“Come to the PTO meeting” said the paper my daughter brought home from school.
I hesitated. Meetings really aren’t my bag. I mean, I volunteered at school sometimes. I’m not officer material, not interested in heading up large event committees. I am conscious of not spreading myself too thin. I served here and there, helped out in the classrooms a little, had even organized a small celebration for students who were named Good Citizens each quarter. The Nerd Party, I secretly called it. In the most loving way, of course. My kids were sometimes two of the nerds who were celebrated. I was always happy for those kids. And honestly, if you have to throw a party for a large group of kids, you want the group to be comprised of ones who are being celebrated for good behavior. You just do.
But I had never been to a PTO meeting. It seemed painful – a bunch of parents and teachers sitting on uncomfortable chairs in the library, signing up for things like setting up and tearing down and serving punch. The letter brought the guilt in a big way. “You’re a slacker,” it should have said. “You’re ruining your kids’ memories. They will suffer because you were too lazy and selfish to get involved.”
So I went.
As I sat in the student-sized chair that threatened to embarrass me by either tipping over or bending under my firmly adult weight, I signed my name to the attendance roster and shook the thoughts from my head that I didn’t really belong there. I was a parent, after all. I had as much of a say in what goes on in these meetings as any other person in the room. Furthermore, I had ideas. I was always gifted at brainstorming, and I would not volunteer for anything too big. I could help, but I wouldn’t over-extend myself.
After I nodded my hellos to all faces familiar and unfamiliar, the meeting started. Matters discussed first were previous events: how things went and if they were a success. I listened to the positives and the negatives, and noted the complainers. Why do people insist on complaining about things in the past, I wondered. There are always people who have nothing good to say about anything.
Then, a call for new ideas on how to improve a time-honored event at the school – Grandparent’s Day. Logistics were the topic at hand. The previous year, grandparents complained that they didn’t have enough time to visit children, that parking was inadequate, they couldn’t take children out of school for lunch, they couldn’t eat lunch at school because the cafeteria was too small. The parents and teachers argued about every detail – the teachers thought the time was too long, the parents thought the time was too short, everybody thought the parking was a mess. And what to do about the students who don’t even have grandparents? They are left out every year. There were no viable solutions, only complaints and arguing.
What a mess, I thought.
You know that feeling you get in your chest when you have something important to say, that sort of tightness and fast heartbeat that indicate that you need to get it out or you will regret it later? Yeah. I need to ignore that feeling.
I raised my hand.
I cleared my throat as everyone quieted for me to speak. “Um, it sounds as if there really aren’t any solutions to these problems. Grandparents aren’t happy with the way their day is run, teachers aren’t happy because it’s a wasted school day, and parking is a real problem. We are wasting this meeting arguing about it. Have we ever considered scrapping the whole idea?”
The looks on the faces of the parents in the room told me that nobody had considered scrapping any sort of PTO tradition EVER in the history of PTO traditions.
Suddenly one woman shot out, “Easy for YOU to say! All of your kids’ grandparents live out of town! They probably won't come anyway!”