The totally worthless PTO

Our eldest child started kindergarten last week. It was an exciting time in our family and a big step for her. My husband took his last available vacation days to be able to see her off to school and be here to welcome her home for most of her first week. Kendall enjoyed every bit of this new experience and is already enthusiastic about everything related to school.

I am decidedly less enthusiastic with this experience so far. The car line during drop off as well as pick up is long and unorganized. Her teacher doesn’t believe in giving virtually any homework, leaving me at the mercy of my 5-year-old to enlighten me about what she’s done all day and how I can help reinforce her lessons at home. The little work I have seen seems silly and not challenging her skill level at all. But, I’m a former kindergarten teacher myself and I know that many of the things I am taking issue with will improve quickly as the school year progresses. But the PTO… they seem worthless with no hope of change.

My understanding of a Parent Teacher Organization was that it is an opportunity for the school faculty and administration to meet with a group of interested parents to make sure that everyone is working as a cohesive team so the children would be getting the most from this experience. The school could request needed volunteers, supplies, tutors, mentors and any other type of general help that parents could provide. Parents would have this opportunity to voice concerns about school policies, procedures and have general input about the goings on at the place our children now spend a majority of their time. That is not at all what this is.

First, I had to pay a membership fee to join the PTO. Pay?! For What?! Why should I pay to join an all volunteer organization that is mutually beneficial to both interested parties. The fee was minimal, only $12, but I was annoyed with it being required at all. What benefit am I, my child, or even this school getting from my husband’s hard earned $12?! Our family already provided all the supplies my daughter should need for the year, paid an annually assessed student fee and even bought a magnet for our car emblazoned with the school’s emblem which were being sold as a fundraiser. I read through some of the literature passed out at the school’s “Meet The Teacher Day” and learned that all the money would be going to the school for technology purchases and to build sun shades of the school’s playgrounds. I can get behind that. So I decided to pay.

I went to a membership drive the PTO was holding in the school’s cafeteria on the first day of classes. PTO members were easily identifiable by their matching shirts with the school’s logo, their name and their position on the PTO board embroidered on the chests. This was the one and only thing that would qualify these people as organized. They couldn’t be bothered to stop chatting amongst themselves to notice anyone had walked in the room. They forgot to bring membership forms and membership cards. They basically set up some juice, muffins and a cashbox with a woman who was more than happy to accept my check. Beyond that, no one gave a moment’s thought about that “membership drive.” It was laughable.

After paying the membership fee, I quickly left because the PTO members were quite wrapped up in their own conversations and didn’t seem interested in being welcoming at all. The minimal interactions I had with these women left me feeling like I was interrupting a private party.

So, what exactly is the point of this particular organization? Apparently, it is all about fundraising and event planning. From what I have learned from their literature and the school’s website, all they plan to do this year is organize a few after school events and raise money. I definitely agree that the school could use more money. School budgets in this country are ridiculous. Administration and faculty in our schools are generally asked to do so much with very little financial resources. I’m all about raising money to benefit my child’s school. After school events are a fabulous way to maintain a student’s enthusiasm and interest in school. But, is that really all this group of people can do?

By joining this type of organization, a parent is obviously stating that they are interested in being involved in their child’s school and education. So, why aren’t they doing anything that will actually help the school other than throwing money at it? Why are these PTO members in their crisp, matching shirts not standing outside in the car line ensuring that the line is moving efficiently and safely? Why weren’t they in the halls in the first week guiding frightened kindergarteners to their classroom in what, to them, must be a scary new world? Why was there no list of available volunteer opportunities in the cafeteria the morning of the membership drive to show the many ways we could really help this school do its terribly important work? I was baffled.

The more time I spend stewing over this issue the more I have come to the following conclusion: this group is, by all outward appearances, a totally worthless PTO. I have absolutely no desire to join a group of women more interested in creating a new social circle for themselves than they are in getting down to the business of work. This is going to be an issue for me. I lack the self control to not speak up at their meetings and blow those women right out of the water.

I worked in a school that had minimal parent involvement. There is no PTO at that school. Not because the parents don’t care, but instead because these families have, on average, a very low income. Families in that school generally consist of hard working parents who simply don’t have the time off of work, transportation or childcare available to commit to actively helping the school. They wouldn’t have the $12 to spare to join a PTO. Those families don’t pay a student fee and don’t get a school supply list. The principal  budgets the money needed to provide all necessary supplies for every student. Teachers and other staff bring their children’s old clothes and shoes to the school for the kids who arrive without a jacket or wearing ill fitting shoes, a common problem in my former school. I feel honored to have worked there, but I can definitely think of numerous ways that a few well placed volunteers could have helped to make our school better, our days smoother and improve their children’s education.

I am annoyed that my daughter’s school is content to have this group do little more than raise money. I am appalled that these parents are using this (terribly unorganized) organization as nothing more than their own opportunity to socialize. They are not going to be happy to have taken my money and invited me to their meetings. I cannot wait to find out when we will all be rolling up our sleeves to actually work to make this school even better. If they’re not interested in actually doing work to help this school, I’m going to make sure they’re at least forced to acknowledge it out loud.

Join the PTO? I’d be happy to! Where do I sign up?

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2% Milk

While my children and I were on our recent cross country trip, my husband was left to fend for himself. No big deal since he runs a fabulous restaurant. He eats there and comes home just to shower and sleep . I didn’t even bother with the shopping leading up to our departure. There wasn’t even any milk left in our house when we left. For a household with 3 small kids, that is rarity. Two days before we returned I sent a short list to my husband, just a few necessities to prevent a shopping trip immediately upon our return.

I didn’t notice the milk at first. I think the exhaustion of our long drive and nine days out of town was having a stronger impact on my brain than I realized. My 5-year-old daughter noticed it first. “Mommy, that’s green milk!” She was right. In our local supermarket 2% milk is capped with a green top and has a green label. It was wrong. Kendall knew it was wrong but the hubs didn’t know he had gotten the wrong milk. The milk itself is no big deal really. We usually drink 1% so the difference is minimal and, other than the different color bottle, our girls would probably never notice the change.

It got me thinking… What else does he not know? Let’s forget about shoe and clothing sizes. Those things change so frequently that they are easily forgotten. None of our kids have any allergies so that is a non-issue. Does he know the name of the baby’s medication or which pharmacy holds the prescription? Does he know the dose of the over-the-counter medication Kendall has to take daily? Could he identify the kids’ doctors? Does he know the passwords to our online accounts? Could he locate important documents? If something happens to me…  Oh my…

I have always told both of our mothers that if I am ever hit by a bus (or any other type of catastrophic event) my husband will need help. The reality is, he’ll need WAY more than help. He’ll need a new me to take over every non-work aspect of his entire life. His life, and possibly those of our children, would be thrown into a whirlwind. Obviously, my untimely death is one major issue, but not being able to access our money, pay our bills or obtain their medications during that time would make things so much worse. I don’t know for sure that he would know how to manage this household if I were suddenly gone.

I have known for a long time that I carry a heavier burden in this house. He goes to work and earns 100% of our income but beyond that nearly everything falls on me. I do everything to keep this family functioning and I worry about how this little family would manage if I could no longer do it all.

My worry is about this little family above all else. It is not at all about the fat content of milk.

The blog begins…

“Do you blog? You should write a blog about all of this.”  With those words an idea I couldn’t shake was planted in my head. My lovely midwife said this at a prenatal appointment while I was pregnant with our third baby. She was fascinated with the life that my husband and I had worked out for our family. At that time we were essentially living completely separate lives in cities 130 miles apart. My husband was working as the general manager of a restaurant in Clearwater, FL and I was living with our two daughters in Fort Myers, FL. He works such long hours that he would go to his mother’s house to sleep and come home to us on his one day off each week. We lived this arrangement for 364 days. During that time I had no choice but to figure it all out on my own. I had two young daughters and was progressing through my pregnancy with our son and I was, essentially, a single parent for a large majority of that time.

Now, let me insert one point here. I’m not complaining about any of this. I’m simply stating the facts of how our life was at that time. We decided that the kids and I would stay in the home we were in before my husband started at this job. We chose this because we lived in an otherwise vacant home owned by a family member and, in exchange for caring for the home, we paid no rent. In place of rent we were paying over $1100 each month for the health insurance that was covering our family including this third pregnancy. We did what was necessary for our family to stay afloat.

For a year I did everything needed to run our household 6 days each week and some weeks more than that. My husband has often gone long stretches without a day off for various reasons. I believe the longest we went without seeing him was 19 days. I made every meal, ran every errand, wiped every runny nose, woke every time child had a late night need. Our middle child, at three years-old, still doesn’t sleep through the night. But I’ll explain that in a future post. The point here is that I did it all.

After the birth of our son, my husband was given 5 days off to be with us before he left for work again. Lucky for me, he was able to take our oldest to school before leaving town and my mom brought her home so I had no need to leave home right away. I was 5 days into this adventure as a mother of three and I was alone for middle of the night feedings, diaper changes, circumcision care (a totally new and scary thing for me) as well as 100% of the care of our two older children. When he was eight days old I had to pack up my little man, get myself human looking again, dress both of my girls and get everyone out the door in time for school drop-off. This is the day I realized that I am a semi-single parent. The reality is, my husband sees his children for the same amount of time each week, on average, as a single dad who gets his children every other weekend.

So, the question I would get most often during this time was, “How do you do it?!” The answer is simple: You just do it. I was fortunate to live about a 20 minute drive from my mom and aunt. They were there to help as frequently as they could be and usually when I was about to go completely bananas. But for the most part my life was about never stopping for too long. I just always kept going.

Our situation has improved somewhat now. When our son was 3-months-old we cancelled the ridiculously expensive insurance and moved into a rental house in the Tampa Bay area. We live about 20 minutes from the restaurant so the hubs can come home every night. But that doesn’t mean his schedule has changed. He still works 85+ hours each week spread over six days. He sees our children for about two hours each morning before reminding them all to behave and kissing everyone goodbye. Have you ever heard the term “golf widow”? It refers to a woman whose husband has retired but spends his life golfing, leaving her alone. I am a restaurant widow.

I plan to write about my experiences parenting three children and this crazy life we are living primarily without the help of one important person. I hope you find this blog intriguing, enlightening, comical and maybe even a little bit nutty. Mostly, I just want to share my experience in hopes that you can find a little something similar to yours.

~The Restaurant Widow.Wilde Quote