I just finished tearing through Hell is Other Parents by Deborah Copaken Kogan, a hilarious memoir full of meanie moms and do-gooder dads who have the fiendish ability to make the lives of fellow breeders as torturous as Dante’s third circle. I wholeheartedly agreed with the thesis of the book at the time, thanks to my coincidental collision with a Hellish Other Parent who jabbed a mean-spirited pitchfork into my own familial circle.
Here’s the story. A week ago I gave up my entire Sunday, on a weekend when I would much rather have been at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival with my family, to stand on a corner in the Castro neighborhood and yell at partiers to put down their beers and penis-shaped lollypops and dump some money in a big bucket to benefit the Castro Street Fair. The cash gets divided up between various neighborhood non-profits, charities and schools, including my daughter’s cozy little schoolhouse.
I volunteer for things like this because I’m a goody-two-shoes. Because it’s the right thing to do. In a city where private school tuition is more than many hardworking Americans earn in a year, my child attends an excellent free public school. Free underfunded public school. The teachers and administrators work their arses off for a wee bit of pay and a whole lot of headache. Helping out with the fundraising stuff is the least I can do.
So I signed up to be the point person for the street fair. I had a great day in the sun, goofing off with other parent volunteers, and went home feeling good about doing my part. But I had a rude awakening in the schoolyard the following week. A woman who wasn’t even at the event “heard” that I was “unwelcoming” to some other families. She sent me a snarky email, and called the PTA and School Site Council presidents to tattle on me.
Before you could say what a load of crap, I was suddenly the center of a little bit of petty gossip from someone who didn’t even know me. I was hurt and angry. Okay, I was pissed. I gave up my Sunday for our kids’ school and this is what I got? And while I certainly have room for improvement in many areas of the whole personality thing, being “unwelcoming” is not one of my weak spots. The entire situation was almost too clichéd to be true. Poor hardworking volunteer mom gets slandered by catty woman with nothing better to do.
But a wonderful reminder came out of the stupid mess. I quietly touched base with a bunch of my other PTA parent friends, eager to cheer myself up, to boost my bruised ego, to make sure that I hadn’t really ruined the whole day at the fair for everyone. And I was touched by the empathetic responses of so many kind, warm families who reminded me not to let the haters get me down.
I decided to let it go, to not let one bad apple ruin the sweet little fruit tree of my child’s beautiful, warm, funky little school. I went to the PTA meeting later in the week and fought off the temptation to take the offending parent outside for a knuckle sandwich or at least burn a hole in the gossip mommy’s neatly pressed blouse with my laser-like stink eye.
Instead I focused on the 99% of the group who made funny wisecracks as we passed the budget, who unanimously agreed to help out families who needed financial assistance to afford their children’s musical instruments, who joked around and giggled and applauded each other’s success stories.
A bunch of us went out for drinks and laughs after the meeting. No matter how annoyed I was at the Real Housewives of New Jersey-style hi-jinx of a certain PTA drama mama, I couldn’t hold on to the anger. It was overridden by the love fest I continue to experience for our school and its sweet family of families. We are all just doing the best we can, and thank goodness we give each other lots of breaks.
So I amend my initial agreement that hell is other parents. Hell can be one other parent who does something silly. But Heaven is my sweet network of friends.