birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

You Too Can Win!

I learned quickly. But not soon enough. The first rule of PTA meetings is NEVER make eye contact.

Of course, that knowledge came at a high cost. A cost of many hours, days and labor consuming tasks with spreadsheets, scissors, reams of paper and glitter pens.

One Fall morning, I decided I might go and see what the PTA meetings were all about. I had two small children, one in a 1st grade class, and the other in pre-school for a few hours each weekday. I innocently stepped into the elementary school’s Multi-Purpose Room to find it filled with chattering parents sitting at long tables set across the room. I was handed an agenda, a schedule of the meeting printed on a friendly pink sheet of paper.

I confess to not paying much attention. They began with reading minutes of the last meeting and discussed people and committees and events that were all unknown to me. Only one person in the room was even remotely familiar. I knew she was a parent of one of the children in my son’s class, although I hadn’t an inkling of her name nor which child was hers. I only caught a glimpse of her with the teacher at Open House Night.

I managed to get through the meeting, smiling and nodding at what seemed the appropriate times and was about to emerge onto the playground unscathed. But as I was leaving, two women came up to me and gaily introduced themselves. I was flattered to be welcomed so. That was short-lived however, when it came out that they were looking for a parent (read: victim) to be the third co-chair on the Magazine Drive Committee. It wasn’t so much that they had singled me out to welcome me to the club, but more as if they saw an unwitting rube they could conscript into the service. They REALLY NEEDED help and both had full time jobs so were not always available and anyway, It was so EASY! I lost my PTA virginity on my very first date.

The Magazine Drive was a fund raising event for the school that took place over two weeks. The children were cajoled into selling magazine subscriptions to their families, friends of their family, distant family members in other cities and even hawking them door-to-door or on street corners – if their parents would allow it. Right there, the whole thing was sounding kind of ugly. It was completely voluntary, BUT, the teachers ENCOURAGED the children to participate so each class could avoid the stigma of being the one without 100% PARTICIPATION! We, the committee, also devised an incentive program whereby classrooms and individual children could win prize money for EVERY SALE! We made a plan for the children to be paid in “BV Bucks” for their sales that could later be redeemed in the “PTA Magazine Drive Store!” full of rubbishy, trinket prizes and candy. I am ashamed to say I designed the FUN paper currency that became so coveted by the 600 child sales staff.

It took my every waking hour for a month. Spreadsheets, notebooks, going around giving pep talks in the classrooms, tabulating order sheets and double checking the money and the count of sales per student, manning the PRIZE STORE!

Over the ensuing months I saw mothers being sucked into the chasm of the Hospitality Committee – women who had to bring snacks and drinks to every school meeting, teacher appreciation day and birthday, Principal’s meetings and more. These women must have spent every day at the market and then home arranging cute gingham napkins in baskets to hold muffins and cupcakes before unloading tables and food and drink and décor in someone’s office or classroom. Then clean it all up. It looked like hell and the mothers were often trying to pass the position on as soon as they could. I felt relief that it wasn’t me. There were a host of other committees. The PTA had their fingers all over the school.

I soon learned to keep my head down in all future meetings as I could see that the speaker at the front of the room was forever seeking unwitting participants. I looked down at my printed agenda and ‘took notes’ – grocery lists, doodles, great American Novel - while they spoke up front. It was the best technique to avoid being shanghaied into an onerous committee chairmanship.

Eventually, I actually volunteered on purpose to do a few other things. I taught Art Docent sessions in the classrooms and soon took over the program because the mother who was in charge was disorganized and basically, absent. And I became the head of the Decorations Committee for several years for the School Fair run by the PTA to raise money for field trips and teacher supplies. That was fun. Arts & Crafts in large scale at some parent’s house, with lunch and chat and bad jokes and poster paint.

Birds in a Barrel

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