Well, I did it. After six years of being at the same elementary school, dodging the PTA nominating committee year after year, I had used up all of my excuses (“No, not this year"... “I’ll help out wherever anyone needs me” ... “My work schedule makes it hard”).
I said yes to officially taking the position of head cheese, a.k.a. president of the PTA. This is often met with “Congratulations!” or “I’m so sorry" or one of my personal favorites, “Does your husband know?”
To prepare myself for next year’s role, I was encouraged to participate in the California Sate PTA Convention held at the Long Beach Convention Center. The one-day workshop was titled, “PTA Presidents’ Boot Camp—We Want You!” I had visions of dropping and giving them 20 if I didn’t know the definition of By Law No. 4236.
Until the boot camp, my experience with the PTA had been localized to San Juan Elementary. After attending the California State PTA Convention, though, I realized that PTAs exist for more reasons other than to host bake sales. And, I discovered there are actually reasons why women wear hand-crafted t-shirts and scream at conventions like sorority girls.
I made my way to downtown Long Beach equipped with my iPhone, large bottle of water and snacks (anything past the Costa Mesa IKEA is long distance driving). Large parking marquees directed people towards either the Dalai Lama or the California PTA ... I supposed I was bound toward some sort of enlightenment with whichever direction I would choose.
On my short walk to the convention center, I noticed I was unequipped for boot camp. Participants, mostly women, armed themselves with tote bags, rolled filing carts and buckled under the weight of 5-inch binders. Some even had special team t-shirts that gave props to their respective districts.
I had my purse and a pen, and my snacks.
And I was pretty sure I was from District 4 ... But I wasn’t quite sure.
Was this an intimidation tactic to scare newbies into submission? Where did they get all of that stuff? More importantly, where could I get my own PTA tote?
The convention center was vibrating with PTA energy. From outside I could hear the "whooohoooos” and “yeeeehaawws."
As I stood to register, I overheard an explanation for all of the excited hollering. “First Time Convention’er! WHOOHOOOO!” followed by noisemakers and a cheering squad of lanyard-wearing convention volunteers. I half expected balloons to drop from the ceiling ... but I suppose they had to save that for the finale.
Skeptical, I picked a seat closest to the door for a quick escape. But the workshop started, and the presenter was surprisingly funny and engaging. I found myself listening intently—and laughing at presenters who laughed at themselves.
I learned to never throw a yo-yo to the complaining parent at the school carnival. And, was told that no matter how much you disagree with a fellow board member, it's never OK to throw a book at her.
After three hours of push-up free boot camp, we were done. I had made it through the workshops without running way, screaming in fright. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was inspired by the speakers, and even empowered in my new position. I had a new-found respect for the life-long volunteers who have been involved in PTAs for years, even decades, because of their love for children.
If they could laugh at themselves after all the good and the bad, I could laugh at myself in my insecurity and uncertainty.
I walked back to the parking structure armed with more than just a purse and pen. I had tools to help me in my new role. I could even venture to say, there was a little excitement brewing at the thought of a new year.
More importantly, I walked back to my car with a new tote bag.