To the mamas who show up when I can’t

by Janelle Hanchett

I’ve talked a bit of shit about things like the PTA. There a few reasons for this. The main one is I have a fucked up sense of humor primarily rooted in negativity and general disdain.

Don’t I sound fun?

My dad and I have a running text thread of things we hate. Just, you know, as we go through our day and hate things, we write them to each other.

You might think I’m a miserable human walking around in a perpetual state of annoyance, and if you thought this, you’d be correct. Sort of.

I am basically always irritated. The question is not so much if I’m irritated, it’s whether or not I’m acting on it.

But I’m not miserable. I’m far from miserable. At least I think I am.

Because I don’t actually hate everything. I just like to pretend I hate everything. Because it’s fun. And funny.

Stop making me explain myself. I feel weird. This is getting way too therapy hour.

My fucking point is: I cannot attend meetings because I hate them and everyone in them within five minutes.

All that patient talking. The thoughtful consideration of others’ ideas, even if they’re terrible. The discussing. The planning. People saying words like “paradigm” and “check in” and “ballpark timeframe.”

There’s always somebody in the room who:

  • misses the fucking point entirely;
  • gets the point but is so caught up in meaningless details we are clearly never leaving the meeting ever;
  • is chewing ice;
  • enjoys the sound of his own voice so profoundly he just talks for the hell of it, meaning once again we’re never leaving the meeting ever.

And therefore, I am either:

  • sitting silent trying to focus on not letting my unchecked rage show itself via my eyebrows;
  • on my phone so I don’t speak;
  • at a breaking point wherein I finally speak and then regret it immediately because I was a dick or tried to be funny even though it never works; or
  • smiling like a drunk person on mushrooms trying to make up for that thing I just said.

Accordingly, I am not the person who should attend meetings. If at all possible, I should stay away from groups of humans trying to accomplish things together.

Sartre said “Hell is other people.” What I’m sure he meant was “Hell is other people trying to accomplish something as a collaborative team.”

I do better if somebody just gives me a job. Like, Janelle, help these kids shape clay into the shape of a rhino horn. Hold their hands and make sure they don’t fall into the river. Cut these fucking bunny ears out.

Cool. Good talk. I’m gonna nail this.

I can bring shit to class. I can pay for stuff sometimes. I can bake lemon bars that will make you come. (You see? Bad fit for parent meetings.) I can teach like a motherfucker. I can go on field trips as long as you don’t make me engage excessively with the other chaperones.

These are things I have accepted about myself. We all have our talents.

This is my fault. Not yours.

And I know this. And thus, my shit-talking about overzealous parents devoted to kid activities is partially based in the fact that I genuinely find such things intolerable, and would rather touch the nerve currently exposed above my tooth due to a receding gumline with a piece of ice (I need to go to the dentist, I think), and the rest is because I, in fact, find these things funny. Me, and you. I’m an asshole. You’re very serious about “spirit week” or whatever the fuck.

Let’s laugh at ourselves.

But right now, at the end of the school year, I have to tell you this: I am so fucking grateful for the mothers who show up that I could puke.

Yeah, I know, “Dads come too,” but sorry, when I go, I see about 98% mothers and thus, I get to address the mothers.

A few weeks ago, this was sent home from the school:

I read it and thought Oh no. The garden. I fucking love the garden. The kids love the garden. SOMEBODY SAVE THE GARDEN.  

I considered volunteering, but I can’t. I have 20 hours per week in my office and about 900 hours of work. I can’t regularly take half a day a week away from that time.

I stared at the paper and wondered if somebody would show up, if somebody would pull through. I wished I could do it. I felt this actual, physical pull toward all those mothers who come through.

I had to rely on them.

A week or so later, I got an email (that I actually read – score!) thanking volunteers for stepping up and taking over the garden.

The garden lives another year.

And I tell you I almost cried. Because let me tell you, mamas who show up, you are taking care of all our babies when we’re not there. You are holding their hands and helping them put little seeds in dirt and you are showing them where their finished painting goes and helping them fix their sculpture after it falls over or that asshole Billy smashes it.

You are taking pictures we can’t take and uploading them and singing songs we can’t sing and you are loving these little ones in our place.

It’s so cool, really, when you think about it. When you think about mothers (and FINE, the 2-4 fathers) showing up every week for reading circles and song circles and art circles and garden time. All that shit I make fun of. It’s a lie. I love you and I love you for showing up when we can’t.

I love you for being a person I don’t know who helps my babies.

I can’t be there, but damnitall to hell, Karen, I am grateful for you.

Be as annoying as you want. I won’t be there, and for sure some of the shit y’all come up with is overthegoddamntop, Karen, but you saved the garden. And in doing so, sister, you saved my ass. You kind of, over and over again, save my ass.

And I don’t even deserve it.

I’ll bring you some lemon bars and not speak. And I’ll think of you when my little one smiles, telling me what she did at school that day.




“Let’s not talk about how we all became better versions of ourselves the day we became parents, and, please, would you stop pretending you did? Because your holier-than-thou shit makes me worry you watch dinosaur porn after the kids go to bed. Your steadfast focus on seasonal cupcakes and organic kombucha concerns me. Look, I’ve got some too. I know all about gut flora. But please. Is that all there is?”


  • Sherry

    This is the best thing ever written in the history of writing.

    • Trisha


  • Marian

    Seriously!I’d rather do kegels with hot coals than sit through a planning meeting of almost any kind. If there’s food, I can at least nod and not be expected to talk whilst stuffing my face. I’m immensely grateful for the women who appear to enjoy/tolerate with much grace the kinds of nonsense which glue so many bits of the world together.

  • Peggy Miller

    You know, I cannot be part of anything that has ‘bylaws’. Or is it ‘bi-laws’? Which ever. Not professionally, not the PTA. But I agree with showing up with lemon bars and not saying anything. That’s pretty perfect. So, yes, Karen, thanks. We’re in this together.

  • Jennifer

    I tried to join the tribe of moms who help out this year. I confirmed 100% that I am not in the mommy in-crowd and don’t want to be… next year I’m back to dust bringing lemon bars only I’ll stick to juice boxes because no one wants burnt lemon bars… and I’ll try to remember that my nsfw shirts are also nsfschool…

  • Cathleen Blackburn

    Please share the recipe for lemon bars that will make you come!

  • CJ

    Other parents and their children are a factor of why I home school. They are too much! Lol. I am a decider and a doer plus my sarcasm would get the better of me. So kudos to you who can handle that job!

  • Suzanne

    So….I’m one of those moms that showed up and volunteered to do computer labs, playground committee, spring fair, book fair….you get the idea. I have no patience for stupidity or those long drawn out meetings either. But I was so grateful to have the luxury of being a stay at home mom that could be at all those events and share those moments with my kids and their friends. I was also aware that not all moms were as fortunate as I was so I was happy to do whatever I could and be a stand in for those moms that couldn’t be there. It does take a village ????

    • renegademama

      It does! And that’s what it felt like. The village. And I think you don’t get thanked enough.

  • Cambria

    HAHAHA “All that patient talking. The thoughtful consideration of others’ ideas, even if they’re terrible. The discussing. The planning. People saying words like “paradigm” and “check in” and “ballpark timeframe.” You crack me up.

  • Tina E

    I used to have responsibility for the gardens at school and I loved that role. I could get a door badge and no one batted an eye. I worked in the garden alone mostly (hard to get volunteers to come join you for weeding; they just want to collect produce). Then my son graduated last year. At some point this year, April maybe, one of the PTA mom’s (board member) asked me (I think in all seriousness) if I’d come back and take the job back. Never mind that there are 1,200 kids in the school. Never mind that my boy’s in a private school 30 miles away from home. I just don’t think it occurred to them that they need to cultivate a person to help them.

  • Darcie

    So much yes, and this town is all about the involved parents. I just cannot do it at all. My mom was the PTA president type. Actual, literal PTA President. I don’t want to show up, I want to do menial tasks at my house and drop them off and never have to talk to humans. I love the school gardens, and the parent that’s managed it for years is moving on to an elementary free life. But dammit, I can’t be that person no matter how much they need it. It’s not going to be a good fit, and I’d let them down because I just don’t work that way. Thanks to the people who do!

  • Jillian

    I think I need your lemon bar recipe

  • K8

    oh yes, kiss the volunteers! I remember when my eldest began kindergarten and there were a million notes coming home requesting a volunteer for this or that and I was just overwhelmed with guilt. I thought “who are these parents who have time to do all these things!?!” How do they work full time and still make it to nature walks and pumpkin patch outing etc!? Then it dawned on me that not all parents worked full time, and I was just so so grateful for those that have the time to make these special events and outings possible. Because as we ALL know, events and outings are the best thing about school. Bar none.

  • Corey

    We all have our strengths. I will buy however many tissues, bleach wipes, pencils, crayons and whatever the hell else you need for your classroom.. but I can never, ever, ever be the chaperone. Other people’s kids give me hives.

  • Elizabeth

    I used to be the snarky asshole making jokes about other people and feeling angry about their cheerful relationships or clean cars. Then I turned 40 and had a baby and realized assholes only encourage other assholes and I was going to step into the sunshine and bask in the connection and community of other parents, and I haven’t missed the snark at all. Just finished a year as PTA president, and as thankless a task as that is, I loved it. I love the moms and dads who show up, and those who send checks, and those who wish they’d only remembered and those who just don’t have the bandwidth. It does take a village and I’m happy to be on the planning committee.

  • Anna

    I loved this. Give me a job, I will chaperone the hell out of your kids, I will volunteer for the garden. Have your meeting decide what you need and then text my ass. And for the women without kids like my good friend who works for a non profit for sexual assault victims. That shit is so important for my girls who will be women. So I thank them as well for leading a life that gives them time to help all women instead of my life with it’s laser focus on only 3 specific girls.

  • Alexis

    I think i may need medication because for some reason this made me cry. Perhaps it is because my oldest turned 5 yesterday and will be going to Kindergarten in the fall.

    eh, i’ll skip the drugs and just make the lemon bars 🙂

  • Jenny

    You know what I do well? Planning meetings and volunteering for the book fair. You know what I don’t do well? Making lemon bars. I always sign up for something I can just buy and drop off, like napkins. I’m grateful for the mamas like you, because what kind of class party would be fun if there were only napkins???

  • Nicole

    When I wasn’t working full time during the day (hello, endless adjuncting), I was happy to read to kids, help pass out cupcakes at the class party, chaperone the gingerbread house workshop, run the after-school Eco program. BUT. I refused to join the PTA and deal with other adult humans. I can handle kids (in small doses – if I go too long without saying “fuck” I start to get hives). But I cannot handle the overly serious discussion of whether the crap sold at Santas workshop is really worth the money. First world problems, *Karen*. STFU.

  • Brandi

    Yup. I’ll show up and wrangle your dink children but DO NOT expect me to engage in meetings. Nope. Tried that once, made an excuse about having an appointment and left halfway through the damn thing lol.

  • Victoria

    I can relate. I volunteered for a long time, loved it and got out of it for a while. It gave me a new found respect for people who give their time to others.