It’s the elephant in the room. Nobody says it but everyone is thinking it.
I’m sure in some circles, it may come to hair pulling or mean-girl talk, but in the circles I run in, it tends to be an undercurrent. My kids have been at several different schools and I’ve seen a different flavor at each.
I’ve also been on both sides of this equation, a working mom and a stay-at-home mom. My bias is equal, all things considered.
So, I thought it might be fun to make apparent the tapes playing in heads as opposing factions smile sweetly but emotionally square off. And, of course, no names mentioned or my mommy friends will never speak to me again.
In this corner, we have Working Wanda. While small in stature, she is a titan in the boardroom. Which is why you’ll rarely find her in the school room at a committee meeting. But when she does show up, her secret pet peeves tend to run along these lines:
Shut up, shut up, shut up already. Ah, yes. As the stay-at-home mom who has decided this meeting is her primary purpose for the day drones on, Wanda seethes. The point that could have been made in a concise sentence or two is instead made in paragraphs. Long, sloooooow paragraphs. With lots of “you know’s” added in and “yays” when someone else says something she likes. Wanda checks her watch and calculates what this meeting will cost her, in billable hours. And starts to count slowly backward from 100 to keep herself from exploding.
I did not sign up for the Little Darling show. This peeve refers to the mother who brings her toddler or small child with her everywhere. Planning an event to raise thousands of dollars? She’s there, alright. The agenda items never quite get covered because a) Little Darling has spilled her sippy cup all over the paper agendas, b) the entire committee must “ooh” and “ah” over LD’s latest song and dance for the talent show before the meeting can begin and c) it’s hard to focus on agenda items when a small person is trying to braid your hair. Wanda calculates how much she pays her nanny per hour and thinks she may just offer to write a check to LD’s mother if it means the next meeting can be an actual meeting rather than a play group.
The agenda-less meeting. Otherwise known as a glorified coffee klatch. No agenda, no progress. You begin with small talk and never quite get beyond it. Or, you start with a random small item, such as the committee chair’s penchant for red and blue decorations, rather than with a budget figure and a timeline. As the talk meanders, Wanda imagines her company’s latest product launch being handled in this manner. And immediately breaks out in hives.
The dinosaur dance. Wanda sits through a 90-minute meeting that was supposed to end 30 minutes ago. She sees the new event chairs pitch all sorts of creative ideas. And then she watches those ideas shot down by the grand dame of the PTA, one by one, with the precision of a sharpshooter. The conversation degrades into talk of how many folding chairs will be needed versus available. And anyone who has ever been in the corporate sector wonders why the grand dame asks for new volunteers when what she really wants is a Stepford Wife. The meeting ends with the inevitable, “We’ve always done it this way. It works.”
Stay-at-Home Susie sits in the other corner. Don’t let the messy hair and tired eyes fool you. She can multi-task with the best of them, even on the mere four hours of sleep her baby allowed her last night. She has been to a million of these meetings and can spot a Wanda from miles away. Her pet peeves tend to sound like:
I didn’t know this was a fashion show. As Wanda sashays into the room, Starbucks in hand, she is probably rocking Manolos. Maybe some Theory. She is showered, made up and caffeinated. And that alone makes Susie want to kill her. Because the uniform makes her think she runs the room the way she runs her work team. Her constant interruptions, eye rolls and sighs make Susie wonder how many years she’d get in the Big House if she reached across the table and strangled Wanda. After a brief mental calculation, she decides against it, realizing her kids would never find their shoes or eat a decent home-cooked meal again.
If you interrupt me one more time . . . Susie is used to not being able to finish a sentence at home, with her young children speaking over her. So she’s a wee bit sensitive about the issue with fellow grown-ups. By the fourth or fifth interruption, she and Wanda are competing for highest volume and the rest of the room either heads for the bathroom or pulls out earplugs.
I’ll tell you what you can vet. Every era has its corporate buzzwords, which Wanda likes to bring forth at key points in the meeting. She likes to say all ideas should be “vetted” for “peak performance potential.” By the tenth mention, Susie is about to tell her what exactly she can vet and then where she can stick it when she is done.
Enough with the spreadsheets. Wanda rarely comes to school meetings prepared but when she does, it’s usually with copious spreadsheets showing cost/benefit ratios for every aspect of a fundraiser. As Susie watches all eyes in the room glaze over by the third in-depth explanation, she realizes why accountants are rarely invited to her dinner parties. And wonders how to politely tell Wanda there are no end-of-event bonuses being handed out for overachievers.
The Grand Finale
Wanda sucks it up until she can stand it no longer. When the meeting finally ends, she says to Stay-at-Home Susie: “I think you’d be so FAB at those action items we came up with, especially because you have so much extra time on your hands, what with you not working.”.
Susie, inwardly seething, smiles sweetly at Wanda and says, “I think it is so adorable the way your son calls his nanny ‘Mommy’. You’re so lucky to have found a suitable replacement for you. I’m sure that’s not easy.”
I’ve yet to see it end with scratching and kicking, but there’s a first time for everything . . .