I love my children’s school. But as grateful as I am, I have not been motivated to “give back” or “get involved” by participating in the PTA. (According to one of my more astute friends it is more properly referred to as a “PTO.” The precise difference between the “O” and the “A” is difficult to pin down. I think there have been a couple of meetings called to explore the distinction. Program goals have been set forth to best effect this difference.)
In any event, I do appreciate the people who devote their time to this entity of ambiguous acronym. I appreciate them even as they inundate me with requests to buy wrapping paper and other tchochtkes in the name of raising 50 cents for the school and thousands of dollars for the tchochtke companies. And I feel a little guilty. Given my “stay-at-home” status I really should be doing more than showing up with a salad from Whole Foods for the parents’ pot luck. I should be the one gunning for a leadership position. I should be spearheading the effort to send home the weekly flier telling parents to send in box tops and urging them to patronize a particular organic dry cleaner (1/3 of one per cent of all profit generated on Thursdays will be donated to the school!).
I feel bad saying it but all of the efforts seemed just a little too little to be worth the effort. Maybe I value my time too much? Then again, I did just read that article about Kim K’s latest pregnancy wardrobe. And followed up with a piece about sink holes. And the 5 quick dinners I will never make. And the guy in Taiwan who can turn himself inside out.
Okay, so it’s not like I have something better to do.
So I’d finally agreed to do something. Yesterday I agreed to help set up for the teacher appreciation luncheon at my children’s school. (This is fitting given how grateful I am for my son’s kindergarten teacher. Her timely appearance in my son’s academic career constitutes proof there is a God. She has given him a fundamental appreciation of school. I can set up a few folding chairs. So long as it didn’t take more than an hour. I had to be back to meet the bus at 12:30. An unemployed stay-at-home mother can only give so much.)
Anyway, I pulled up to the school that was hosting the lunch, the sister elementary school to where my children attend, and I could not find parking. I spent 10 minutes looking for parking. There was no parking. There is never any parking. I should have known this. I should have walked. But I had wanted to drive so that I wouldn’t have to leave early. So I could maximize my minimal contribution. Now, with my volunteer time ticking away, I pulled into an available spot in the faculty parking lot. I only had about 50 minutes left to give but I was still a volunteer. I was sort of like an employee.
Knowing well enough to check with the office to see if this was okay, I found out that it was not. Knowing that if I ignored the office staff’s advice to move the car I would be towed, I said, “Oh. Okay. I don’t need to volunteer anyway.” And left in a huff.
I think I thought that they would chase after me at this point. Well when you put it that way, no, please stay. What? you are willing to spend at least 35 minutes setting up folding chairs in the gym? My goodness that is something and, yes, enjoy your parking spot, and may I get you a coffee?
They did not chase after me.
No. Without hesitation they wished me off with an affable wave good-bye. Like I was just a volunteer or something. Good day to you, ma’am. And now we will go back to our day, fielding calls from parents, managing the school administration, and handing out volunteer stickers to all the people who managed to find parking. You can go back to updating your facebook status.
And I was on my way.
Walking back to the lot I was indignant, “Don’t they know who I am?” and uneasy, “Oh God, I hope they didn’t tow my car already.” These two emotions are often felt in tandem by someone like me who can feel so deeply important and profoundly insignificant at the same time. As I walked back to my car I wondered, “Who I would have had to have been to have been allowed to park in the faculty lot. Obama? Mmm, not a good example. He doesn’t park. He would never come to Edgewater. And I think there might be a lot of Republicans around here. Gwynneth Paltrow? Again, not sure. she probably has a driver and these ladies might not recognize her. Oprah Winfrey, yes. Justin Timberlake, no. The chief of police, yes. The owner of the local towing company, yes. Kate Gosslein, no. Member of the school staff? Yes.”
Halfway between wondering how within the next 30 seconds I could get hired by the school and excoriating myself for putting Obama in the same list with Kate Gosselin, I spied a nearby stretch of open curb. A parking spot! On the street! A parking spot that could just about fit my little car!
So overjoyed at this sight, and by the promise it offered (Hello again, ladies! It looks like I will be able to unfold those chairs after all!) that I grossly overestimated my ability to parallel park.
As with so many endeavors that end in defeat, my misplaced optimism and a little willful blindness were enough to get me halfway there. And completely stuck. I really don’t know how to explain how I ended up where I did. It looked like aliens had deposited the car in this configuration: “Parked” at an angle, I was wedged up against the curb so moving backward was impossible. I was also wedged behind the car in front such that moving forward was likewise impossible.
How was I going to get out of this? Could I wait until the car in front of me moved? No. I had to pick up my kids in 30 minutes. Maybe I could just lift the back end of my car a bit. No. My little car was even heavier than that toy doll house from Plan Toys.
I went back to the school office. My return was a little less triumphant than I had hoped.
“Hello ladies.” I managed to say. Then I burst into tears. And then started laughing at myself for bursting into tears. Then I cried. Then I laughed. Then I was laughing and crying at the same time. I’ll tell you what I wasn’t doing. I wasn’t explaining why I was there. The ladies looked at each other. The one with the sheet of “volunteer” stickers calmly re-pressed the sticker she had partially peeled back presumably to give to me before I had turned out to be such a blubbering lunatic.
I managed to collect myself enough to explain my predicament. And the one lady thought she could help. I had imagined a school wide PA announcement, Could the owner of the lawfully and perfectly parked Honda Odyssey please move her car so that this psychotic parent can move hers?
But no, mercifully, she thought maybe with her guidance I could shimmy out.
The school office lady went to get her coat.
I was standing in the hall, still flushed from my outburst, when I bumped into my friend Elodie. To be clear, “friend,” is not quite the right term for this person, whom I do like quite a bit.
Elodie is French. In keeping with that, she is, how you say? chic. And I am, how you say? not.
As I was standing outside the office, wallowing in the embarrassment of my most recent PTA fail, I was not going to bridge the chic/not chic gulf today.
“You are here to volunteer?” she asked, politely, appropriately, and very well-dressed.
“Yes. But, no…But…Parking.” I offered with a shrug, and doing my best to make that exasperated and resigned expression french people make when recounting certain “conneries.”
“Oh. Okay.” Elodie said, apparently understanding perfectly the subtleties of everything. “So see you next time, then.” And she moved on to the gym where I imagined all the chairs had been unfolded by now.
The school office lady came back. Surprised, I imagine, to see that I was no longer laughing or crying but speaking French. And by that I mean I was saying “Parking” with a French accent.
The office lady, showing remarkable restraint in not yet calling the authorities to have me committed, accompanied me outside to see what she could do.
At first I thought there was no way, even with her effort and good intentions, that we were going to make any progress. My car was so wedged in there, I only had about 4 inches of clearance between my front bumper and the back bumper of the car in front of me. There was no way I was going anywhere. The opportunity for forward movement was just too minuscule to make a difference.
“We can work with this,” she said. “Pull up.” To my amazement, she really believed she could do something here.
Under her direction I moved four inches. And back four inches. Up five inches. And back five inches. See-sawing back and forth until. . .Behold! Those little efforts compiled to produce a miracle. I was free.
I thanked the office lady and was on my way. I was home in time to greet my children at the bus stop.
Though I didn’t get a chance to do my part today, I did develop an appreciation for the value of small efforts. It is important to take small steps, especially when small steps are the only ones available for you to make. On that note, I will be wearing more “dry clean only” outfits to surf the internet, and I will not be trying to parallel park again until someone promises to give the school 3 cents for my effort.