Every good story needs a villain. Characters we all love to hate, like Cersei Lannister, Draco Malfoy, and Daddy Pig, move the plot along and unite us in rooting for their redemption or their downfall. In the story of our life, we also have villains. Be it the kid who teased us mercilessly in school, the one who first broke our heart, the boss with no soul, or the norovirus, these are our real life villains, and we love to hate them.
Every once in a while, though, a story comes along like Disney’s Maleficent and Maguire’s Wicked and you get a chance to see a villain in a hero’s light. This is my attempt at just that, a flipped perspective on one of the most-hated villains of moms with school-aged kids: The PTA Chair.
If television, film, and blog sites have taught me anything, it is that these one-dimensional women are to be feared, avoided and ultimately pitied. Even before our oldest children take their first steps into Kindergarten, we are already trained to view the PTA mom as a threat, able to expose and exploit our limited free-time and health shame us out of our busy morning Pop Tart habit.
When we do finally meet her, she will look like she is one hay bale ride away from winning the Mrs. Below the Mason Dixon Line beauty pageant. She might be nice, but we were warned not to be fooled. After all, she has a diabolical plan to get us to stay home all day baking, crafting, and scheming on how to rid the entire school of sugar and fun. The PTA mom is the villain of our midlife story, written to terrorize us with endless fundraising requests and passive-aggressive calls for our time.
When it was my time to send my oldest son to school, I prepared by mapping out a defensive strategy in my head to ensure I was out of the playground before the PTA crew started hunting for their next victims. I was new to the area, so while I was busy PTA dodging, I was also preventing myself from making new friends. After one too many afternoon episodes of Doc McStuffins with the youngest, I caved, as joining the PTA seemed to be the quickest route to friendships … or at least some adult conversation.
Seven years later, I am still part of the PTA, and have been a member, Vice Chair, and Chair. It hasn’t always been easy to find time for meetings or the will to volunteer for another school disco, and it’s not always fun, but the reality of the experience and of the people is so drastically far from the one we fear in our minds.
From my experience of PTA chairs and members, I have yet to see anyone that looks like they stepped out of a clothing catalog just in time for the school run. For me, most days I rock up to school drop off in at least half of what I slept in the night before. I rarely have any makeup on before 10:00am, and I go through about 5,000 hair bands each year from overuse of the ponytail to hide my unkempt morning hair. My kids have had the same packed lunch for years, sans any cut veggies and nothing specially shaped to look like anything but a plain sandwich. I have never worn pearls, I don’t fake a posh accent, or carry a notebook, latte, and fresh baked organic goods around with me all day. I’m just a struggling mom, like most of us, trying to manage life, work, children, and sometimes, the PTA.
Oh, and I can’t craft or bake for shit.
However, what I do have is a desire to see the school my kids spend most of their day at succeed, and am trying to do what I can to help them.
Before joining the PTA, I envisioned the meetings to be nothing short of what occurs in the Situation Room of the White House. Around the table would be a team of cliquey moms in their best pantsuits, engaging in intense and fiery discussions about bake sales and playground markings. Instead, my table is filled with a bunch of tired moms in various stages of being dressed for the day, clinging to their cup of freshly brewed coffee like it was everything. We chat about school, our kids, the pros and cons of vagina waxing, and somewhere in there, we plan a few events.
Our success is based on the understanding that we are all busy, we will all need to put our families first, we all like gin, and we all hate cutting paper. From that starting point, we try to make the best of the mundane projects (gin helps), and only take on what is reasonable to get done amid work, children, and all the stuff of life that every mother deals with.
Exactly zero people in the world, myself included, have the patience, motivation, and time to chaperone a school dance or fold a million paper swans. It’s soul-crushing work, but I do it when I can anyway to help the school, to help the teachers, and to embarrass the hell out of my kids when I dance the Electric Slide like a boss in front of all their friends. All of us on the PTA try to make the most of the tasks thrown our way with the help of conversations about Netflix serial killers, Cheetos, and the occasional gin and tonic — not gossiping about other moms, fighting over fundraisers, or plotting to take down any teachers we disagree with.
It’s a thankless job that literally no one wants to do, so a few of us step up each year to make sure not only that every kid gets a cupcake, but that the school has the money to provide the little extras that make for a memorable time for our children. If we ask for help, it’s because we really need it. Or we really want more perspectives on if Hugh Jackman can really sing or not at the next meeting.
So, when you think of a PTA mom, think less Alison Hendrix a la Orphan Black, and more of Sarah and Cosima, with Helena’s bad hair. And though some villains deserve to have a dragon torch a castle until it falls on their head, others, like the PTA moms, just need people to give them a little respect, understanding, three days alone in a sensory deprivation chamber, and a more accurate perception.