Nearly end of the week update

It’s been an interesting week around here. It started with a potential tv show appearance, which those of you who follow me on Twitter likely saw me tweet about. No offense to said tv show, but it wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to do. NPR, 60 Minutes, Bill Moyers, any of those would be good, but a hugely popular but somewhat fluffy show? No thanks.

Despite the drama, I’ve been plugging away at the writing and I will likely finish the first section of my project today. It’s coming in around 70 pages, which is more than I thought it would. Heck it might be 80 by the time I’m done. According to my outline, there are two more sections to write. I’m planning to hand the first section off to Mr. Geeky to read. He’s a pretty harsh critic, so that makes me nervous. But it’ll be good for me, too. My plan is to begin new writing and tackle that in the mornings, and then work on revision in the afternoons. My goal is to finish the whole project by Christmas.

I’m also working on a presentation that I’m giving next month at SLSA. I think it’s going to be a fun presentation as my co-presenter, Anne Dalke, and I are using the techniques I’ve been using with my other colleagues, Leslie Madsen-Brooks, Barbara Sawhill, Martha Burtis, and Barbara Ganley. We make the audience do some of the work.

Last night, I attended the second PTO meeting of the year and I must say, it was much better. One thing I like this year is that the new president insists on introductions at the beginning of the meeting, even though many of the same people are there. It’s a great way to help people get to know each other. This year is a real struggle for the PTO with lots of restrictions being placed on communicating with the families. Membership is down as are our fund raising numbers. The PTO money essentially doubles the amount of money available to the school. Even if much of the money goes to what amount to extras, they are extras that the students wouldn’t have, and not all of it is extras. We do buy books and supplies for the classrooms, for example. So, I think it’s going to be an interesting adventure.

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Volunteering Angst

Gaggle of kidsImage by lorda via Flickr

So, I’ve been using some of my spare time to do some volunteering at my kids’ schools, mostly at the elementary school since they seem to need more help. I somehow ended up being the PTO webmaster. Okay, I told them I’d do it and it’s a good use of my skills. What this has entailed so far is setting up the site, responding to suggestions for functionality, etc. and then, posting information that was sent to me. Well, the requests to post started coming in more quickly and I decided to teach everyone else how to post (the site is a WordPress blog, so it’s pretty easy). That worked out fine and now most people are happily posting their own announcements. I also go to the PTO meetings and do the usual participating in schoolwide events.

I’m happy to be able to be involved in my kid’s school and it’s useful in keeping me informed, but my angst comes from feeling like they don’t really need me. Let me explain. The school is well-funded. What the PTO provides is mostly extra. They’re not buying supplies or paying teacher salaries or making sure low-income students have what they need to succeed. I can’t help but think that my efforts would pay off more at a school or organization that has significant needs.

Also, once you get on the “list” of people willing to volunteer, you get asked to do lots of things, partly because the percentage of parents who do volunteer is pretty small. And I often have this gut reaction of a) this seems like such a non-important thing to ask people to volunteer for and b) I can barely find time to keep my own life in order, much less the school’s. So, meh.

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PTA update

So I went to the elementary school PTA meeting on Wednesday night. There were a total of 6 people there including me. I don’t know how this compares to our previous school, but the other parents there said that they’d heard that there are regularly 40 or so parents at a couple of the other schools’ PTA meetings. I immediately felt sympathy for them. I volunteered to create a website for them, which I’m hoping to get done today. I’m going to use WordPress so that all the PTA officers can simply log in and post information. I’m pretty excited about it, and I think they’ll be happy to have something good to work with.

In comparison to our previous school, I would guess that this school’s parents are better off financially in general, but it seems that parent participation isn’t particularly high. The parents at the meeting were speculating that perhaps there were more two-income families and so fewer parents with time to commit. Also, we’re not nearly as financially well off as the middle school PTA and, I’m guessing, some of the other elementary schools. I hope that the web site/blog can help get more involvement and bring in more money. Right now, the PTA pays for a health and nutrition program for the kindergartners as well as a couple of big activities for the whole school.

This PTA has a much nicer feel to it than any other PTA I’ve tried to get involved in. It’s too bad that more people aren’t involved.

Opting in and onramping

Apparently, I missed the memo. I wasn’t supposed to quit my job; I was supposed to be rejoining the workforce. Last week, Judith Warner wrote about the media frenzy of covering the opt-outers having to return to work and give up their 9 a.m. yoga classes. There was actually a Blogging Heads conversation between Rebecca Traister and Emily Bazelon that started with a discussion of the wives of Wall Streeters who were disappointed that their lives weren’t living up to their expectations. Both Warner and these two women point out that at the lower end of the income scale, the pain is worse and the cooperation between the spouses is greater. As Warner says of working class women’s spouses:

But their husbands, very often, are holding their own at home just fine. For while the stereotype has long been that working class men won’t do “women’s work,” Coontz said, the truth is that in recent years they’ve had a better track record than the most high-income men in sharing domestic duties. Twenty percent of these men, in fact, actually do more housework and child care now than their wives. “These people have been doing it for some time and they’re much more ideologically committed to doing it,” she said. “I think your worst offenders” (dirty coffee mug-wise), “are in that top 5 percent.”

That rings true with my own experience in a working-class/middle-class neighborhood where I routinely see men at the grocery store, at parent-teacher meetings, at the soccer field (we have soccer dads too!), and doing their fair share around the house. The Bloggingheads conversation ends with hoping for more equity in the home, but also points out that there’s still a huge pay gap between men and women, which families are going to feel even more of if it’s the woman in the workforce and not the man. Hello? When is the excuse that the man has to support a family and therefore needs a bigger salary going to be shot down. Warner also points out that the focus on the wealthy’s problems takes away attention from the problems of the majority, problems that need to be addressed:

There’s a deeper reason, too: paying attention only to the – real or perceived – “choices” and travails of the top 5 percent hides the experiences of all the rest. And this means that the needs of all the rest never quite rise to the surface of our national debate or emerge at the top of our political priorities.

One can’t help but see a connection between this and the greater debate over bonuses and protecting banks from collapsing. Think about how AIG bonuses are being treated and how the banks are being treated compared to the UAW and the automakers (hat tip to rzklkng).

Yesterday, I listened to this show segment from NPR’s Tell Me More, where several returning to work mothers told their stories of how and why they returned to work. Not all of them fit the label Economommies (bleh, what an insulting term). One mother, for example, had always determined that when all of her kids were school age, she herself would return to school. The story didn’t really add much to the conversation, in my opinion. Sure, it shows how adjustments need to be made, how the spouses and the kids have to contribute more to household work, but this, to me, is an old story.

The Time story (linked to above), on the other hand, is a little more interesting and a little more creepy at the same time. On the one hand, it highlights many businesses that have cropped up that seek to help women onramp back to work by matching them with jobs that have flexible hours and/or providing training and networking opportunities. What shocks me is how out of it some women are in terms of technical and other skills. Even though I’m currently off-ramped, there’s no way I’m letting my skills deteriorate. I didn’t when I was home before and I won’t do it again. I always want to be able to jump back in whenever I need to.

When I was reading the article, I was actually thinking about the middle school PTO committee meeting I went to the other day. Working with the PTO or other volunteer organizations is one way to keep up your skills if you do it well. The thing that happens to some women when they’re at home moms is that they get into a comfortable groove of hanging out with certain people and doing certain things. The same people always seem to be running the PTO, for example. They not only do PTO together, but they go to the same church, eat at the same restaurants, and their kids are on the same soccer team. Everone and everything is always familiar and they think that it’s like this for everyone. So, when a new person shows up at their meeting, they don’t think to introduce everyone. Also, they don’t think that people’s time is valuable and they don’t have an agenda for the meeting. Both of these skills (and non-technical ones at that) are ones that one learns in a business environment. A meeting that could have taken an hour at most turned into an almost two-hour nightmare. I’m also participating in an after-school activity at my daughter’s elementary school that is equally disorganized. Also, no introductions at that meeting either. Ugh. Obviously, these women (and they were all women) are smart and capable, but if they were to take these events a little more seriously, a little more professionally, they’d really up the quality of them and be able to chalk this up as good experience should they need it on the job market one day. If they did that, I’d write them a Linked-In recommendation or a paper one to help them out.

The Rise of Online Social Networks

Social computingImage by lorda via Flickr

Bryan Alexander points to a Nielsen report that shows that social network sites and blogs have now outstripped email in popularity. The biggest increase has been in the 35-49 age group (hey! that’s my age group). I think there are obvious reasons for this. First, is that this age group is likely to have teenagers who use online tools to connect with their friends. Those kids parents have signed up for Facebook or other sites to keep tabs on their kids. Or just to understand what it is that their kids are doing. Second, many of the initial adopters of these tools are now in jobs, working alongside their 30 and 40 something colleagues and encouraging them to use blogs or social networking tools for professional development.

Anecdotally, I’m seeing this increase too. I wrote before about being found in Facebook by high school and college friends (who are obviously in my age group), and being a little uncomfortable with that. Last night I was at Course Selection Night for new high school students (yikes! I have a kid going to high school!), and the PTSA handed out flyers indicating that they were on Facebook. I was actually happy about that and I’ll probably friend them soon. Yesterday, I was able to update my contact information and list my preferred volunteer activities via an online tool called PTO manager and I mentioned earlier that the elementary school used an online potluck site to coordinate a big event that required food donations. I was also able to find out more about the budget of the Middle School PTO through the online site because they posted the minutes.

In part, this has been spurred locally by a new mandate from the school district that they will not provide access to the student database for the PTO. In the past, materials were sent home via the students and/or were mailed and emailed by allowing the PTO access to mailing and email addresses. Well, no more. And so the PTO had to get creative about how to gather that information for themselves and how to reach out to parents. I think some of this new interest in online communication is spurred too by a younger group of parents. The parents of my daughter’s friends are often younger than me since their oldest is my daughter’s age. As these parents begin to volunteer, they’re more familiar with social networking than their older peers.

Interestingly, I was sitting behind some moms last night who thought that Facebook was a silly idea for the PTSA and didn’t want to get an account. As one mom said, “Whoever I want to see, I see. I don’t need to use Facebook for that.” Over the last 6 years that we’ve lived here, I’ve increasingly become aware of how many people grew up here. They have deep roots and have established connections over the years and don’t need these tools to maintain them or build new ones. They don’t socialize that way. But some of us do. Some of us are maintaining old friendships through blogging, twittering, and FB. Some of us are trying to find new connections through those same tools. And I’m glad to see some of the local organizations recognizing that there’s more than one way to connect with people.

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Real PTA Moms Respond

Jackie at A Patchwork Life responds to the PTA debate, as a mom volunteering in a lower income school. I think that the parents who responded to Elizabeth’s post that I linked to yesterday tend to be in higher income school districts, where the tax base is such that they probably could fully fund the school if there were the political will to do so, and so there’s a frustration with the PTA fund raising efforts because they seem unnecessary or are creating further inequities between school districts.

The comments on Jackie’s post provide a completely different perspective on PTA efforts and should be a reminder that there are huge differences across school districts.

I have had experience at both ends of the school spectrum. I attended a school as a child where something like 85% of the students received free or reduced lunch. I’m sure they had to scrape for basic resources and that fund raising was an important part of that. At the other end, the first elementary school we were in here in PA was the richest in the area and the district actively competed with area private schools and was very up front about that competition. I went to PTA meetings there and volunteered in the classroom. Worst. Experience. Ever. I realize that that experience is not typical but it kind of scarred me. I mean the women who volunteered dressed for it, wearing pearls and diamonds and their best label outfits. I had on a t-shirt and jeans. One woman spent the entire time talking about famous graduates of her exclusive all-women’s high school. Ugh.

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