Apparently, I am finally in a clique. It only took me to 45 years of age to be part of one. That’s kind of funny. Kind of. More on that in a bit.
The PTA ladies tell me they are seen as a clique, and that’s why they have trouble getting parents to join. I had no idea about that when I joined, or I wouldn’t have bothered trying, because I never get in to cliques. Our board meetings over the summer included wine and snacks! How can anyone be in a mean clique where everyone isn’t allowed if they serve wine and snacks! Maybe they let me in because at the first meeting, I wore my “I am a wino” t-shirt. Kidding. Seriously though, everyone has simply been really nice, and that’s it. There is a huge mix of Moms – they are physically different, socially different, some work, some don’t, some are super smart and outspoken and some work quietly in the shadows in the ways they support the PTA and the school. The details of some of the programs they handle blow my mind. I took on one of the simplest annual tasks and just getting that together has been overwhelming, and I have a partner helping out on that event.
I honestly just thought it was something that might be able to help my kid, and would help me get up to speed more quickly on the culture, activities and happenings (including politics, which are everywhere) in my son’s new school. What I’ve learned in just a few short months has been interesting and valuable, so this was the right thing to do, even though we are lacking volunteers and the same people show up to work events again and again – it isn’t because they are a clique, it’s because more people don’t help out. I’ve learned our district is the 3rd largest in the county! And have been blown away by the amount of money the treasurer handles in balancing the PTA budget. There is a lot of thought, discussion and debate about issues as well. We had a spirited talk the other night about whether or not to fund something the teachers have asked for, and decided instead to push back and request that more teachers join the organization before we would fund their thing. In part, perhaps because of an opinion I gave on the subject, which many people said they agreed with. Like, they listened to me and thought I had a good point of view. Amazing.
Their character is impressive. One woman handles all the decorations for the entire school. She decorates and adds information to bulletin boards, she does seasonal decorations of doors and hallways up and down the entire building. Every time I go there, she is there, stapling up letters and cutting and pasting construction paper together.
When I first saw the PTA President after I told her I was having some personal/family issues, she came up and gave me a big, warm hug. I don’t even KNOW her, I’ve only had a couple of conversations with her, but she was all like, “If you need anything, please let me know, or anybody else in the group if we can help.” I was so shocked and touched I had tears in my eyes.
She also said that, while she didn’t know me very well, she imagined I was a “strong woman” or a “tough cookie” or something like that, and she was sure I could handle it. Which was a supportive thing to say, but also made me wonder about how often how I look (I’m Greek – my natural expression looks very serious or kind of like I’m frowning) or how I “come off” as a person has made people think I’m not someone who would be good to be in their group. I’ve been nothing but as friendly, nice and helpful as i know how to be with these ladies and they immediately accepted me, and all I did was show up. This is basically the complete opposite of how I grew up. I wonder if it was because it was a small town? Or was it because I was poor? Was it embarrassing to be seen with me, knowing your Mom gave my Mom a bag of your used clothes and now I’m wearing your clothes to school? Which came first? The chicken or the egg? The social ostracizing leading to joining up with a group in a shoplifting and fencing ring with a tendency towards substance abuse and violence? Or did I gravitate towards the trouble, smelling like it myself, and that’s why people stayed away.
When I was in middle school, I tried to be friends with the popular girls, who really didn’t seem to like me very much – I don’t know why I tried. Once, they made me the butt of a joke in class before the teacher had arrived, horribly embarrassing me in front of everyone in the room. Another time, when I told a girl that another girl had been saying some not very nice things about her, the first girl walked up to me and smacked me in the face, hard, in front of the group. Lesson learned – you are not welcome here. Your type is the wrong type.
There was another group of girls I tried to be friends with, more middle class, as I wanted to think of myself, even though we were nowhere near middle class. But I wasn’t invited to things – some that I heard about, some that I didn’t. I heard about trips they took together or places they went.
Both groups of girls put together fun dance numbers for their respective groups in the school talent show, and I had no idea, seeing all my “friends” on stage at the show being the first time I found out about it. Another lesson learned. You don’t belong with us. You are the wrong type.
I spent a lot of that year working on a farm, so yeah, I guess I really wasn’t that type at all. My jeans got manure on them on the weekends, not nail polish. But why was I so reviled and rejected?
Up until that time, I had primarily socialized with my best friend. We were, in many ways, the most unlikely pairing of best friends, but we met the first day of Kindergarten and didn’t know we shouldn’t be friends because she was from a conservative, upper-class family and some of my clothes were homemade, and sometimes I got a new pair of Wrangler jeans from Farm & Fleet. As we grew up, I’m sure she fielded as many questions as I did about why we were friends from those in her social circle. We never talked about it, really. But I know even today, her responses were much like mine were, the essence of which was, “You don’t know what she is really like.” But at this point in our lives, she was moving on, skipping a grade and moving on to socialize more with her new classmates and those closer to her socio-economic class, understandably.
I was left to wonder what it was I was doing wrong. I soon quit caring and quit trying. By high school, my Teflon exterior was pretty complete, and then almost no one got in unless they worked at it. And a few did, and I am still friends with many of those people today; they seem to think I’m pretty ok.
And now things have come full circle, and here I am, in a clique, or so they say. Maybe these ladies wouldn’t have let me into their group back in the day, either. Maybe everyone has just grown up, and learned that if someone wants to join your group, you give them a fair shake until you have a reason not to, which is what I try to teach my son.