I now realise that the most reviled job in the world is being on the PTA. I used to think that politicians, estate agents or journalists were the worst regarded professions, but all of these have the saving grace of having a salary attached. If you are on the PTA not only are you deeply unpopular with most of the people you deal with, you have to take all this abuse for free.
With four children to hide behind I had always managed to dodge the PTA bullet, instead watching from behind the barricades it took out other more foolhardy souls, breaking their spirit of resistance and forcing them to forego their free time to try to raise funds for the school.
I used to marvel at how often I would see one such afflicted friend's car parked outside the school. It seemed that whenever I drove past she would be inside helping organise everything from cake sales to summer fetes. While she is a dear friend, she is generous with her time to a fault, so I used to think it was her inability to say no that led to her having all her free time sucked up by the PTA.
That was until I, in a rash moment, ended up on the PTA. With all my boys at the school I felt I had run out of excuses, so when another friend begged me to come along to the (always sparsely attended) PTA AGM I found myself volunteering to take on the job of joint vice chair.
Oh how I have come to rue that moment of madness. The reality of being in the firing line was much worse than I had anticipated.
There is a reason why there is no one at those PTA meetings – it's because most right thinking people are clearly aware that organising events for a school is probably the most thankless task you can take on.
Fellow parents seem to think that your decision to voluntarily give up your time to help the school raise funds for all the children who go there, means that you are instantly the go-to person for any gripes and complaints they have.
You simply cannot win – things are either too expensive or don't raise enough funds, events that have not been planned around each and every parent's personal timetable are inconvenient, events at school are boring, events outside of school are too hard to get to, if you serve food it has to cater for each and every allergy going, if you forgo food in the pursuit of an easy life, you get complaints that there is no food on offer. I could go on, and on, and on – some of the parents certainly do.
Oh, and then there's your plummeting popularity. Where once friends would be happy to stop and chat in the playground, now when they see you coming they get a hunted look in their eye and start searching for the nearest escape route. They are terrified that you are about to press gang them to help out on the cake stall or to serve hot drinks – they are right.
Running events is stressful and eats up enough emotional energy to power a small city, so obviously you want to spread the load amongst your closest friends. Sadly this means that your closest friends, quite understandably, begin to treat you as if you have some kind of nasty, communicable disease – let's call it PTAitis.
The only cure is to resign instantly so that they know they can chat to you without fear of their Saturday afternoon being consumed in a flurry of poorly iced fairy cakes and sweeping up crumbs. Remember that wonderful friend who devoted her life to the PTA? The only way she slipped out of its grip was to take a job that ate up her time in a similarly greedy fashion, but paid her handsomely for the privilege.
You would like to think that the teachers would appreciate your efforts. After all it's your hard work that pays for those new whiteboards, or books or iPads they so desperately crave. You would of course be wrong. In fact you couldn't be wider from the mark – teachers, I am told, regard the PTA as a bunch of housewives with nothing better to do with their time.
Now I would dispute this. I work and I have four young children to care for, so I would contend that I genuinely have plenty of better things to do with my time than putting posters up in the rain, traipsing round some godforsaken cash and carry to buy gallons of fizzy drinks or digging around in a cold shed for the Arts & Crafts sign. That said even if were simply a lady who lunched and my most pressing engagements were with a hair salon or a coffee shop, these would also definitely be a better use of my time than slaving away for the PTA.
The only saving grace this thankless and frankly downright unpleasant job has is that feeling you get when you see the children smeared with fluorescent icing as they gobble down a fairy cake bought from your cake stand, or when you see their glee at a bauble they have painted at the arts and crafts stall you made happen or as you watch the parents faces light up while they watch their precious child perform carols in front of an audience your efforts brought together.
That warm glow is all that keeps the guttering candle of enthusiasm alight, and what keeps you coming back for yet another hunt around the overcrowded shelves of the PTA cupboard or at your computer late into the night trying to come up with the perfect design for a poster that will make your next event irresistible.
What do you think? Are you on the PTA or have you dodged it?
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