Let Me Tell You The Truth About The PTO

It’s probably not what you think.

Originally Published: 
A multi-colored collage of women texting, a bake sale sign and a to-do list
Scary Mommy / Getty
Back To School

While some of my predecessors spent months campaigning for the role with posters and cute slogans, I was not jonesin’ for the job. In fact, I was incredibly resistant. But to say I was tricked feels dramatic, so instead, I will say I was gently nudged under slightly false pretenses to join the PTO board of my sons’ elementary school. But one of my favorite teachers pulled a desperate hail mary request at the 11th hour, and I felt I couldn’t say no.

So here I am, now with a year of co-presidency under my belt, and I can confidently say: The PTO board isn’t exactly what you think. I mean, maybe sometimes it is, but in my years worth of experience I think there are a lot of truths that the people need to know. And lucky for you, I’ve got ’em.

First and foremost, we are not a bunch of type-A stay-at-home moms. Well, I’m type-A, but our vice president usually runs around with her pants on fire and once had a bag of dog-crap hanging from her rear window in the middle of the school pickup line. That’s not a metaphor, by the way, and she’d be the first to tell you all about it.

We are five very different personalities, a combined island of misfit toys, but together we operate successfully. Some of us obsess over lists and containers and others roll in a little late to meetings, having forgotten pens. There is a spot for anyone! We aren’t all super sweet, artsy, or creative. We drop F-bombs (some more than others), and when I tried my hand at face painting for carnival practice, I made a pirate’s eye-patch look like a hot dump on the right eye of a fellow board member.

What does unite us is the fact we’re all hustlers. All of us are wrangling a few part-time jobs, side gigs, or extra kids on top of our PTO titles. There is little time for cute coffee chats and pastries. Instead, we pepper an often discombobulated text thread (thanks to one mischievous Android user) on a daily basis with an overflowing list of tasks to get through. Somehow we get it all done, but it’s often messy. And that’s OK.

Oh, and it is a f*ck-ton of work. Like, holy-crap-I-had-no-idea, I-kind-of-want-to-cry level work. It’s not just cute little bake sales and teacher gifts — it's a daily grind to complete a ton of tasks that teachers and students rely on for the school year. It’s emptying and organizing the lost and found, planning all of the school field trips and enrichment, attempting to shower the teachers with appreciation, running field day, researching important ways to enhance the school, attending meetings, and then figuring out ways to raise thousands and thousands of dollars to make it all happen. It is at least a part time-job, with no paycheck — thank God it can feel very rewarding in moments.

And finding help along the way, for various projects throughout the year, is a hell of a lot harder than you might think. Did somebody say field trip? Field day? Oh, the volunteers will come running. Event setup, committee meeting, fundraiser planning — now that’s a shorter volunteer list. And very typically it is the same very small crew of helpers, or a couple that a board member has bribed. I think it is because people assume we always have all the help we need, or that their other commitments wouldn’t allow them the necessary time to help. But the truth is, we can accommodate you — and we don’t really have time for all of it, either!

And we appreciate the helpers (even the quick, one-timers) more than we could ever express. Because it’s not about who did what. We aren’t in it for titles or credit; in fact we kind of roll our eyes at the whole thing. So however you can contribute, we are forever grateful.

And the most shocking truth of all is that these people will become your true friends. I had never met three-fourths of the remaining board members prior to the start of the year and now they have become some of my foxhole people. They stocked my fridge when my family was sick, offered to pick the kids up from school during a difficult stretch, and showed up with support on hard days. This weird, unconventional group — one that spent a year in the trenches of PTO madness together working toward a common good — are now a solid unit of success and friendship. Who the hell would have thought?! Not me. (But we still need more help! Sign up today!)

Samm D. is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot.

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