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Ketchup is a Vegetable: The PTA and Their Carpool Line

I had many laugh out loud moments while reading Robin O’Bryant’s book, Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Mothers Tell Themselves.  My favorite chapter, by far, was “Eff the PTA and Their Effin Carpool Line.”  I entertained the salon during my haircut Friday, reading from my Nook for all to hear.  My hair stylist kept interrupting with affirmations, like “That’s so true.  I hate that, too.”

Ketchup is a Vegetable starts with the “simple concept” of carpool lines.  Those of us who have been there and done that agree that it’s not the dropping off that’s the problem so much as the picking up, especially when different grades are dismissed at different times.  Parents inevitably get in line way before dismissal, backing up traffic.

“After getting stuck in the carpool line twice in two days, I decided to try another tactic,” O’Bryant explains.  She parked in the lot beside the school so her younger children could remain in the car and she could conveniently hop out to retrieve her older daughter.  The whole planned hinged on being back in the her car “before the Super Mommy next to [her] had time to speed-dial Child Protective Services.”

But in the time it took for O’Bryant to retrieve a sippy cup in the backseat, another driver had blocked her in, parking illegally on the grass.  “What is wrong with these people?” O’Bryant rants.  “You give a woman a mini-van and all of a sudden she thinks she can just make up her own parking spaces!  Just because you have your whole life written in bumper stickers on the back of your car DOESN’T give you the right to park wherever you want to! I don’t care how many honor students and gold fish you have!”

When her daughter finally gets in the car, she darns evidence of PTA “brainwashing” and recites a monologue, urging parents to bring kids to Chick-Fil-A “to have a milkshake with the principal.”  As I read O’Bryant’s tale of the daughter’s meltdown because “everyone was going,” I felt like I was reliving a moment of my own life, except in our story it’s McDonald’s.

“PTA people, stop this!  This instant!  My child goes to public school for a reason!  If I could afford to take a family of five out to dinner every night and had friends who didn’t buy all their wrapping paper half-price at K-Mart after Christmas every year –my kids would go to private school,” O’Bryant pleads.

Since my children’s fundraiser kicks off with the stopping of all instruction so the entire student body can assemble in the cafeteria to see the prizes they’ll win if they sell enough items, I could relate.  Having refused to participate in such shameless marketing ploys but still wanting to support the cause, I sent monetary donations directly to the PTA these last five years.  However, this year, the lure of a plastic penguin keychain was too much for my six-year-old to bear, and when my ten-year-old piled on her desires to attend to a special sellers-only magic show, I caved.

I would much rather do what O’Bryant explains her sister does. “[The PTA] gave you the option of volunteering or writing a check for fifty dollars…I’d pay the PTA fifty dollars to quit programming my child to peddle their wares on the streets of Mount Pleasant for some stupid plastic monkey that I could buy for a buck at any Dollar General – but NO.”  I have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t feel the same exact way about school fundraisers yet the madness continues.  It’s like the parents who complain their kids have too much stuff, but they’ve started their holiday shopping already.

Robin O’Bryant’s right.  “[My Daughter] didn’t want my crap, she wanted their crap and she wanted to earn it. What kind of values are they trying to teach our kids anyway?” While she graciously ends the chapter with this observation, her summation left me wondering, ‘Was it the child who earned it or the parent who took the catalogue to her office?’

Our parents had no idea how good they had it when fundraising was simply a bake sale.  Don’t worry.  In the end, O’Bryant acknowledges just how good she has it, too.  In the poignant chapter, “Why It’s All Worth It,” O’Bryant recounts the death of a childhood friend before he ever knew the love of his own family and takes comfort in the realization that, “Every moment counts.”

So make it count with yours today and tell yourself, “Ketchup is a vegetable.”



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Read my other blog Befriending Forty.


Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter is a mother, teacher, reader, and writer on the education and environment beats for RFM. She has been with RFM since its founding in 2009 and has contributed photos and written numerous articles on education, parenting, and family travel.

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