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May 17, 2007

An Open Letter to my son's PTA

Dear PTA:

First and foremost, I'd like to thank you for all that you do for my son's elementary school.  The fund raising, the teacher gifts, the special events - the school wouldn't be the same without you.  In fact, your strength and success are among the reasons we chose this fantastic school for our boy when we moved to Chicago last year.  When I sat there in San Francisco, trying desperately to imagine my new life here, you were part of the picture.  That is, I just knew that I would be among you on a regular basis, devoting some time each week to the betterment of my child's school.

What's that?  You don't recognize my name?  No, I know, I shouldn't be surprised.  One of your members introduced herself to me for the third time recently at the Book Fair, and I was too embarrassed to tell her that I knew exactly who she was because we've talked a handful of times before.   Instead I allowed myself to be an invisible mom, one she'd never met. It was close enough to the truth.

I am not a guilt-ridden mother.  I have devoted vast amounts of time, energy, and love to this first-grader of mine, and I don't fear that I should have given him more.  I love my career as a pediatric therapist and find the work enormously satisfying.  I do not regret working part-time. I believe that the idea of the "perfect" mother is crap and am generally content to be the "good enough" mother.  So why is it that I feel such guilt about my lack of involvement at school?

I don't fear that I am letting my son down, not at all.  I know that the school can function without me.  Perhaps it's the comment of the PTA member at one of the rare events I attended in the winter, a fund-raiser kick-off at Cody's bar, that reverberates in my brain so often.  I was being introduced all around as new to the school and one mom flippantly said, "Well, now you've met all the parents who do anything at school!"  and even if she didn't know it, I knew that I wasn't among them.  I was an impostor at that gathering.

I think it has more to do with the fact that I believe in public education, and I know that in order for it to succeed we need as much parent involvement and support as possible.  I mean, really!  I'm all about kids and learning, it's what I do all day, whether I'm at home or at work.  I feel that I have a responsibility to be there, participating.

And yet.  Most meetings are held at 9:30 AM on a weekday when I work.  I see a speech therapy client at 9:30 on that day, and my commitment to her is my priority.  A few times, the PTA has held evening meetings, which are great in principle but somehow there has been a major conflict for us each time.

I think the reality is that I cannot handle one more responsibility without throwing our entire universe into chaos over here.  Honestly.  If I went, I'd sign up to help with something, and I cannot imagine how I would add it to the workload I already have.

I started to feel better a few months back when I read a short letter to the editor in O Magazine.  It was in response to a previous article about SAHMs and moms who work outside the home, I presume.  I wish I had it with me now (I cut it out of the magazine at the time) but the gist of it was this: "I may be the mom who is in the classroom volunteering all the time, and making my child handmade birthday invitations and party favors, but you are the mom who treats her for pneumonia when she gets sick. Why can't we value what each of us contributes?" 

PTA, I can't tell you what a relief it was for me to read that letter.  I delete about 5 emails from you a week, unable to fulfill your requests for help. I cringe with the guilt of it every time. But on my good days, I bear in mind that if your child were autistic and you needed a good therapist, you would be so grateful that I was at work, you wouldn't mind not seeing me at your meetings.



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