When I was a teenager I marched to the beat of my own drum. I didn’t really care much about what other people were doing — I was the type of person who wore prom dresses to school and chopped off all of my hair on a whim — so I never really fit in too many places, and didn’t see a point in making any effort to change that fact.
Fast forward 20-plus years to today, where I’m writing this while periodically checking my email for any last minute updates for our Parent Teacher Organization’s (PTO) upcoming Holiday Shop.
Some days I feel like I went straight from dyeing my hair vampire red with Manic Panic dye to maniacally slinging pies at our school’s fundraiser, shoulder to shoulder with the rest of my late-30s, early-40s moms. As if it’s not bad enough that I’ve become actively involved in my school’s PTO, I’m so into this whole thing that I actually serve on the board. And I regret to tell my cool former self … it really is all it’s cracked up to be.
I first ended up on the board when I was duped into joining by a friend who was also signing up. Like many people, I’d heard the horror stories about PTO (or PTA: Parent Teacher Association) moms who were over-the-top Stepford wives who had nothing better to do with their time. As someone with three young kids and a full-time job, I not only couldn’t imagine how I’d fit into that mold, but I wanted to be doing literally anything else with my time. However, I quickly learned that volunteering for these types of groups is actually so much more than stereotypical anecdotes make it out to be.
By getting involved with our elementary school PTO, I not only get to get the inside scoop about some of what’s going on at the school, but I get to have some influence over what goes on in the building where two of my three kids spend almost seven hours a day. No, I don’t get to influence curriculum — if I did you better believe I’d be saying “peace out, common core” — but I do get to help shape the events and programs we offer.
As an added bonus, I get to spend a lot of time in the building. I’ve come in to chaperone field trips, set up for events, and more. My kids go to a small school, so the chances of me running into them while I’m on campus is high. Listen to me: seeing the way your child’s face lights up when they catch an unexpected glimpse of you in the middle of the day as they’re cruising down the hall or sitting down for lunch is life-changing. I don’t care how uncool we all want to pretend it is — being part of the PTO kind of rocks.
And that’s not all … I’ve actually met a lot of people this way. Once you start working closely with the administration, you get to know a lot more than just your own child’s teacher. While my teen self would’ve thought this was super lame back in 1996, my 41-year-old self loves being able to chitchat with the staff charged with shaping the future for my kids.
Staff connections aren’t where it ends, either. I’ve actually managed to carve a few friendships out of the deal. People aren’t lying when they talk about how hard it is to make new friends as an adult. Not only do you have zero time and energy to put into going out and meeting people, but it’s so much harder to connect with strangers once you have several decades of opinions and experiences under your belt.
I’m sorry, but there is no adult equivalent of the relationship building that happens when your high school BFFs read the deranged poems you wrote after some senior breaks your heart. And while it’s next to impossible to recreate that same sort of vibe, the group chat activity in the days ahead of any type of PTO sponsored event is a good substitution once you hit middle age. It’s something we all have in common, and we can build friendships from there.
It may not be cool, and it may not be glamorous (more often than not I leave PTO events sweaty and filthy), but I have to admit that as a once-reluctant volunteer — joining the PTO definitely hits differently in your 40s.
My days of instantly becoming bonded for life with a stranger I only just met minutes before in the bathroom may be over, but I’m ready to embrace the next phase of my life where I have a half-dozen parents in a group chat who are just as excited as I am about ordering glow sticks for a dance party.
I hope you’ll consider joining me and signing up for your child’s PTO or PTA. Believe me when I tell you all the cool kids are doing it.
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