Less than 1% of the US population currently serves in the active duty military or in the reserves. Since the draft was discontinued in 1973, the all-volunteer military has stepped up while the rest of us focus on taking pictures of our food and wondering what Kim Kardashian is up to.
There’s another volunteer army in America that is manned by a dedicated group of heroes who work tirelessly while others sit idly by. It is fiercely and efficiently devoted to its mission. In fact, this army raises 100% of its own budget and has zero issues with sexual harassment.
It’s your friendly neighborhood Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).
That’s right – somewhere in the bowels of your local elementary school AT THIS MOMENT, moms and dads are bravely squeezing into tiny seats and bumping their knees on tiny desks while being briefed on their next mission.
As someone who’s served as a volunteer in both the US military AND the PTO at two elementary schools, I can attest that these two armies are more similar than you might imagine. Here’s how:
Recruiters Will Say Anything
“This job is simple.” “The silent auction practically runs itself.” “The volunteers are just waiting until the last minute to sign up.” Lies – all lies! Never believe the pitch, because once you sign on the dotted line it is all YOU. An Army of One, so to speak. Good luck!
Anyone Can Become a Four-Star General
You gotta love a meritocracy like this. Your gender, your age, your PhD in quantum physics – none of it matters. Everyone starts as a foot-soldier (a one hour shift at the ice cream table during the annual picnic) and anyone can become PTO President. Really, anyone. Anyone? Do I see any hands?
You Will LOVE Leave and Liberty
Every once in a while, you get to breathe. When the annual outdoor carnival (your biggest fundraiser!) has just closed and those menacing clouds never amounted to anything, when the last book fair register is turned off and the cash box turned over to the treasurer – a glass of wine awaits. Kick back and unleash you inner drunken sailor – you’ve earned it.
Ever notice how some PTO’s promote Zumba classes, group yoga, or even boot-camp style workouts? It’s not just so we’ll look better in our sweatpants; this work requires muscle. In my PTO years I have personally helped unload a semi-truck of unassembled playground equipment, moved a piano numerous times, and hauled Christmas trees around a sales lot. All without spilling my latte. Ooh-rah!
Specialization is Encouraged
It’s not enough to be a grunt in today’s PTO: we need expertise, and if you have it, you will be heavily recruited. Our organization is always looking for hospitality specialists who will make those famous crème de menthe brownies for every function. If you can draw beyond stick figures and/or know someone who owns a print shop, you’re the new marketing department. If your garage contains a snow blower or a chain saw, welcome to a career in heavy equipment leasing. And God help you if you know how to use QuickBooks, because you just became lifetime Treasurer.
Retirement Benefits are Great
You’ll receive 50% of your salary plus continue your health benefits for the rest of your life after 20 years of service.*
Everyone is Replaceable
Like in the real military, attrition is part of life in the PTO. Kids graduate; parents move on. Difficult as it may be to believe, someone else will run the carwash and write the newsletter, and the earth will keep spinning on its axis. The school bell will still ring.
Your Community Will Appreciate You and Recognize You With a Holiday and Parade
Actually, no. This is only for the real military. If only!
These Troops Deserve the Thanks of a Grateful Nation
So thank a PTO parent today. Unlike military heroes, they aren’t heavily decorated with medals and ribbons. They don’t sport chevrons and gold braid. They can be identified by the bags under their eyes, the venti cups of caffeine in in their hands, and the overflowing bags of school-related supplies spilling from their filthy minivans.
Thanks, fellow PTO parents. I salute you!
*50% of nothing is nothing. Anyway, no one has been known to remain sane after 20 years of PTO service. Retirement will actually cost you more than being on active duty, because without all those parent socials you’ll be stuck buying your own wine.