When you leave high school, you assume that you have left the petty bullshit behind- the cliques, the gossip, the jockeying for social position. You move on to your adult life thinking that from now on, everyone will be mature and kind to each other. College might have been a little cliquey but you found your way. It may have been tough to fit in at your first job after you graduated but that probably worked out just fine too. The next taste of high school-style behavior you will likely encounter is when your first child starts school. This was where I found out the hard way that the PTA is Mean Girls for grown-ups.
I was so excited when Claire began kindergarten. I genuinely wanted to help make her school a better place. I immediately began trying to meet other parents who felt the way that I did. I figured the best place to start was the PTA. After all, I wanted to be involved and what better way than by helping organize the events being held at the school? I could not attend the first meeting because of my work schedule but I began emailing with the president and filling out forms to let them know my strengths and where I might be best suited to lend my time.
As it turned out, no matter what those forms said I could contribute to the cause, the best place for me was apparently the same as a 1950’s housewife- in the kitchen. That fall, I was slated to volunteer at three events- the Back-To-School Fun Night, the Halloween Carnival and the holiday craft fair. I showed up at Back-To-School night and met the members of the PTA for the first time. They were busy and frazzled so I didn’t think much of their blase reaction to meeting me. They gave me a hair net and sent me to the back of the kitchen where it became my job to cut slices of pizza in half for us to sell. I was all alone and kind of bummed but I figured I was low on the PTA totem pole and needed to pay my dues. Someone had to do the grunt work, it may as well be the freshman! I figured we would all get to know each other later over coffee and scones like all PTA moms love to do.
Or maybe not. At the end of the Fun Night, I tossed my hair net into the garbage and went to talk to the other members but they barely registered my presence. I remember feeling like the youngest sibling in the family who has to jump up and down begging to be noticed. I left feeling a little miffed but not entirely discouraged- it was a busy night. Surely, at the next event, I would get to do something with a more social bent and maybe even make a friend.
The Halloween Carnival rolled around a few weeks later. By this time, I had attended a meeting and while I had not really made any friends yet, I at least hoped the dedication I was showing would earn me a job post where I could not be like the PTA Quasimodo stashed away from the towns folk in the bowels of the kitchen. The president walked up to me with her clipboard in hand and little visor tilted jauntily…..and handed me a hair net.
That’s right, I was again on pizza duty. I slunk back to the kitchen and assumed the position. I again spent the entire night alone (save for the pairs of moms coming back talking to each other and grabbing trays of pizza plates to bring out to the masses). This time, I left at the end of the night completely sad and a little pissed off. What about me said “all she can do is slice pizza”? Didn’t they notice on my forms where I said I was great at making up party games and could find my way around Pinterest with my eyes shut?
I spent the next several weeks brooding over my situation. What was I doing wrong? Why wouldn’t they talk to me or at least let me spend 15 minutes doing something other than slicing pizza? Would I have to spend the entire school year like this? Surely, they could not relegate me to pizza duty a third time. That would be just plain mean.
Except that is exactly what they did. I was really excited for the craft fair. I showed up a little earlier than they asked me to and started milling around the booths. I noticed several PTA moms interacting with the crafters, hanging up signs, manning the admission table and chatting amongst themselves. “This is it!” I thought to myself. This is where I will get to do something fun! I located the president when my appointed time rolled around, proverbial fingers crossed. She scanned her clipboard and once again, got out the hair net. You know how the rest of this tale unravels.
That was my last PTA event. Throughout these events and the three PTA meetings I attended, not one single member made any effort to talk to me beyond asking for my name. Anyone who knows me would tell you- I am a nice girl and very easy to get along with. I will admit to a case of Resting Bitch Face but I made a real effort to put a smile on my face during every encounter with these women. I decided to stop going back and stuck to volunteering only for my daughter’s classroom events where I had already met several very sweet parents that I am still acquainted with today. My PTA experience was just like high school only with yoga pants and mini vans.