Saturday, April 30, 2005

Mean Girls

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered"

Not a great way to start off my first blog but there it is. I ponder too much. I thought I would put all my thoughts out there for others to ponder, then maybe join in and together perhaps something good can come out of all this mental energy.

You see, I am a natural born ruminator. I am constantly thinking. I guess we all are, but I am known to think too much. I mostly think about what could or should be done to make things better. A lot of times I try to get out there and actually make this world a better place in some small way, but frequently, it seems I am at crosspurposes with others whose motives I can never seem to quite figure out. A case in point:

I live in Frederick, Maryland. It it is a fast growing, once rural, now suburban bedroom community about 50 miles outside Washington, DC. I joined the PTA in our new Middle School, where we had practically no one involved. I was asked to serve as Vice President, and agreed. Hey, what does a VP ever do anyway besides show up and stand in if the President can't do something anyway. Well, things just never go as you plan.

I thought that I would volunteer at school with a bunch of nice moms and help in my kids classroom. It never hurts to be around school with the 11-14 year olds to see who's doing what to whom in the bathrooms these days. Well 2 months into my term, it became apparent that there was some financial hanky panky going on, and my skills as an accountant were needed. I helped with an audit, caught the culprit red-handed, and a regime change was effected.

Fast officers brought in, funds saved. I was now VP and acting treasurer! New President, and now we could get on with the PTA's mission of saving the school! I had begun to "bond" with several other parents and we started "good works". We were moving and shaking. Then something happened. We discovered that we did not all come from the same background or have the same goals. I'd worked for years in DC as a corporate accountant, and am interested in the big picture and advocacy. I want to reduce class size, buy enough books, pay teachers adequately, and sponsor special programs for kids to inspire them to grow up and be their best. I also want to get other parents more involved in the school. I tend to be conservative in my outlook. I kind of see this as a Macro outlook. I'd like to see a branch of this PTA lobby the Board of Education for things the kids need.

Others want to serve doughnuts, furnish teacher gifts, do pancake breakfasts, and fundraisers, and fund school dances. These are also great things, that I see as part of a Micro outlook. I can and do help with these things but they're not my specialty. Here is where the trouble came in. You see, I think the school needs both. In fact society needs both. We all have to look at the big picture and the small picture.

Some people see only their special project or interest as valuable. When I would talk about supporting advocacy, the others in our group would look at me as though my elevator didn't go all the way to the top floor.

Interestingly enough, although I totally and publicly supported their efforts, about 2 months go by and suddenly, I have become an outsider. New communication groups (read cliques) are being formed. We now have funds intact, and well taken care of but we also have a PTA dominatrix in the group, who MUST run everything OR ELSE. She also has enlisted 2 deputies who stand loyally by her side, think her thoughts, and do her bidding. It seems that the kids are forgotten, teachers are forgotten, morale is poor, and the reputation of the PTA has never been lower. Rather than work together, I work alone, the others in the PTA exclude me from helping me on anything, though I volunteer, and in meetings they spend their time throwing barbs at me. Not at all what I had planned.

I have tried to talk to my group and this leads to nothing but misunderstanding. You see, they have a different vision than me. Rather than seeing this group as one that can do a lot of good things, all for kids, with people specializing in what they are good at, this is a group of women, many of whom cannot tolerate differences among friends. In order to be a part of the group, you must be the same. It's sort of like that scene in "Mean Girls" where the new girl is being told the rules. She is informed that on certain days they all must wear the same thing or face censure. (I can't remember what that thing was, maybe pink?) Anyway, I guess I just keep showing up for meetings dressed in blue when I was supposed to wear pink, and the other girls roll their eyes and titter behind my back.

Funny thing is, in my own group of friends, we are all different. One of us is an Accountant by day/actress in community theatre by night and funny as hell, also generous to a fault. One of us is a bookworm and always has her arms up to the elbow in her garden, and also loves history and theology, one of us is a teacher of handicapped children who never stops giving of herself. I'm a thinker, mom, Accountant, reader, crusader type. The common thread we all share is a love of people of all kinds and an interest in their stories and abilities. We are also all Christians. I guess it's been a long time since I tried to make friends in a new group and got rebuffed for wanting to add a different talent to the mix.

The sad thing about all this is, it happens so many times, so many places. A group gets together to do good. (Plug in club, PTA, Homeowners Association, Church, Senate, you name it). At first high hopes reign, then as time goes by, rather than focusing on their commonalities, and strenghths, they begin to look at who is wearing blue instead of pink, who thinks "differently" than whom. Rather than talking about ideas, they end up talking about each other. Soon the focus and original mission of the group is lost. And that is a shame.


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