I have a cousin who once told me that, “just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean that someone’s not out to get you.” And I think that’s true. Oh so true. I am convinced at this point that the PTA is, in fact, out to get me. They’ve picked up my scent. They’re hot on my heels. And it’s only a matter of time before the house of cards I have built to hide within comes tumbling down around me.
I could already feel myself sliding down the slippery slope of failure as a parent within the world of elementary school without the added pressure of the PTA breathing down my neck. Getting my son up, dressed, fed and into his car seat everyday on time is a major accomplishment. I pack his snack, and now lunch, daily. Recently, I actually read the menu I had previously disregarded, happy in my ignorant bliss, allowing him to purchase his lunch in the cafeteria. One less thing to remember. He had been thrilled to independently choose his food each day. Now, I know why.
I quickly learned to never, ever remove his book bag from the car and risk that by some horrific mistake, I might leave it behind in the garage. It’s sort of the parental version of sleeping in your clothes so that you don’t have to get dressed in the morning, except that I am far from a child. But the truth is that since this school year began, I have been held hostage by the terror that inevitably one of these days I am going to forget something, something of importance, and I can tell you right now that my fear of the PTA pales in comparison to my son’s cherubic, wholly critical face if I were to actually forget something of his. He forgets nothing, misses nothing. I was informed by his teacher that a green folder would go home each Tuesday with all of the information for the week to be emptied and returned to a specific bin promptly on Wednesday morning. Every Tuesday afternoon, I empty the contents of his green folder, while standing in the driveway so as to not remove the backpack from the minivan nor the folder from the backpack. Everything stays firmly, safely, reliably planted in the car. One Wednesday morning, while dropping him off in his classroom, I was slow to retrieve his green folder from his backpack, and he immediately made the assumption that I had forgotten it. My child has a temper, is exacting and can be hard on me if he thinks for some reason that I’ve missed the proverbial boat. In fact, he will make an outstanding leader of a detail-oriented committee exactly like the aforementioned PTA, most likely someday in the not-so-distant future. He whirled around with that little cherubic face (he looks a bit like the cuties on the old fashioned Campbell’s Soup cans), plump cheeks burning red hot, eyes fiery, glared at me accusingly and spat, “Mommy, you forgot my green folder!” Not so cute off the soup can and furious. “No,” I replied calmly (I try to remain reasonable when treated inappropriately by my children, especially under the pressured stare of other parents trying their best to pretend to look the other way.), “It’s still in your backpack.” He knew it was Wednesday, knew it was green folder day, and knew it belonged in that bin. He was relieved. All was right in his world.
But the PTA. The PTA is complicating things for me. They are constantly creating more for me to remember. More details and expectations for me to potentially forget, for me to potentially fail.
The Fall Festival was planned for five thirty on a Friday. My son had of course seen the flyers and advertisements provided by the PTA for the Fall Festival, which meant there was definitely no escaping attendance. Too early for my husband to accompany us, I would be forced to take my two preschoolers alone. Inevitably, they would immediately head in opposite directions. Knowing that as the scene became increasingly chaotic I would be forced to choose from moment to moment, whom I would keep my eyes on and who would be left to whichever nefarious neighborhood predator had unwittingly gained access to the event. I anticipated the date with a helpless anxiety all week.
The previous Friday a flier came home in his backpack from the PTA. Officially, the following week was announced as “Red Ribbon Week.” The red ribbons were symbolic of the children’s flat refusal of any illicit drugs. They’re five so apparently it’s never too early to start. Each day of the week had a different requirement as a demonstration of their rejection of drugs. Monday was “wear your sunglasses day “ to “block out the glare of drugs,” or some such slogan. “Crazy sock day” was Tuesday. I was armed with a pair of his white socks and a Sharpie. Even if I had been blessed with clarity regarding what might constitute a “crazy sock,” I had no time for an extra trip to Target, so I would take my best shot. “Wear your shirt backward day” and “wear a red shirt day” and some other day that I’ve blocked out of consciousness were all listed as the week progressed. Good God. Was this necessary? How was I going to remember all of this? Unless somehow I really focused, I knew I would get it wrong, sending him in Sharpie-decorated socks on red shirt day and in a red shirt on wear your shirt backwards day. I put the list by the door and spent an hour searching for his sunglasses.
When Monday arrived, I got him up, dressed, fed, teeth brushed, combed his wild bed head, packed the snack, the lunch, all the usual heroics. By the way, I do all of this times two because I have another child who goes to an entirely different school, but that’s a different article for another day. Then I forced him to wear the sunglasses. All the way to school and then into the school. We walked into the classroom, I looked around and he was the only kid out of the thirty kids in his classroom wearing sunglasses. I turned to the classroom assistant who was struggling with an unhappy child off to the side, and asked, “Where are the sunglasses? Isn’t today sunglasses day?” trying not to sound too aggressive because I was somewhat outraged that every single kid in that room wasn’t donning a set of shades. That’s when I noticed that the Red Ribbon Week flyer from the PTA I had received in my son’s backpack on Friday was still in almost every other child’s cubby in that room. My son was the only one who had noticed the PTA’s flyer, remembered to pack it in his backpack and brought it home.
The final irony is that the PTA wants me to join them. First, the pleas came via email for more moms to join. My son’s class had less participation within the PTA than the other classrooms. “We need a better showing to keep up with the other classrooms, and won’t you please join?” There was apparently a competitive element of some sort occurring among the classrooms. Mothers discussed it at pick up. “Are you going to join?” says one. “I don’t know, I guess so,” says the other. And then I was bribed, promised by one of the members that if I joined I would receive perks unavailable to non-PTA members. Coupons to local amusement parks would be gifted to me. “Really, you should join,” she coaxed. These woman obviously don’t know with whom they are pleading, as I am honestly the last person they want on their PTA. Interestingly, I harbor a great deal of admiration as I envision them in groups carrying clipboards in one hand and a plate of home baked cupcakes balanced on the palms of the other. Obviously, they are able to manage their own households and design campaigns against drug use, tied prettily with red ribbons while seamlessly detailing the evening’s events for the upcoming Fall Festival. Simultaneous achievements I could fantasize about and even aspire to, but never comfortably accomplish. I am consciously aware of my limitations and where my actual talents lie.
But even with my admiration in tact I can’t help but ignore and admit that the PTA conjures Hollywood projected images of the traditional Italian mob from the far reaches of my subconscious, as the suggestions to join are always fraught with meaning, undertones of greater implications. Under the promises of belonging, and camaraderie is always the subtext, and possible ramifications, questioning your commitment to the school, the community, and your child if you were, on the off chance, to say, “no.” As a stay at home mom in our child-based suburb, why on earth wouldn’t you join the PTA? That is if you love your child and care about their education? You do, don’t you?
As time goes by, I hold my ground, not having volunteered and not having joined. Not having signed any sign-ups, I lay low and have begun to tread more cautiously as I travel down the cleaning isle on my weekly trips to Target. I wonder if this will be the week that an anonymously hard swung Swiffer takes me out from behind. I will lie on the floor of the Target, temporarily unconscious with the seemingly innocuous and yet really so ingenious and convenient Swiffer, a miracle of modern innovation lying at my side. No permanent damage done, but the message clear. No one will have seen a thing. That is if my son doesn’t take me out first.