saying in glitter.”
“I am the Promo Distribution Coordinator. I’m always on campus, passing out.”
The Second Tier monopolizes the first rows of chairs at PTO meetings and their purpose is to volunteer for stuff and keep the Coyote President away from the pack. This is, of course, until the Coyote President becomes the Alpha President, when the Second Tier devotes much of its time pretending they were on the Coyote’s side the whole time.
The Third Tier are the rest of us, those who fall all over ourselves to show our dedication, while inwardly quaking in terror at the possibility of someone asking us to head some committee. A Third Tier member is only truly happy when the meeting is over and we’re safely in our cars, obligation-free, eating the Oreos smuggled from the snack table.
I joined the PTO as soon as they let me; normally, they prefer that you wait until you actually have a kid in the school first. I dutifully attend every meeting and make serious faces with appropriate head nods as we discuss items. Eventually, I lose interest in the discussion because it’s an elementary school and all I want from my school is to keep my children away from me until 3pm. I may notice someone’s shoes and make notes on my agenda to ask where I can find them. Sometimes I count the rings in the carpet and try to figure out which are designs and which are cigarette burns and then make a note on my agenda to find out who might have a cigarette. Eventually I start doodling, only I can’t draw very well and my agenda starts to look like a Rorschach test. Sometimes I get a bit too involved in what I’m drawing; I’m not really sure how I signed up to drive the 780 pounds of canned goods to the food bank during Winter Break but it had something to do with my depiction of The Scarlet Pimpernel riding a cow.
Losing track of the meeting isn’t entirely my fault. I mean, just look at the agenda, won’t you? And please don’t drop the stone tablet it’s carved on; I can’t possibly sell enough wrapping paper to replace it.
Meetings begin with Old Business, which is the business that nearly caused a fistfight in the last meeting and had to be tabled so we could take time to find thoughtful solutions, which is what we say whenever we have to halt a discussion to prevent lawsuits from being filed. So after a little more civil bloodshed, we move on to the next item, which is New Business.
New Business is the time to discuss new school policy, or rather how the school is going to implement whatever it wants and we’re either welcome to approve publicly or welcome to keep our mouths shut.
Next we review The Budget. That means we get to hear what the school needs money for this time, as The “Fun”Rasier Queen distributes the next round of wrapping paper catalogs.
After The Budget the meeting moves on to Observations. Observations is a time for all members to bring up any concerns about the school or its policies. It’s a time set aside for open reflection on ways we can improve the school and/or the PTO as a governing body… except pity the poor fool who actually says something critical during Observations.
It’s high entertainment for the Third Tier to watch new PTO members during their first meeting. They receive hearty welcome handshakes and the gratitude of the First and Second Tiers for joining our little flock. They are pushed to the front of the line for the snack table to ensure they don’t end up with the stale Lil’ Debbie rolls that someone found in the back of their pantry at the last minute. During New Business, several Seasoned PTOers look to the New One for agreement, as if their opinion is the only one that matters.
By the time Observations rolls around, the New One is so confident in their role in the PTO, they have a hand up to speak about three self-congratulatory Observations in. As soon as that fresh hand goes up, members of the Third Tier start guessing what the New One will critique and who will be sent into the arena with them when they do. To be cut by the Secretary or the Phone Tree Coordinator is hard enough, but if you come out of the gates with a really hot button item, the Alpha President will descend on you and leave your mangled ego for the Coyote President to snatch and haul away. Only the strongest return for another meeting; the others limp from the arena, destined to sit at the shaded, crappy bench by the leaking water fountain on the playground during pick-up.
And they still have to sell wrapping paper.