posted Wednesday September 15th, 2010
It’s official. I have now seen it all.
Do you belong to the PTA at your kid’s school? Good for you. I mean it. I have more than one friend who’s even ascended to the presidency. I have great admiration for these people.
But I know myself. I don’t work well with others. Remember the opening of the movie Broadcast News, where they show the characters and titles with their future professions under them? Well, my character’s title definitely reads, “Future Alternative Newsweekly Employee,” which is code for “does not play well with others.”
So I’ve never been to a PTA meeting. Haven’t so much as set foot in the door. That’s not to say I haven’t tried to help out at my kids’ school. I have. (Though like just about everyone, I will freely admit that I could try harder!) My mantra is keep it in the classroom — do work for the teacher (no matter how menial, though I am afraid of the laminating machine) and make donations wherever I can.
In other words, avoid drama.
When Annabelle was in kindergarten, I broke down and agreed to bring food to the teacher appreciation luncheon at the end of the year. I stressed over my cut-up strawberries, pineapple and pound cake (which was meant to surround the chocolate fountain and no, I’m not making that up, that was to be the centerpiece of the table). I bought A LOT of fruit and cake — at least I thought I did — but as soon as I walked in the room, another mom with very long fingernails and way too much hoochey-mama going on for a Friday afternoon at school (not that I’m judgemental or anything) pointed a nail at my platters and said, “That’s all you brought?”
I was crushed. I renewed my classroom-only vow. I made friends with PTA moms who gave me tasks to do on my own. Things were cool.
When Sophie was in kindergarten, I made the mistake of responding to an email from a PTA mom (not one of my pals) who was soliciting ideas for how to spend funds raised at the school’s annual spring auction. I hesitated, then sent a long note explaining that I would love to see money go toward funding an aide for the kindergarten playground at lunch, since at the time (and probably still) there was just one “duty” (I hate that word!) assigned to watch more than 90 kids. As I explained, this is something lots of other school PTAs do.
When the list came out, it included ideas such as “Italian lessons” and “tours of the Arizona State University campus,” but no playground aide. My idea wasn’t even good enough to be considered as an idea.
OK, I get it. Vow renewed — again.
Another year went by, and then the notes came home earlier this month announcing that the PTA was looking for volunteers to coordinate art auction projects with each class. Hmmm, I thought. This is in the classroom. I’d be working with the teacher and the kids. It would be a nice way to donate to the school. OK, I’ll do it. I told both girls’ teachers that if they needed volunteers, I was available.
In the end, our beloved Ms. X (kindergarten teacher to both Annabelle and Sophie) was without a parent volunteer, so I signed up to a project in her class, too.
The email went out to all volunteers from the art auction coordinator, soliciting our ideas. Or so I thought.
Annabelle’s project — a hooked rug — was already underway with another parent, I was told; I emailed that parent and offered to assist in any way I could. “I don’t know anything about making hooked rugs,” she emailed back. “Do you?”
Turns out, the coordinator had assigned her the project. That seemed odd to me, but I didn’t think much of it til it came time to tell the auction coordinator what I had decided to do.
I spent a lot of time making a decision. These projects are tricky and I’m not super-artsy, and I know how hard it is to work with a group of two dozen kids even when you are not trying to create something someone will want to buy for a lot of money. So I solicited ideas on Facebook, spent hours researching craft web sites, even emailed a couple women who run art blogs (including my favorite, The Long Thread – and that woman even responded!) and finally, after several evenings, came up with an idea, one that’s near and dear to my heart. I felt really good about it.
Last night, I emailed the coordinator:
i think i’ve landed on an idea for mrs. z’s class. i love the idea of having the kids draw self portraits. this would be involve them doing line drawings of themselves. i’ll take the drawings, make iron on transfers and embroider each. it sounds harder than it is — i only have very basic embroidery skills but i have been doing this with my kids’ drawings and i think it turns out nicely. after i’m done with all the squares i will find a parent who can help me make a quilt from the squares. (i’m not capable of making a quilt, but i know i can find someone who is.)
The coordinator responded:
Good morning! Do you have an example of “iron on transfers”? We had a bad experience with this last year. And we have an embroidery project already from Mrs. [teacher's name] class. I have a folder of other ideas should you want to see it? Let me know…. Best regards, [Auction Coordinator]
I was a little taken aback, I admit. I certainly don’t mind input, but this seemed a little dismissive and, well, sort of mean. But, wanting to be a team player, I responded:
I have done about a dozen of these projects already, which is why I feel most comfortable doing this. The kids would focus on drawing self portraits; I would do the embroidery. Can you give me details on the other embroidery project so that I can be sure there is not a lot of overlap?
And then I left for work. When I signed onto my email an hour later, I had two messages waiting for me from the auction coordinator. (Note: These are just as she wrote them.)
Good morning. It’s [another parent's name] using special paper for the background. The embroidering is over the top of the art paper. She has an example picture and a commercial sewing machine.
The husband/buyer of the “quilt with paper overlays”, last year was NOT HAPPY with the product he purchased with the heavy proding of the student. The opening bid of $50 was about $40 too much. Although we want collaboration of the students in some portion of the project…an artist/adult can make it worth buying; as well as bringing the child to observe Art not craft. I’m not being crabby but it was not pleasant. So, find a different way to use the line drawings. Best regards, [Auction Coordinator]
And Email #2, titled “Apology”
Good morning. My daughter let me know we should be Very Appreciative that you, well Known for Your Artistic Ability is helping us. So please don’t take insult to what I have said. I’m so passionate to upgrade this Art sense in our school and we have alot of Arizona Craft baggage people. Thank you for your efforts and don’t let me be a crabby old downer! Regards, [auction coordinator]
Upgrading from craft to art? At a school district that has no arts program whatsover, in a classroom filled with 7-year-olds, with a budget of $50? What sort of art does this woman expect the kids to produce? And who cares if the project isn’t perfect — really, are we expecting to purchase Picassos or trying to contribute to the school?
I am well aware that I can be difficult to work with, but I don’t see what I did in this case to deserve that big dose of nasty.
My first reaction — after okay, I’m offiicially done with this — was, “Wow, your elementary school-aged daughter had to tell you to apologize?”
Turns out, this woman is a grandparent at the school, which I learned 15 minutes later when another PTA mom called to say she’d heard about the fracas and begged me a. to not pull out of the project (too late, I’d already sent that email) and b. to not tell anyone what had happened.
Too late again. I’d already written the headline on this blog post. Frankly, I consider this a public service announcement.
More than once, since we’ve been at this school — which is not in a hoity toity neighborhood, not really, certainly no one around here deserves to have a ‘tude — other parents have mentioned to me that they have felt left out, that they’ve tried to volunteer and been shut down or poo poo-ed. This just happened a week ago, at a birthday party.
“Don’t be silly,” I’ve told these parents, trying to stand up for the women in the PTA I know are good, kind souls, figuring they’ll prevail. “It’s just your imagination.”