Tag Archives: PTA

Being Open To New Experiences: Not Everything Is A Lima Bean

I always tell my son not to pass judgment on anything before he’s tried it out. Whether it’s lima beans or cricket, he isn’t allowed to say that he doesn’t like something until he’s given it a fair shake.

Lately I’ve been telling myself this as well.

You may recall that a few months back, my son started a new school. And while I was very excited for *him* to make new friends…take new classes…heck, even to don that new pink (!) tie,I decided ex-ante that *I* didn’t need any new friends. Sure, I planned to attend all the parents’ evenings and concerts and do playdates and what have you, but for me it would all be strictly business. (Or possibly good blog material. Because, let’s be honest, it always is.) I just…Didn’t. Need. New. Friends. Damn it!

I’m not exactly sure where this militant anti-social attitude came from. After all, I’m an extrovert. I love meeting new people and will happily chat up just about anyone in just about any situation. My husband’s the same way. But somehow, when faced with a new social environment that was somewhat different from the one I’d been hanging (comfortably) in, I got all defensive…and judgmental…and uptight.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a wallflower. I went to a holiday party – and had a really good time.

Sure, as I wandered in and was blinded by all the glittery cocktail dresses, I realized that I was woefully under-dressed and should have consulted LPC about what to wear before I left. And I’m fairly certain that I was the only woman drinking beer.

But I had at least three or four conversations that I really enjoyed, including one with a Jewish guy – married to a fellow Shiksa. We jointly bemoaned how hard it is to find a synagogue in London that is truly open to “patrilineal” Jews – i.e., kids where only the father is Jewish and who thus don’t technically “count” as Jews. (FYI: Lately I’ve been eyeing the Gay and Lesbian synagogue here, despite being neither gay, nor lesbian, nor Jewish. But I’ll leave that for another blog post, speaking of material…)

Then I went to a birthday party over the weekend and had this same experience all over again. This time, I ended up talking to a couple with a child at the school for about 45 minutes. The husband was English but had grown up in the States. He and I bonded over how Americans take it for granted that you get involved in your children’s school, whether coaching (as he does) or raising money (as I do), whereas for the Brits that’s still largely anathema. The wife was Indian and she and I bonded over what it’s like to be a foreigner at a predominantly English school.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that even as adults, we need to be open to new experiences and “give them a go” as we say on this side of the pond. Not everything is a lima bean. New experiences can be fun. New people can be stimulating. And most importantly, as a friend of mine put it so succinctly: “Not everyone is an *&%hole.”

Hard to argue with that.

Image: Doc Marten Lima Beans by luluisforlovers via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Back To School Jitters (For Parents): What Should I Wear To My Son's New School?

Hi Folks.

Just back from a whirlwind tour of the East Coast of the U.S. and still a bit jet-lagged. But I wanted to jump on RealDelia for a moment to say hello and let you know that I’m back in action. I’ll post tomorrow about some thoughts I had about my home country while on vacation. But given that millions of children the world over return to school this week, I thought I’d post on that time-honored topic: back to school jitters.

We all know that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling you get when you go back to school following a long summer vacation. You wonder what your new classroom will look like, whether your friends will have changed at all, and if you’ll get that part in the school play.

But it isn’t just kids who get the jitters. Parents get them too. A colleague of mine over at Politics Daily, Michelle Brafman, has even coined a term for this phenomenon. She calls it Placement Anxiety Disorder. It encompasses “all that stuff parents worry about when confronted with the reality that another school year is about to begin: is this teacher a good fit for my child? Will the class jell?” Or in my case: do I really have to pack another school lunch?

I’m having these jitters in spades this year because my son is starting a new school tomorrow. And – as with so many things once you’re a parent – he’s fine and I’m a wreck.

Why is it that anything to do with our children’s schools brings out our inner 15-year-old?

Take clothing. I don’t think I’ve agonized so much over what to wear to an event in the past five years. And by “event,” allow me to clarify that I’m talking about the five minutes it takes to deposit my son at the front gate of his new school, at which point he will no doubt distance himself from my clinging arms as fast as he possibly can. It’s not like anyone knows who I am, so why should I possibly care what I wear? (Especially given that, for the past three years, I’ve shown up at most drop-offs in some version of my pajamas?)

Still, for the last week or so I’ve repeatedly stewed over the *right* outfit for this occasion. Will a jacket look too professional? A tee-shirt too casual? A skirt too severe?

I finally settled on a white cable-knit sweater set -  I believe that “twin set” is the technical term – that my mother gave me when I was back in the States. I guess I figued that, when in doubt, it’s always a plus to look like you’ve just returned from Centre Court at Wimbledon. (Sadly – according to Wikipedia, at least – the twin set denotes “frumpiness” or “conservatism.” Darn.)

But clothes, of course, are just a reflection of a deeper set of anxieties about fitting in. When I first moved to London three years ago and enrolled my son in his previous school, I gazed at the sea of unfamiliar faces and wondered how on earth I’d ever cut it in this new crowd. The answer turned out to be joining the PTA, which conferred an instant legitimacy.

This time, I’ve decided – for the moment, at least – to eschew all voluntary parental activities and just stay on the sidelines and watch. My hope is that at one of the zillion parent events scheduled this Fall, some poor soul will pick me out of the crowd and say “Hey, that new girl, she’s not so bad.”

I just hope that when, as and if that does happen, I’m wearing the right shoes…


Image: Back to School 2008 004 by Tom H. Jones via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Slash Careers Within Writing: My New Stint at Politics Daily

As I’ve said several times before on this blog, I’m a big fan of slash careers. Having multiple professional identities is a great way to make a living as a freelancer (particularly during a recession).  It’s also a great way – especially if you’re a writer – to exercise different parts of your brain. In my case, it helps to explain why I’ve been such an avid fundraiser for my children’s school over the past few years.

But another way to keep yourself stimulated as a writer is to slash within your writing. I know a political scientist who also writes children’s songs. One of my favorite writers – Anne Lamott – has written a best-selling parenting memoir, Operating Instructions, a “how to” book on writing, Bird By Bird, as well as several novels. My guess is that there’s something about moving around within all these different genres that keeps her alive as a writer.

In that vein, I’m delighted to announce that I’ve become a contributor to a new political webzine in Washington, D.C. called Politics Daily. I’ll be writing two posts a week for their Woman Up column (where – and I quote – “big girl panties are always a fit,”) as well as occasional features.

My first feature – an interview with an international legal scholar here in the U.K. about the ongoing torture debate in the U.S. – ran on Friday. Check it out here and leave a comment if you dare! (Buyer Beware: I’m coming to learn that the comment section on political websites can be a scary place…be sure to wear your own plus-sized boxers/briefs/panties/thongs/undergarments/what-have-you if you plan on going there…).

For me, this new gig is particularly exciting because it allows me to fuse my background in politics/policy analysis and journalism back into my writing career. In the last few years, I’ve been working as a freelance writer, focusing mainly on personal essays, blogging and fiction. But before that, I worked as a producer for Chicago Public Radio. And before that, I taught political science at the University of Chicago.

So it felt great to roll up my sleeves and dive back into the sort of research, interviewing and reporting that goes into being a journalist. And it was also a lot of fun to return to the sorts of international topics that I once taught and wrote about as a scholar. Above all, however, the experience confirmed for me – once again – that careers really don’t have to be linear anymore. These days, it’s all about the kaleidoscope, baby.

I’ll be sure to highlight pieces I write for Politics Daily when they are relevant to RealDelia.

In the meantime, take a moment to think about your own slash careers – real or potential. What sorts of things have you added or would you like to add to your career portfolio?

Image: Reporter’s Notebook, US Version by Nicla via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Free Pimms and iPod Chairs: Why I Really Joined the PTA

Last Wednesday I found myself in an upscale, Italian furniture store called Natuzzi (pronounced, in case you’re wondering, Nah-TOOT-see). I’m not exactly the home furnishings type (though I did notice the leather chair where you can plug in your iPod and listen to it in surround sound and made a mental note to never, ever bring my husband here).

I was there because the store had generously sponsored the annual quiz night at my kids’ school and, in exchange, I was arranging for an event to be held at the store next Autumn.

I do this sort of thing quite a lot, actually. In between blog posts and article pitches and agent queries and whatever else I’m up to as a writer, I’m also frequently dashing off emails to the local bakery to see if they’ll donate a cake or nipping into the local off-license (liquor store) to see if they’ll slide us some free Pimms for our upcoming Summer fair. (Never tried Pimms? Get thee to an English pub tout de suite!)

People get involved in the PTA for a lot of different reasons. It’s a great way to make friends, to improve the resources at your kid’s school and to feel on top of what’s going on at the school.

All true.

But while I’m active in the PTA for all of those reasons, the main reason I do it is because it uses a different part of my brain.

As a writer, most of my day is spent (a) alone (b) typing and (c) in my pajamas. So when I go to a meeting or organize a project or cajole someone into donating money to the school, it’s a way to use my now dormant (but bursting at the seams) administrative gene, the one I left on the side of the road the day I left an office job (along with Karaoke night and bagel Fridays). Sigh.

Marci Alboher has a great book called One Person, Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success in which she describes the advent of what she calls “slash careers” – e.g., police officer/personal trainer or violin maker/psychologist.

The thrust of the book – which I’ll talk about some other time – is that slash careers enable people with multiple interests to realize all of their professional dreams. But having a slash career (yes, parenting counts as a slash!) is also a way to utilize different parts of your brain.

For me, then, doing the PTA is about taking my Admin side out of the garage every so often, dusting it off, and going for a whirl – though I’m sure there are many parents at the school who’d love it if I just gave that part of my personality a rest!

And, hey, whenever I get a bit too overzealous in my PTA duties, my friends offer me some Pimms and all is right with the world…

*****

The website Babble offers an arch, funny take on parenting. Read here for a tale of one woman’s reluctance to embrace the PTA, only to discover that she found it quite gratifying.

Image: Pimms No. 1 by Naughty Architect via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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