This is where it gets tricky.

Pool required. Hospitality not necessary.

Some of you might remember the post I wrote, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: When School Volunteering Goes Wrong.  It generated a bunch of comments. It’s by far the worst—and last– tangle I’ve had with Willows School politics.

 

So, when an Evite popped up on my screen inviting my family to the 5th grade end of year pool party, imagine my delight disgust as soon as I saw the host. Its HER. The grandmother mom who still can’t look at me or speak to me after four years. Of course, I practically run when I see her, lest you think I’m smiling and waving hello.

 

I hit the delete button, but not before emailing the Evite to my husband with a “hell no” on the message. “Who else would want to do it?” came his reply.

 

Of course, I understand why this particular family is hosting this party. First, you must have a pool and yard large enough to hold kids from two classes (about 50 kids). You’ve also got to be willing to pay for it. And hire a lifeguard. And, most importantly, be willing to deal with the machinations behind private school gatherings.

 

What’s not necessary is to be on speaking terms with all the families in your grade. That obviously isn’t required to host this event.

 

 

 

Now that we have a pool, maybe I’ll offer to host next year!

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Third Grade Native American Study Unit at The Willows Community School

Third graders at The Willows Community School presented the culmination of their Native American Study Unit, designed to enhance their knowledge of Native American culture.  My son and his classmates worked on a series of classroom projects that included writing assignments, iSearch technology and art. The photos below show the amazing baskets, woven from looms the kids created on a paper plate in art class. The kids loved constructing and playing in the teepee.

Baskets woven by 3rd graders on looms created on paper plates
Teepee
Teepee

 

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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: When School Volunteering Goes Wrong…Very Wrong

This is a true story. The movie, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” is brilliant fiction, but occasionally real-life imitates the movies. In this instance, it certainly did. My experience co-chairing the Willows School Auction introduced me to one mom who could have been a character in that memorable movie. 

This is a cautionary tale about what happened when I dedicated six months of my life to volunteering at my kids’ school under the false assumption that hard work and professionalism would be valued. As you may have begun to suspect, this experience didn’t end well.  Let’s just say I’d much rather know the head of the school parent association (and school board member) hates me before she sends an email to everyone calling me every vile name in the book.

It all started—or should I say—ended one evening in March at precisely 6:00 p.m. The summer before, I was asked by the parent association to co-chair our school’s largest annual fundraiser, the school auction. I agreed and began work almost immediately.

For many months, I spent about five hours or more a day planning the event. I felt like I was back at my full time job as vice president at a big public relations firm. Meetings, letter writing, soliciting pricey auction items, financial targets that needed to be met, reports to the board of directors, memos, more meetings. Most of the time I had the job of moving us toward specific goals while the parent association moms used the meetings as therapy sessions to discuss their inadequate husbands and issues with their kids, or lashing out at other moms—mostly the ones who (a) cared about their appearances and (b) had a life. But, I rationalized it by reminding myself that it was for a great cause: my kids’ school.

Fortunately, my auction co-chairs and our volunteers were amazing to work with. The event went well. It raised more than $200,000, an all-time record for our school. There were a few “minor” glitches. One memorable screw-up happened when party planner to the stars, Mindy Weiss, one of my auction co-chairs, had to make an emergency dash to In N Out Burger because the parent volunteer who catered the event was unable to feed a much larger than expected crowd. But, we carried on, drinking, bidding generously and having a grand ol’ time.

After the event, I was exhausted. Not suspecting anything seriously amiss, there was follow-up work to be done and I dragged myself back to the school to help supervise the event clean up. (Note to self: When the second parent association co-chair temporarily refuses to give you the box for the diamond earrings your husband bought you at auction, realize they hate you). 

Then, three days after the event, the email hit my in box at home like one of the U.S. missiles into Tripoli.  It was the draft of the official “thank-you” to all the auction co-chairs from the two moms who ran the parent association. They had glowing and kind things to say about everyone on the committee, except for me. Under my name they had written the most hurtful, insulting, unprofessional words I’ve ever heard in a professional capacity. Here’s an excerpt:

“Christina is arrogant, aggressive, and difficult to work with, with a true Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality…” Oh, they did throw me a bone, saying I was “skilled at soliciting auction donations.”

WTF???

I froze. I felt like someone had slapped me across the face. Hard. Really hard. I couldn’t believe this was the thank you I was getting from the school’s parent association. I was embarrassed and furious. My tears flowed for days.

I was stunned because during the entire time I worked with this mom, we’d never even exchanged harsh words. We’d been cordial and friendly with each other. I had no idea how much she despised me.

But, I should have known. At the time, this mom was mid-50s, gray haired, granny-ish frumpster with three kids, including a set of twins in kindergarten. Her husband, she’d gripe, was useless with the kids. He was even older than she was. She’d complain constantly about the difficulties she faced raising her three kids. She complained she was often mistaken for her kids’ grandmother. She wore a neck brace for a period of time. Money was not the issue for this family, but they sure had other problems.  I always listened and tried to be sympathetic, but I just couldn’t relate to her situation. Luckily.

The evil email was intended for the other co-chair of the parent association and not the entire auction committee, which included me (and to which it was sent). Was I perfect to work with? No! When I’m working, I make decisions and keep moving. Doing “face time” in the parent lounge just wasn’t my style. Did I deserve this meanness? No!

A few weeks after the incident, she emailed me (yes, emailed me) a lame “apology” blaming me for the episode.

After the email debacle, I don’t think I set foot on campus for many months. I felt unwelcome and in some ways, I still do. It set the tone for my volunteerism at the school, which has never again involved anything having to do with the parent association.

So, what’s the lesson learned? When you encounter a menopausal, unhappy, bitter, frumpy, overwhelmed mom, run for your life. Don’t listen to her. Don’t try to be nice. Don’t gently suggest she color her hair. Don’t pretend like you have anything in common just because your kids are at the same school. Don’t hold the auction photo shoot at your home and invite her in. Act like a “Real Housewife Of New Jersey.” Hop in your minivan (or in this case, hers) and step on the gas pedal. Drive until you run out of gas. Make up some lame excuse as to why you can’t volunteer anymore and spare yourself the risk of having your reputation sullied by an “email illiterate” as she described her self in her “apology” to me. Trust me on this one. Oh, and tell Facebook to stop suggesting her as a “friend”. 


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The Big F-You: Kindness Should Be Expected Of Parents Too!

Los Angeles, CA. September 7, 2010, 9:15 a.m.-- FU******K YOU, a mom from one of my kid’s classes screamed into the phone, before hanging up on me. It was the first day of school. I had just dropped off the kids and returned home before the phone started ringing. And ringing. And ringing. My short conversation with this mom wasn’t exactly what I was expecting on the first day of school. I was just hoping my kids would have a good day and all would go well for them.

 
This mom’s behavior was uncivilized and pathetic. She came unglued. A lame apology that blamed me was emailed several weeks later. You’re probably wondering what happened? Our kids didn’t have a fight. We didn’t volunteer together. We barely know each other. Certainly nothing that would justify that kind of a phone call!
 
We recently asked readers in a poll on this blog if it was important to have friends at your kids school. Most said yes. I agree. I need friendships with other moms at my kids’ school to help me get through the ups and downs of school, parenting. A Girls Night Out is fun too every once in a while! I’ve decided, however, after a few years at the school, that I only need a FEW friends. It took a while to make those really close friends, but our friendships have withstood the test of time…and of school politics.
 
My second year at The Willows, I co-chaired the school’s biggest parent-run fundraiser, the auction. We raised more than $200K. Great, you think? Not according the the head of the parent association (this position also comes with a board seat). After the event was over, I was exhausted, completely worn out. It was early evening when I received her email. It was a write-up thanking the auction co-chairs that would be printed in the school’s newsletter. I read it. The head of the parent association had nice things to say about my co-chairs. Then I read her blurb about me: “arrogant”, “extremely skilled at getting donations”, “a true Dr. Jekell, Mr. Hyde personality”. WHAT? This computer illerate had accidently sent the nasty email to ME and ALL MY CO-CHAIRS. Needless to say, there was collateral damage.
 
My conclusion about all this? When we ask–or demand–kindness, fairness and civility from our children, we must insist on the same from their parents. I’m not perfect! I admit to being difficult to work with sometimes. But, I’m a mom at a school doing volunteer work. To be insulted in the way I have is a sign of entitled wretchedness. Getting that early morning call at home on the first day of school isn’t what you want with your morning coffee. It speaks to a culture of mean-girl behavior.
 
Bullying is a big problem at many private elementary schools, which struggle to deal with bullies and mean kids. If schools insist on nice-girl (and boy) behavior from our kids, they should insist on it from the parents too.
 

 

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