My parents belonged to my elementary school’s PTA. Them and about five others. I don’t what they actually did at the PTA meetings because they were held behind the closed doors of the faculty lounge that reeked of stale coffee, cigarettes and boredom.
Kids weren’t allowed; we were sent to roam the dark halls of our tiny school, vandalizing the bathrooms by tossing the gritty pink soap around like fairy dust. Eventually we’d find our way to the gym where we’d swing plastic beaded jump ropes around like a helicopter blades until it inevitably wrapped around someone’s neck.
Those were the good old days. Those were the days when PTA involvement meant something – namely that your child had a get-out-of-jail-free card.
I vandalized my fifth-grade classroom during a PTA meeting. I switched the contents of my fellow classmates’ desks. I powdered the room with chalk dust. I may have even “borrowed” my teacher’s oversized Disneyland pencil – the kind so long, that the eraser end beat against your forehead as you wrote. I was called into the Principal’s office the next morning and I admitted everything. It was perhaps the greatest crime ever committed during my tenure at Sunnyland Elementary and I got off with a warning.
My dad built the playground. He hand carved the school’s sign. My mom owned and operated the cotton candy machine that was the highlight of the school’s annual Halloween party. Owning that machine was equivalent to having a Ferris wheel in your backyard.
My point is, I realized at a young age what the PTA really stood for: Protecting The Assets. So this year I promptly handed over $5 to Ava’s elementary school to secure my membership in a club that I thought would guarantee my pig-tailed asset special treatment.
Yeah, me and 1,400 other people.
“Were we supposed to dress up?” my husband Ray lamented as we pulled into the school parking lot bustling with families looking as if they came directly from a SEARS portrait sitting.
Dress up? In 1982, all you had to do was show up.
Yes, times have changed. Today numerous letters and emails are sent home, inviting parents to the meeting. In the good old’ days you invited only the people you liked and you did so by untraceable means: word-of-mouth. And now there’s an itinerary, a guest speaker, a PowerPoint presentation with clip art from Windows 95 and, worst of all, the use of parliamentary procedure.
Nothing seems more out of place than parliamentary procedure conducted in an overcrowded gymnasium that looks and sounds like the mall soft play area on a school holiday. It seems that nowadays, parents are “encouraged” to bring their children to the meeting, but their children are not encouraged to roam freely, set fires in garbage cans or stuff paper towels into the sink drains. Instead, children are encouraged to sit quietly in a roomful of their peers and endure sixty minutes of parentspeak. Needless to say, only those placated by smart-phone technology succeed.
I took notes. I smiled and nodded attentively at the guest speaker hoping he would see me from the nosebleed section and later ask my name, write it down and pass it up the chain. The woman in front of me played on her phone. Some yelled at their children to give their phones back so they could play Angry Birds. Most talked amongst themselves. I wanted to revoke their membership rights then and there. I wanted to take back the PTA night – directly back to 1982.
Mostly I wanted to run to the closet and pull out a beaded jump rope and hang myself with it, but I’m sure like everything else those ropes have been replaced by better and safer cloth versions that feel warm and fuzzy around your neck. I don’t want warm and fuzzy. I want cutthroat.
PTA today is like Facebook. Anybody can join. This parental over-saturation only means one thing: my child is one of many. A plebe. A cog in the machine. A part of a – gasp! – democracy.
Where’s the favoritism? The bias? Is nepotism really dead?
No, in spite of what I’ve seen, I still believe it is alive and well. And it comes in the form of a cotton candy machine.