Happy Mother’s Day! OK, so I’m a day late, so let’s go with week…

It was 20 years ago that I received my very first newsletter as a parent of a first grader, announcing the very first PTO meeting of the new school year. Believe it or not, I was ready; I was excited.

Being new at all this, my only reference was my own childhood experience. I remember going with my mother once to a PTA meeting and finding the whole event quite fascinating and marvelous. The auditorium was absolutely packed with women catching up on the “latest” from each other before finding a seat. My mom seemed a little overwhelmed at first, but she had that Jackie Kennedy thing going on, which was a good strategy I decided because all she had to do was smile and act interested.  One very commanding woman welcomed everyone to the meeting and proceeded with some enthusiasm about this and that. I spent my time checking out all the beautiful hats and hosiery, while catching wafts of lovely fragrances. I concluded that these meetings were actually informational parties, including cookies and coffee.

So here I was, in 1989 getting ready to go to my child’s PTA meeting (party). I actually thought it was required (just like my kid had to go to school, I had to go to the parent meeting). I dashed home from work, freshened up my look, and crammed down the rest of my child’s cheese sandwich from his He-Man lunchbox. Dressed for success and curling-ironed hair, I went off proudly to the big person’s meeting (party), ready to schmooze with every other parent there, including fathers, because surely times have changed (although come to think of it, my husband wasn’t going).

Noticing very few cars in the parking lot, I headed toward the gym, scanning my brain and checking my watch to figure out whether I had the wrong date and time. A janitor pointed me toward the teacher’s lounge in the back, and as I opened the door I felt the word “sucker” smack me in the head.  The handful of casually dressed women looked quite pleased to have one more victim, er, I mean, volunteer.  So there I was with the deer-in-the-headlight look – frozen; stuck; a prisoner of the PTO. Freaked out about the potential to be asked to head up a gigantic fundraiser, I bailed. I felt the best I could do that year was to work in my child’s classroom cutting out construction paper valentines every other Thursday.

Times have changed – more parents are working and schedules are hectic, but the parent participation seems better than ever. And yes, tons of MEN are helping too. The PTO or PTA deals with school-wide activities and as a parent, you’re automatically “in” whether you go to the meetings or not. So if you haven’t figured out how to participate yet, don’t be afraid – find your niche, on your own terms.

Read your child’s school newsletter, or talk to the teacher. Don’t feel obligated to take on something big. The smallest bit of help is more fun than you think and makes your child feel proud. That much hasn’t changed in 40 years.