Battle of the Books

cb9c2b1bc0fb978749f9fa347c1c04c2There are many, many reasons I’m glad my tour of duty as an elementary school mother is over. Sure, I enjoyed aspects of having younger children like being able to actually understand their homework. I also loved the field trips and school parties until the sugar police took over and turned school celebrations into a treatise of why food is the enemy. I’m still steamed about the time my Halloween cupcakes, with probably two inches of the yummiest buttercream frosting you’ve ever tasted accessorized with a Nutter Butter cookie dipped in white chocolate to look like a ghost, were turned away at the third grade classroom door for “exceeding the sugar guidelines.” Haters.

Besides the sugar wars perhaps the number one thing I don’t miss about elementary school parenting is Battle of the Books. Because it’s a battle alright . . . between the parents. For those of you not initiated in the ways of turning reading into a competitive bloodsport let me explain. Kids voluntarily sign up to participate in Battle of the Books. Teams are formed and parents offer up their services to be “book coaches.” Each grade level is assigned the same 10 (or so) books to read. Kids on the team pick at least two books they plan to be the “experts” on and study groups are formed so each team is prepared for the book battle which usually takes place a couple of months after the teams are in place.

If you’re thinking this sounds like super, fun, edu-tainment with the added benefit of helping kids hone their reading comprehension and retention skills than you couldn’t be a bigger idiot. Did you miss the “parents as coaches” part? Hello, red flag of doom right there. Like many things that end badly this whole parents as book coaches seems like a decent enough volunteer gig. How hard can it be? You meet with the kids a couple of times a month, feed them a snack, discuss the books and bring on the battle.

Except that’s not how it goes down because being a book coach is a demanding job primarily because you have to read all the books. When I found this out I was stunned. I didn’t want to read some of these books 40 years ago and now not only was I required to read them, but I had to dissect them with a Machiavellian mindset. You see the battle questions are not so much about the story as they are about the most nitpicking details of the book like what color socks a character wore on page 83.

So, when you read the book you have to think about what questions will the Battle Chairperson/Judge ask (who usually is the most OCD member on the PTA board) and then make sure your team knows the answers. This is done by making question and answer sheets for each book. I naively suggested to other book coaches that we share our Q & A sheets that way we (the mothers) don’t have to read all the books. Holy paper cut, you would have thought I suggested that we start a swingers club. The outrage was that intense.

Maybe if I had known that some of these parents had been working on building their battle teams for years I would have kept my mouth shut. Little did I know that battle scouting starts in early elementary school. You’re not looking for the strongest readers, but the children with great memories. So, that kid on the field trip who won’t shut up about baseball stats from 1973 – that’s who want on your team. And if you hear a rumor of a child who might have the tiniest bit of an eidetic memory start your Battle of the Books wooing.

When it comes time for the battle the kids are just psyched to missing class, but for the book coaches it’s game on. These parents are locked and loaded. They know these books better than their child’s soccer schedule. It becomes not a combat between the kids and their novel knowledge, but a battle of wits between the parent coaches and the parent/book quizzer.  Armed with all the books highlighted and flush with Post It Notes the parent coaches are ready to challenge not only questions and answers, but the subtle nuances in the ways the queries are asked and the responses judged.

At this point it’s mom against mom and to the victor goes bragging rights because that’s what’s it’s about, right? A parent’s reading prowess. As I watched all this play out I thought to myself why don’t we just save ourselves a whole lot of time and trouble and just have one quickie meeting where we all share our SAT scores. It sure would be a whole lot simpler and the end result would be about the same.

*Attcover_1.3-2ention Snarky Friends, I have a brand new book out. It’s the second in the Snarky in the Suburbs series – Snarky in the Suburbs Trouble In Texas. You can buy it for your Kindle or in paperback on Amazon.  It’s also available for the Nook or you can get it for your Kobo reader. Click on a link and give it a test read.  I hope you like it! 🙂

Dear Snarky – How Not to Suck at Recruiting & Retaining School Volunteers

dear_snarky_logoAs the school year is about to end there’s a topic I decided desperately needed to be addressed – school volunteers. I get a lot of letters from mothers complaining either about how nobody volunteers at their kid’s school and they’re having to do all the work to the opposite end of the spectrum about how the PTA, PTO whatever, is a mom clique that they can’t infiltrate. Well, I’m coming to the rescue with this advice about how to recruit and retain a quality school volunteer team. (As always feel free to print and laminate.)

Quit Being A Control Freak: This is for all the moms who pride themselves on being OCD. Well, here’s the deal – your OCD is making moms run away from helping you in any kind of volunteer capacity. Your freak out over how another mom stapled the school newsletter doesn’t make you look highly organized with a keen eye for detail. It’s behavior that is exhausting to the rest of humanity and makes you look off your meds crazy. When I signed up to help with the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon and then received an email from the PTO with a recipe of what to make AND what brand of ingredients (Whole Foods, of course) I should use along with what kind of serving dish to put it in I can assure you that was my last time to EVER sign up to help with that event.

Be Welcoming: The PTO is not a sorority mixer. It’s also not a country club with membership requirements based on your income or the car your drive. It does not have a dress code or uniform that specifies must look good in Yoga pants to volunteer. The fact that a mother does not wear spandex or drives a vintage AMC Pacer should not disqualify her from your volunteer pool. This type of social segregation leads to chronic volunteer inbreeding and results in having more talkers than doers on your committees.

Parents are Not ATM Machines: If all your school organization is designed to do is shake parents down for money than good luck because you will experience a mass exodus of volunteers after their first year in.

Smile: Oh sure, you say you want everybody to join but you’re not going to get or retain volunteers if you’re chairman of the stern scold. By that I mean using meetings to browbeat volunteers as to why they aren’t doing enough or how last year’s parents were so much better. (Too bad you ran those folks off.)

Acknowledge volunteers outside the school environment: If you want to tick me off, and I mean really tick me off, be one of those moms that is all lovey-dovey to me in school because I took on some job no one else wanted and then pretend you don’t know me when you see me at the grocery store. Really? Like I’m good enough to do the grunt work but don’t measure up as a human being outside of school. Those kind of moms can kiss my help (and something else) goodbye.

Gratitude: Be thankful for your volunteers. They may not be perfect (like you) but they’re free labor and all you’ve got. Appreciate what every mom does even if it’s something as simple (but important) like napkins for the last day of school party. You’re a mom, you know all about getting the best out of your kids now apply those same principles to your volunteer efforts and you’ll be amazed at what happens.

If you have a question for Dear Snarky please email me at snarkyinthesuburbs@gmail.com

The Suburban Anthropologist’s Definitive Guide to the Elementary School Mother (Revised for 2013)

imagesAs another school year is beginning I would be remiss if I didn’t share this compelling research completed by my keen scientific mind (and by scientific I mean snarky). I consider myself one of the foremost Suburban Anthropologists currently working today.  My area of expertise is the suburban elementary school mother. Known in the science community as -”Mater Ludem.” In my study I have documented that elementary school moms can be placed into 17 distinct species categories. (In alphabetical order)

Bling Bling Mom: Bling Bling yearns to the center of attention. You can spot her a mile away because of her tendency to over bedazzle. From excessive cleavage to turbo tanning Bling Bling likes to think she’s one hot mama. Not big on volunteering she will help out on any “dad heavy” events like Field Day and attend the parent only fundraisers where she usually over imbibes and hits on someone else’s spouse. Her female offspring can easily be identified as the little girls wearing large diamond hoop earrings and kitten heels in kindergarten.

Enviro-Organic Police Mom: This is the sugar buster mom or as I call her, while shoveling McDonald french fries down my pie hole, the no fun mom. The Enviro- Organic Police Mom is armed with science and lots of good sense but her crusade is not tempered with compassion. She’s the mom responsibility for the sugar-free birthday party treats rule, the fruits and vegetables only school holiday parties and the no bake sales or cake walks at the school fair edict. I applaud her healthy mission. I object to her condescending manner. Just because a child has experienced the unfettered joys of the Happy Meal does not a bad mom make. The Enviro-Organic Police Mom can usually be seen wearing hemp shorts, a sustainably grown bamboo velour hoodie, and organic cotton tennis shoes with natural Amazon hevea rubber soles. Do not let her see you with a plastic water bottle.The lecture will be long and intense. Her offspring can be found at my house eating tablespoons of refined white sugar and Duncan Hines brownie batter.

Facebooker/Twittering/Instagrammer: Say hello the social media whore. This is the mom’s whose self-worth is measured by how many followers she has on her various social media sites and she’ll even stoop so low as to request your kids be her “friend”. No hum drum detail of her day is so insignificant it’s not worthy of being status updated, tweeted or shared. Avoid this woman at all cost and if you do see do not make direct eye contact. Chances are if you so much as glimpse in her direction you’ll wind up on her Twitter feed as #momsatmykidsschoolaresostupid

Hipster Mom: Look for the mom in the tight indie rock band t-shirt, cargo pants, some kind of ski hat, (although it’s 97 degrees out), and the newest funky athletic shoe/sandal hybrid and it’s a pretty safe bet you’ve found the Hipster Mom. She excels at being cool and has extensive knowledge of off the beaten track eco-vacations, the latest, tastiest sustainable wheat harvested micro brew, and her iTunes is jammed with the most “awesome up and coming bands ever.” She’s the female version of Peter Pan, never growing up, stuck somewhere in between her senior year in college and grad school.  Her kids are way cool with long hair that looks like it’s never seen a brush, and baggy, saggy, yet expensive clothes that say edgy with a touch of vintage rocker.

iPadder: Beware of this mother at any school event and for the love of God do not sit anywhere near her. She will block your view of the school play, choir recital, band concert – you name it with her iPad hoisted up in the air. When not using her tablet to record every precious waking moment of her children’s life you can find her with her head down transfixed on her iPad. This mom has lost the ability to engage in the conversational arts as Candy Crush is taking up all of her free time.

Marathon Mom: You see this mom running most mornings apres school drop off.  She volunteers for events that feature some kind of physical fitness. She’s usually clad in spandex running pants, jog bra and a huge runners watch to track her time and distance. This mom is motivated and dedicated as long as school events do not interfere with her training schedule and marathon dates. The Marathon Mom can tend to her volunteer obligations all while jogging in place, checking her heart rate, de-wedging her Nike thong underwear and sniffing her armpits.

Mean Girl: Like cockroaches mean girls never die. They grow up and spawn mean children. This is the girl who made you cry in middle school, who you hid from in high school and the one you tried to keep out of your sorority by hiding her legacy references. The Mean Girl is up at the elementary school under the guise of volunteering, but it’s really to stir up trouble. She’s the mom who corrects the Friday spelling tests and then blabs about which kids got bad grades. She’s a fixture at every school function not to help, but to complain about how it is being run and/or start rumors about PTA malfeasance. No surprise her children are school bullies, yet in her eyes, they can do no wrong. She circumvents any of her child’s discipline problems by threatening to take legal action against the district.

Mom Jeans: A staple of any elementary school. The mom who time forgot. Her high-waisted jean clad lower half is usually paired with a tucked in knit shirt (that totally emphasizes the hideousness of the mom jean) and generic sneakers. Her hair is short and facial waxing is a foreign concept. The typical Mom Jean works in the background of school events preferring to keep an extremely low profile.  Although, there have been reports of Mom Jeans with superior math skills ascending to the “lofty” position of PTA Treasurer.

The Old (insert city or town of your choice here) Mom: The old designation does not refer to the Mom’s age, but her family’s social standing as in “She’s Old Dallas” translation she’s “old money” or “once upon a time money.”  Many of the Old (insert city or town of your choice here) Moms trade on the history of what once was and try to block out their more meager 21st century financial situation. This is evidenced by the fact that her children are in public schools.The Old (insert city or town of your choice here) Mom usually has at least four names, with at least one being ridiculous – like Windsor Astor Carnegie Ford.  Her friends call her Winnie or Tor. You don’t call her anything because she doesn’t make eye contact with your kind.  And by your kind, I mean those of us who not only shop at Target, but worship its mighty therapeutic powers. This Mom can be seen at school liberally name dropping and planning her 6 year olds birthday day party with a debutante ball worthy zeal.  Her volunteer skills are not wasted on the elementary school level, but saved for black tie events that may make society news.  One quirk in the Old (insert city or town of your choice here) Mom is that she is surprisingly cheap when it comes to donating to the school.  No contributions made to the school raffle, teacher birthday party fund or even a school directory purchase.  Rumors abound that she habitually forgets her wallet at lunch and one summer never paid for her children’s private swim lessons.  Her female offspring can be identified by their monogrammed hair bows and Lilly Pulitzer shorts.  Her male offspring by their collection of exclusive summer camp T-shirts.

Phoner: We’ve seen this category drop off in numbers as more and more Phoner Moms became Texter Moms or iPadders.  Although, the volume is still significant enough to warrant entry into the study.  The Phoner Mom can be seen and heard yakking into her phone during any and all school functions. Her phone turns her into a play-by-play announcer at kid’s events.  Empirical data example – at school concerts the Phoner Mom is sharing every bit of the action with her phone.  “Oh, there’s Eddie. He’s walking on stage. He looks so cute. I wish you could see him.  I’m waving at him now. He saw me. He’s waving back.”  This goes on for the entire concert. The Phoner Mom’s unhealthy relationship with her mobile device makes it impossible for her to follow school protocol and turn her cell off.  She just can’t do it. No amount of dirty looks from other parents, no intervention from school authorities is enough to break the hold the phone has on her.  She’ll need rehab and a 12 step program to successfully battle this addiction.  Research shows that the phone is a gateway drug that without treatment eventually leads to dual Texter/iPad Mom syndrome.

 Poser: This mom uses the elementary school as her own personal fashion runway.  Every foray into the school is a chance for this Mom to show you what she’s got in her closet.  She comes to pose not to participate. I estimate her morning grooming ritual takes at least two hours. Class party equals Rock & Republic skinny jeans and off the shoulder Marc Jacobs cashmere sweater.  P.T.O. meeting means Tori Burch sundress and matching flats. Her other identifying feature is gianormous bug eye sunglasses.  If the paparazzi frequented elementary schools and In Style magazine did fashion layouts featuring mom’s in the burbs then the Poser Mom’s life would be complete.

 Stiletto: The Stiletto Mom can be identified by her smoking hot shoes. I’m talking Sex in the City worthy footwear. Think Manolo Blahnik’s $965 Chiffon Open-Toe Bootie sandal/stiletto.  When she walks onto school property you hear her first. The distinctive sound of handcrafted Italy leather shoes with an outrageous heel clipping down the hall.  This mom is rarely sited on the grounds of an elementary school.  She’s a career mom with a capital C and doesn’t have much time in her schedule to make frequent appearances at school. Everything about her denotes power and prestige. Her clothes are as expensive as her footwear. She smells like money. If money smells like the Neiman’s couture department. When she shows up though she delivers. Cookies for the school party – they’re not just grocery store bakery issued.  They’re one-of-a-kind creations by a celebrated pastry chef.  Her off spring is the one that is not hugging his/her mom.  Stiletto child learns at an early age not to touch Mommy’s clothes with eager, potentially paste encrusted or magic marker stained hands.

Texter: The Texter Mom can be identified by her obsession with her smart phone. At any school event she can be found transfixed by her phone.  Cradling it lovingly in her hands as her thumbs work themselves into a frenzy.  No matter what is happening at the school her face never leaves her phone screen.  I’ve conducted several experiments over the course of the year to determine the Texter’s love affair with her phone in correlation to her motherly devotion to her child.  Sadly, I must report the phone won – handedly. Here is sampling of data from my research: Child on stage during a performance – Mom’s face staring at phone.  Child taking part in athletic event – Mom’s visual acuity focused on phone screen. Child in spelling bee – Mom’s face still implanted on phone, thumbs moving at high rate of speed.  The last bit of research that sealed the Texter Mom’s cellular preoccupation leaning towards an O.C.D. diagnosis was the Mom texting during her child’s parent-teacher conference.

Two Faced Roving Gossip: Dangerous if cornered the Two Faced Roving Gossip is a nomad moving between all the species categories. How else would she collect ingredients for her slander stew.  Her strength lies in her ability to be a chameleon changing her personality to suit each group and ferret out half-truths and facts to disseminate with the school’s parent population.

Vajazzler:  (Bling Bling Mom’s hotter sister) Her credo is: “I’m hot and you’re not.”  She works the elementary school environment just like she used to work the stage at the “gentleman’s club” – proud and loud. Her biggest challenge is remaining upright due to her overwhelming breast enhancement, that gravity being what it is, tends to tip her over at times. Look for the Vajazzler rubbing up against all the dads at school functions and not being afraid to “bust a move” during Field Day.  Beware having your child go to her house for a playdate. Rumor has it there’s a pole in her bedroom.

Worker Bee: This mom is the glue that holds the school volunteer effort together. She can been seen buzzing around the school multi-tasking at events and doing most of the heavy lifting.  Her unique trait is the ability to give a non- volunteer (i.e. The Poser) a blistering evil eye while simultaneously running the school fair and laminating children’s artwork. She also excels at self-control.  She can listen to anti-volunteer moms (i.e. The Mean Girls) complain about how “lame” a school function is and not punch them hard right in the face. Her identifying physical traits are dark circles under her eyes and hair that you know she’s going to color or highlight just as soon as the fundraiser is over.

Yoga Pant/Ugg Mom: From the first day of school to the last this is the mom who you will never see in anything but Yoga pants and Uggs. It doesn’t matter if it’s 110 degrees and the National Weather  Service has issued a heat advisory this mom will still be yanking on black yoga pants and her beloved fur-lined Uggs. This outfit is most often accessorized with a Venti Starbucks and a superior attitude.

No species groups are pure. In my research I have found that some moms are adept at shape shifting from one group to another or not being fully part of one group but having attributes of several different species.  For example, a Mean Girl could also be an Old (insert city or town of your choice here) Mom and a Poser or a Mom Jeans could also be a iPadder or a Phoner. As in any research you should factor in some degree of author bias. Yet, I think you will find my methodology holds true and my data is sound. For I am, if nothing else, a professional.

***For all things wonderfully Snarky go to www.snarkygear.com where you can find the new Spring/Summer  Snarky line of clothing and accessories. Plus, there’s my book – Snarky in the Suburbs Back to School. (Click here for purchase information.) Here’s a little ditty about it: The Spring Creek Elementary School PTA board (a coven of Mean Moms dressed in Uggs, yoga pants, and dermal filler) is up to no good.  Wynn Butler (middle-aged, uncool, and not bringing sexy back) is determined to find out what’s going on. With help from her two kids, a Roomba vacuum turned mobile surveillance drone, and a few good friends, Wynn launches a covert investigation that leads to the “mother of all revenge capers” at the school’s annual Fall Festival.  If you’ve ever fantasized about smoke bombing the idiot parent who has yet to master the fine art of the school drop-off lane, or standing up and shouting, “Liar, liar, Botox on fire” during a PTA meeting, then this delicious tale of payback is for you. To stay up-to-date on new posts and take part in my not so deep thoughts click on this Facebook link – http://is.gd/iEgnJ (That’s the abbreviated link to my FB page) or I twitter @snarkynsuburbs.