“You got your Freshmen, ROTC guys, Preps, J.V. jocks, Unfriendly black hotties, Girls who eat their feelings, Girls who don’t eat anything, Desperate Wannabes, Burnouts, Sexually Active Band Geeks, the greatest people you will ever meet and the worst: Beware of Plastics.”
Mean Girls. Don’t lie, you know you’ve seen it. It’s a fantastic movie about the odd social hierarchy that has ruled the hallways of American high schools for years. And while it’s mostly tongue in cheek, it’s fascinatingly accurate. Guys, you might not know this, but girls are mean. Like, really mean. And holy cow, as they get older and approach middle age, they get meaner, and sometimes they even get smarter.
That, my friends, is a really bad combination. And when they ship their spawn off to school for the first time, they realize that THEY CAN GET THE GANG BACK TOGETHER. And they’re no longer Plastics. They have a new name: The PTA.
I’ve never felt the urge to be terribly involved at my kids’ school. When my oldest started kindergarten, I had a three-day old newborn and a two-year old at home. Volunteering was just sort of out of the question at that point—plus, my kid rode the bus to and from school each day, so I’m certain I actually stepped foot inside the school twice; once for Open House, and once for Parent Teacher Conferences. When the oldest boy was a first grader, we moved to Colorado. After a year of getting settled, the middle boy was entering Kindergarten. It was at this point that it dawned on me that maybe I should, you know, do more at school. I was also ready to meet more “friends with kids,” and in my naïve mind, volunteering at school seemed like a good way to do that.
I entered the Lion’s Den (no, not the porn shop) one Thursday in November when I attended my first PTA meeting. And there, right before my eyes, was the main mean girl herself—Regina George come to life, only now she’s 40 years old. Her Lululemon pants were proudly on display—no knock-offs for her. Regina’s crowning glory is still her hair. It’s long and horrendously impractical for her lifestyle, but there’s no way she would Rapunzel that shit, for fear of losing her identity as “The Queen.” Flanked on her sides are her very own “Gretchen” and “Karen,”circa 2017. They are the PTA President, Fundraising Chair, and Membership Chair, and it’s clear they run the show—the whole show. And they’ve been running it for years.
They sit at a long table at the front of the library with what look like binders full of women; two Starbucks cups per person -which you can decipher via the lipstick stains on each one- and the ultimate Mom status symbol, the (fake) designer bag. Regina stands up to reach for one of her binders and her impractical workout jacket spills open – I see that she’s STILL wearing an “I’m with Her” campaign shirt. It’s a week out from Thanksgiving, so you do the math. It is clear as the clocks ticks down to 6:30pm that I am about to be entirely entertained.
The PTA meeting itself was relatively uneventful until the end when everyone was gathering their belongings to hurry home to pour their large-ish glass of Chardonnay. That is precisely when “Regina” stood up and announced the executive board’s latest and greatest idea for a fundraiser. They would be hosting a party…..no, not a party, a fucking gala! Not only that, but a gala where they would be raising funds for a new playground and celebrate the accomplishments of the PTA.
“Did she say playground?” I remember thinking, wondering what in the world was wrong with the playground outside. In addition, I also knew that my kindergartener’s class sits on the floor while they’re doing their writing and math because there wasn’t enough money left to buy chairs for a third kindergarten class at the beginning of the school year. She gave no other details that evening. On the way out the door, a Regina wannabe handed out a sheet of paper that I realized on my way to my car was a copy of the budget. I literally stopped in my tracks when I saw the bottom line. The school PTA had $150,000 in the bank. Again, no chairs in the classroom—but playground!
Don’t let anyone tell you differently; the PTA is all about serving up whatever services them. And, they give zero you-know-whats about any injustice that may be served on the side. In my opinion, it’s supposed to be an organization that supports the teachers and, through that support, facilitates parental involvement in a school. The Mission Statement of the National PTA is “To make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.” I got home, and I couldn’t believe what I was reading on the this poorly done accounting ledger. The PTA had given each teacher $200 to spend on supplies for their classroom at the beginning of the year. I scoffed at that, as I myself had spent nearly that much on each child simply buying what was on the supply list for a kindergartener and third grader. I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t seen any teachers at the meeting, and nary an administrator. Most monies were allocated to the following header: “Student Prizes.” Student Prizes? What the heck was that? Something didn’t add up.
But I was about to find a way for the PTA to spend some of that cash. On Friday mornings, I read to the Kindergarteners. They’re so full of wonder and excitement and happiness that for 20 minutes or so you will not feel like the world is going to hell in a handbasket. It was on the Friday following the meeting that a little girl raised her hand after we finished our book. I will never, ever forget what she said. “I like coming to school. I like coming to school to see my friends. I think about my friends when I’m sad in my Mom’s car at night.” I stopped and locked eyes with the teacher, who looked as bewildered as I felt. “Talk to me later,” she mouthed. What was she saying? Could she actually mean she lived in her car?
The teacher explained the situation to me. Long story short, the girl’s father had skipped town. The mother had gotten behind on the rent and defaulted, leading to an eviction. They slept in her truck and bathed in gas station bathrooms. That afternoon, I sat with the Mother on the (fully functional) playground swings while we waited for the dismissal bell to ring. I had seen her before—I wondered why she wore ratty sweatpants every day and seemed unkempt, and I was ashamed at how I’d passed judgement on her and her child in the past.
“Please don’t say anything,” she pleaded. “Please don’t say anything because she loves it here and I don’t want them to take her from what she loves.” Something about how she phrased it struck me at my core. She didn’t care about her daughter being taken from her—she knew that she had made some bad decisions and that they were negatively impacting her daughter. But she didn’t want her to be removed from school, a place where she felt loved and safe and happy. It was at that moment that I decided that my mission would be to get this woman back on her feet and make sure that her daughter had what she needed to start down the road to success. I already knew from an earlier conversation that the teacher had bought her a winter coat and gloves and boots and bought her school supplies. I also found out that she kept a little toothbrush and a hairbrush in her desk, and quickly and quietly every morning, she brushed her teeth in the classroom sink and tied her hair back. I knew I couldn’t say anything to the administration for fear of interference. Somebody needed to make this child’s potential a reality. And, what do you know: that’s the Mission Statement of the PTA.
So, I called The President Head Bitch in Charge.
Without naming names, I explained the situation. I explained that I felt this was a perfect opportunity to make some holiday magic for a family in desperate need. That we couldn’t control the Mother’s decisions in the future, but we could make sure they had a hotel room for a few weeks, some food to eat, and some clean clothes and toiletries. I told her that I would initiate everything and even take up an anonymous collection among parents to help offset the cost to the PTA, but that it would be nice for her to feel like she had the school community rallying around her. I was quite proud of myself for my spiel and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I used notecards to remind me of my points.
She sighed. Deeply. “I’m sorry. What was your name? I have so much on my mind.” Before I could answer, she went on, “This isn’t something we do. We work very hard as an organization to ensure that we can support the school and the students. There are so many things to buy and do that if I responded to something like this, we would never have money to spend on anything else.” Immediately my thoughts flashed back to the accounting ledger. “Hey, I get it,” I said, “I was at the last meeting and clearly you have a lot on the agenda. But, just for my own clarification, what does ‘Student Prizes’ cover?”
“OH!” Prez was suddenly excited. “We reward students for hitting their fundraising goals! It’s such a wonderful system and we’ve brought in literally thousands of dollars more in fundraising that we’re able to turn back around to students and their families.” I suddenly remembered the large check the boys had asked me to write towards the school Fun Run. They had needed to raise a certain amount of money so they could get Ice Cream from a food truck and use a bounce house during a Friday afternoon at school. I didn’t think about it at the time, but what did the parents do who couldn’t write a larger check? I realized they didn’t write the check, and probably didn’t think about it for a minute longer. But while my kids were enjoying the bouncing, their kid was sitting inside a classroom with a handful of others, sad.
I hung up the phone and I started paying attention. I realized that the PTA was encouraging an exclusionist culture based on social hierarchy. The kids who had parents who could afford to fund the PTA’s wishes were rewarded with lavish parties and prizes, while the kids who didn’t were left in the dust. It was making the kids mean and competitive about things they shouldn’t be competitive about. It was encouraging a “me” culture and it was ugly how the students (including my own) felt entitled to receive something instead of personal satisfaction. It made me mad that no one was helping the students who really needed help. It made me mad that, like in high school, nobody fucks with The Plastics.
I won’t bore you with the details of how I spent the rest of the year fucking with The Plastics, nor will I lie and say it ended well for me—it mostly ended with me drinking an extra glass of champagne (see above). The president pulled my hair on the school playground during an argument in the pick-up line (no lie), and I may or may not have considered keying her car when I realized that she drove an SUV with eyelashes on the headlights. When you become a pariah at an educational institution for bucking the system, it doesn’t bode well for your own kids, but I’ve already decided that my kids aren’t attending school there next year. We’re attending another neighborhood school that isn’t ranked as highly, and frankly, that’s okay.
My run-ins with the PTA made me realize that there’s more to school that STEM and Common Core and raising thousands of dollars towards state of the art playgrounds. Maybe what we’re missing as a society is teaching our children that they’re not entitled to anything in this world. That giving is more important than receiving. That it’s okay to work hard to reach your own potential, but if you have a little extra, you should help the guy next to you, too. The world is cut-throat soon enough. When these little humans are under ten, we need to teach them the basic values of hard work, kindness, and giving back while we are making sure that they ALL feel loved and safe and happy. I wish I could have Cady Heron’d my Regina George. But, maybe that wasn’t the point. Maybe I learned a little about myself and about what it will take to raise successful children into adulthood in today’s world. I’ve decided in the future I’ll ditch the PTA and focus on that task. A little part of me believes the HBIC will get what’s coming to her anyway. You can’t drive an SUV with eyelashes and not.
Want details on the hair pulling. Did you get any of that long luxuriant weave of hers out?
Well done Ms. M!
Amen Sister – Amen.
We try to be involved with our school out of a selfish or realistic interest to make sure we know what’s going on. One of the dads, whose son is actually nice enough, is a total douche. He mentioned that he went to private schools through high, in retrospect it was probably an attempt at a humblebrag to get me to ask where he went. I got a kick out of telling him about all the fights at my high school. Mind you, my high school was probably one of the best and safest public schools in the country at the time.
Nothing makes me angrier than middle aged people sitting on a pile of money and not helping anyone. However, as good as this article was, you get – 1,000,000 Internet points for not working “fetch” into the piece.
Stop trying to make fetch happen. 😉
It’s scary how close this is to the way my wife describes her few interactions with the PTA. Self-absorbed, back-stabbing, passive-aggressive trophy moms in yoga pants. I could watch for hours.
When I think about all the infections those women have from those yoga pants…. ewwww!
Look it up. Make sure you find an article with pictures.
@ DirtRoads :
Here’s a tip I figured out in my Teens :
If you can’t drag your nose through it, keep your pants on .
You’re welcome .
Here in New York City parents are barely active in the schools at all. The public schools here are taken for granted and they are nothing more than babysitting services.
When I was a kid we sold chocolate or other items in order to finalize which allowed us to go on trips and to get some items for school. Now the public schools here have put forward 101 rules against fundraising inside the school in order to ensure no one owns money that the city isn’t aware of or taking cuts from. These kids are so lazy and inept that you’d never be able to get them to sell anything anyway.
As far as “money for the classroom” we have what is called “teachers choice” where teachers are given a whole $140 to spend on the classroom. During the year teachers are more likely to spend more than $500. If they do not have sufficient receipts to prove that they spent the $140 they get it docked from their paycheck by the end of the year.
The public school system here is an absolute failure. There are a few schools which are highly segregated and populated mostly by Asians (more than 70%) that are doing very well but the majority of the rest of them are in very young degrees of failure. Bronx high school science, Stuyvesant, Cardozo, Townsend Harris, Louis pastor.
Go into any of the rest of these public schools and you would think that you were at a bazaar. The hyperactive savages have turn the libraries into a loud and profane environment and the neo-Liberals have made it so the students can’t be disciplined or punished.
Most of them are going to end up deep in student loan debt and won’t be able to get a job because they’re so poorly disciplined and poorly skilled. We aren’t really preparing them for much of anything.
My older sister just retired from the NYC public schools. She told me she would have hung on for another five years if she thought the bureaucrats would have let her actually teach.
Old folks have always complained about the young, but as a society we’ve created a generation of utter nincompoops who have no regard for free speech and true discourse but have tremendous regard for their own feelings.
Always with the playgrounds. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who taught small children died in the days that were meant to lead up to her wedding. She taught the small children of people who chose to spend $22K a year on kindergarten. I suppose that isn’t really so much by the standards of NYC area pre-prep schools, but it is setting the bar high enough that I doubt many of her bohemian downtown San Diego friends would be able to bridge it. Her memorial service was held at her school, whose beautiful campus was well suited, even if the presences of her confused little students with their support entourages and her wedding party made the whole thing brutally sad.
IIRC, the design of the campus featured free-standing classrooms; each one its own building. Each one also had its own elaborate playground. Someone determined that the tributes to our dead friend and the school’s dead employee should take the form of a fund to build *****’s Dream Playground. How anyone looked at this school and determined it needed another playground is beyond me. How this teacher’s friends wound up funding the construction of a playground for the children of people who spend more money than most people make watering their lawns struck me as surreal. The fund raising went on for at least a year though, and the solicitations for contributions and events took on a life of their own. The playground is built, but now my dead friend has an eponymously named fund at the school.
Yeah, the playgrounds are _so_ remarkably important to a school. Our public elementary had a two-year drive to replace our “unsafe” 25-year-old playground equipment with newer stuff. First week of the new gear? A kid fell off and hurt themselves.
You are not alone in your PTA dealings. While I’m lucky to default out of most PTA shit simply because of my gender, I’ve had my share of run-ins with the LuLaRoe-clad ladies in charge.
Your example with the underprivileged kid getting left behind socially and financially isn’t unusual, either. Our school pulls from three diverse subdivisions: two, including ours, are generally families where both parents work outside of the home; and one two miles away, adjacent to a country club, filled with houses three times the value of those in our neighborhood, and generally populated with single-breadwinner families.
The majority of our PTA leaders come from the “mom doesn’t work so she has to get her workplace drama from the school” hood. There have been dozens of hectoring emails and FB messages over the last few weeks, demanding volunteers for a fundraiser event today.
I’m not overwhelmingly familiar with the “Mean Girls” movie, but I’m reminded of another teen angst flick from our childhood, inspired by a nearby high school: “Heathers.” I think I saw the PTA president with a red bow in her hair the other day, incidentally. Maybe a change is coming.
I was convinced a long time ago that school and sports among most middle class and up families is no longer for the kids.
Good on you for caring about another parent, her child, and their situation. It is a sad state of affairs when organizations are out for themselves instead of the purpose they are supposed to serve.
Human nature isn’t pretty, but it is at least predictable.
Lizzie, more articles like this please. Good read.
A story well told. Thank you.
Maybe 10 years ago I read an article about the money we were dumping into Afghanistan. The gist of which was this-we had built a bunch of schools (aka buildings) but there were no teachers bc the Taliban would kill anyone who tried to teach. It brought to mind the Church. You don’t need a building to preach the gospel, you don’t need a building to teach anyone about anything. If you look at college campuses and college tuition today you see a bunch of buildings named after boomers who won life’s lottery, and a bunch of millenials and younger accumulating debt to no purpose. If you have a roof over your head, of what use is another roof?
Wow. Perfect article. I have grandkids, so I am (unfortunately) exposed to this crap. My daughter pulled her kids out of the “good” school because the rich kids (we are talking five to eleven years old) were beating up her (visibly, due to non designer clothes) poor kids. The rich parents TEACH their kids to sneer and despise the poor kids. This, in the “progressive” town of Eugene, Oregon, where folks do Black Lives Matter and March for Science, but care little about the working folks who clean their toilets and mow their lawns. As I recently said to the younger employees at my job: “Respect and kindness, for everyone you meet. That should be your motto.” Too bad rich folks have never developed these qualities.
Fascism only works when you have someone to denigrate, and this time it’s working class whites’ turn.
Shameless self centered bitches when I was in High School then and nothing has changed .
The best revenge is living well, kudos to you for supporting that child and her Mother ! .
I occasionally see the loser bitches from High School, none are doing so well as they did then, msotly stuck in crappy marriages and/or dopers .
All are still mean bitches and think the world owes them something when it doesn’t .
Well done, both topic and crafting a great read.
If this situation happened because of being a house/apartment fire or a parent passing with evening news coverage, you can rest assured HBIC and crew would be front and center for the news story and photo op – for the child and her family of course. These sick F’s LOVE to obsess and justify how so-and-so and child got into this spot instead of helping a child in need.
I hate to tell you, but it gets much much worse in middle school and high school when their kids feed off the parents power trip. Best to stick around and develop your combat skills now. They will over step, make a big mistake eventually and someone needs to be there to put them in their place.
Hope the story for the young girl had a positive outcome.
Tough experience; good read. I think you’d like the movie “Bad Moms” which is similar, but has a Hollywood ending.
Excellent read and sadly, there is so much truth here…it is heartbreaking to see what some parents are teaching their children.
And every one of those lousy parents documented is a woman!
As someone who lives in the greater Boulder area, the last thing anyone needs around here is another playground. Between open space requirements for new developments and good ol fashioned conspicuous consumption they are all over the place and most are empty.
Regarding the plastics, my son goes to school in a different town than where we live because we moved from an affluent town to a neighboring one but didn’t want him to have to change schools. I had an afternoon off so I took my 2 year old daughter to the affluent town park while waiting to get my son from middle school. My daughter started playing with some other little kids and after a few minutes one of the moms came up to me and asked if my daughter would be going to the local preschool in the fall. I explained that no, while my son goes to school here my dauhter would be going to the neighboring town’s school (which is in the same district mind you.) She turned around and walked away before I even finished my sentence, whispered some thing to the othe moms in her group who then completely igored me the rest of the time we were there. It felt like a scene straight out of high school.
This is a really well-written piece that I’m glad to see you’ve put the effort into seeing it published. Just a guess, but I’m thinking such an honest look at schools would not get you a lot of “likes” on FB so kudos to you for having the chops to put your name on it.
I am saddened to hear about the little girl at your school who is dealing with a lot of difficulties that are way over her head. Its doubly sad that a PTA leader with a $150k balance can’t see that spending 4% of that towards making a dramatic impact on a student’s life is worth it. (assuming $500/month cost of housing in a trailer park for one year) I agree with you that a lot of parents (such as myself) would donate to a fund raiser for such a thing a lot faster than I ever would for one the hundreds of other silly fundraisers our local schools have each week.
Good luck with the new school and fingers crossed that they aren’t BFF’s with the group from the original school.