There are worse jobs than being editor of a school’s parents association newsletter — bathroom attendant in the dysentery ward the morning after Taco Night, perhaps — but some idiot always volunteers. Meet that idiot.
Not that I’m complaining. OK, I’m totally complaining, but it’s been rough week.
Some background: My daughter’s Upper West Side elementary school has one of those turbo-charged parents associations that raises and spends more money than the governments of some developing nations. The PA’s newsletter isn’t a mimeographed handout sent home occasionally to remind parents about the bake sale. It’s a carefully designed, professionally printed two-page tip sheet that goes home every week with every kid and reminds parents about the bake sale. (Despite the hoopla about banning brownies a few years back, bake sales continue to be a time-honored fund-raising tool.)
The newsletter is also the primary communication tool of the PA’s leaders, who have the lousy task of continually asking for money and volunteers. It’s more Pravda than Washington Post: We aim to spread the party message, not whip up outrage. (You want outrage? Publish the names of kids who win first place in school competitions. That outrages parents of kids who finish second but didn’t get mentioned.)
Each week I publish a note from the PA presidents. Most of my other “content” is written by fellow parents, many of whom are busy executives. BlackBerrys and iPhones are as common as backpacks at morning drop-off. This is bad for me, because nearly every article submitted to the newsletter reads like an e-mail memo. I’ve had to remind contributors that the printed page doesn’t allow readers to click on a web link.
Fortunately, volunteers help me do the editing. Except when they forget, like last week. When that happened, I had to park my daughter in front of the TV for three hours while I slapped together the newsletter. It’s the classic Catch-22 of the parent volunteer: Work done for the benefit of all kids in a school reduces time spent with your own child.
When the newsletter is ready, I e-mail a draft to the PA presidents, who usually tell me to change things. Then I proofread and correct all mistakes, except for the ones I miss. Sometime around midnight, I press “send” and ship the finished file to a copy shop. The newsletter gets printed, distributed and sent home in kids’ backpacks. Parents read it and flood me with notes of gratitude. Then a monkey flies out of my butt.
Actually, I never hear from parents, except those who wrote an article that didn’t run, or that was changed slightly, or appeared on Page 2 instead of Page 1. Fortunately, I spent many years working at newspapers, so I’ve learned not to expect thanks. When school events attract a good crowd, I take satisfaction in knowing I helped get out the message.
And if parents still complain, I have a ready response: I promise to do better next time, and I remind them about the bake sale.