Jeff City or bust!!!

I have this dream.

It started two years ago, when my niece’s fourth-grade class at Bryant Elementary School in Independence did not make the trip to Jefferson City as the capstone of a months-long lesson about Missouri history.

I don’t remember the reasons Maureen’s class didn’t make the mostly annual sojourn, just that the kiddos were sorely disappointed. And so were their parents, who didn’t realize the trip was a no-go until too late to do anything about it. My sister and brother-in-law took Maureen to Jefferson City themselves that summer.

My dream grew in intensity last August, when my youngest child entered fourth grade. He’d looked toward the school year with anticipation after the grade ahead of him resumed the annual Jeff trip in May 2012.

And when I and other parents were told early last semester that the fourth grade once again likely wouldn’t go to the state’s capital city – this time because the trip would take away from prepping for the state assessments – my dream intensified, nagging, pushing through my other thoughts, needling me like a splinter stuck in my sock during a 5K.

My dream, folks, is that all Independence fourth graders get the chance to journey to the center of our great state for their first up-close glimpse of participatory government.

On the surface, maybe, it seems frivolous. What’s the big deal about taking a bunch of 9 and 10 year olds to Jefferson City? It means waking up before the chickens to get your kid to school to catch the bus, sack lunch in tow. It means a good three hours on a bus with a bunch of exuberant kids who know every line to several episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants. It means giving up a day of your own time to go see things you (hopefully) learned about years ago.

Yep, the fourth-grade trip to Jeff is all those things. But it’s also this: The chance to make a favorable impression on young minds still idealistic enough to believe that this great democratic experiment we have going in the United States is working.

The trip to Jefferson City offers a chance for jaded adults to see awe and wonder again as the children gaze upward at the beautiful rotunda of the capitol or look down upon the General Assembly as members bustle in and out of chambers, going about their work; as they listen to the stories of how one governor’s wife saved the executive mansion; as they think that they, too, could one day, if they worked hard enough, earn a seat on the state’s highest court.

But more than that, it’s a chance for us as adults to model for our children the importance of civic duty – of knowing who represents our voices in government, of speaking up when we don’t agree, of learning about how our country works.

This is our job. If we don’t teach them, who will?

Back to my dream. From 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at Allen’s Banquet Hall at 11330 E. Truman Road in Independence, a bunch of parents who share my dream are mounting a huge rummage sale to raise money to pay for their fourth graders to make that trip.

This year, it’s one school.

My dream? Next year, all 18 of them.

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Why are all my PTA experiences the Harper Valley kind?

Today was Schedule-O-Rama in our household.

Three schools, three schedules. My legs are killing me.

And, as you know, you can’t pick up your schedule without passing the PTA table, where you get the whole parent-involvement spiel, yadda yadda yadda. So I’m now a member of three PTAs/PTSAs. Yippee.

I’m just not the joining type. I’m not the meeting type, the taking-notes type, the running-the-school-book fair type. Not to dis those who are. I think it’s great – for them. I just don’t like groups. I guess that’s why I’m a cat person.

So am I a hypocrite for joining the PTA/PTSA? Probably. I’m a big old hypocrite on lots of things. I’ll probably go to hell for it, too. But I think it’s my duty as a parent to join the PTA/PTSA as a visible cue to my kids that I’m all about their schooling. Not that they notice, but they might someday.

And frankly, when I die and someone’s writing my obit, I want them to be able to say I was a longtime PTA member. Because when you read that in someone’s obituary, don’t you just figure they’re Mom of the Year material?

OK, so before you start rolling your eyes and assuming I’m just sitting at home, watching reality TV and eating chocolates while my progeny are preparing to be the leaders of tomorrow, let me just say that I volunteer at school. I do all the crap jobs that no one else wants to do – reshelving library books, going to the food bank to pick up extras for our school program for needy kids, cutting apart laminated essays for the second-grade teacher. It’s not glamorous, but it’s the kind of thing I’d rather do than sit in a meeting and bitch about how last year’s PTA dropped the ball on the cookie-dough fundraiser.

However, I long ago gave up actually being involved in the running of any of these myriad PTAs I belong to. Like I said, groups and I don’t mix. I did, though, try my hand at this officer thing in the early days of my stay-at-home motherhood, with disastrous results.

Without going into much detail – I seriously can’t for legal reasons – I ended up in dog court, defending my pooches and my reputation against scurrilous allegations from none other than a fellow PTA member. The whole incident began in the PTA and spilled over into the neighborhood. And that’s all I can say about that in writing. If you want the whole story, you’ll have to buy me a beer.

Still, it’s been six years since that debacle, and those memories have softened somewhat around the edges. So last year, I eased back into a little PTA involvement, working at the fall book fair, doing whatever needed to be done that no one else wanted to do.

Then came spring and what should have been preparations for our school flower sale. It had been an annual event since 2004. It didn’t start as a PTA affair, but in the last few years the PTA had taken it over. But the spring wore on, and no information on the flower sale floated around.

So about two weeks before the date it should have happened – the Saturday before Mother’s Day – I ran into a former PTA officer at a hardware store. We both were buying annuals. I told her I was stocking up on flowers since it appeared our school wasn’t selling them this year. We agreed it was weird.

Then that night, I was at an end-of-the-year band concert when another friend told me she’d heard the flower sale was canceled because the PTA had never paid the grower for the flowers from the 2010 sale.

Whoa. How much money were we talking about? About $1,200. Not a ginormous amount, but seriously. They’d had the money. What did they do with it?

The word on the street was that the PTA tried and tried to reach the grower, but no one ever answered the phone. So they just kept all the money.

Geez. Every morning of the world, our school principal makes like a deejay on the morning announcements and implores students and staff to, “Do the Right Thing. Treat People Right.” Every. Single. Day.

I was livid. What did they do with the money? Supposedly, there wasn’t enough in the PTA coffers to send the school’s fourth graders to the state capital, but the PTA had apparently embezzled some money. Holy cow!

So I contacted the grower, who said he’d never received the money. I asked him to e-mail me an invoice.

Then I made an appointment with the principal and told him the whole thing, even the part about the PTA officers claiming that the principal had tried calling the grower but that his call had never been returned. Pure fiction, apparently.

The principal told me to get him the invoice and he’d personally drive it the 45 minutes to the country greenhouse. So I did. And he did. Somehow, the PTA coughed up the money.

And now, I’m a non-entity to the PTA again. By the end of May, the officers looked right through me. Stopped talking when I came anywhere near.

It kind of hurt. I mean, no one likes to be ostracized. But was I surprised? Not especially.

So, yeah. I’m a PTA member. Big whoop.

Where did this kid come from?

PowerSchool is such a double-edged sword.

You know PowerSchool – it’s the nifty electronic grade book that allows parents to know at every minute of the day how their kids are doing in school. It’s both a gift and a curse.

The gift comes because no longer are we surprised when the kids bring home their grades, good or bad. The curse is that every flipping day – if you’re neurotic like me and have the high school e-mail you daily updates of your kid’s grades – you’re faced with the reality that while your kid said he understood his biology assignment, more than likely he didn’t.

A couple days ago my oldest told me I’d ruined his day, and it wasn’t even 7 a.m. That’s because I checked my e-mail at 6:30 a.m. and saw the daily PowerSchool update. And lo and behold, his bio grade had fallen an entire letter since the previous day’s update.

I didn’t rant and rave and talk about wasted potential – not then. I didn’t want to ruin his day. I don’t live to ruin the days of my kiddos, but good luck convincing them of that.

But I asked him why he’d received a big fat zero on an assignment I was pretty sure I’d seen him working on. He didn’t know, he said. He’d turned it in.

“Did you really?” I asked, knowing even as the words left my lips that I was edging into the danger zone. But I couldn’t help myself.

“Mom!” he moaned. “Why don’t you trust me?”

Hmmm. I don’t know. Why don’t I trust him? Could it be because of his sometimes creative massaging of the truth?

Except that I was 99 percent sure he had done this assignment. So I told him he needed to ask his teacher about it. Maybe she’d made a mistake.

You’d have thought I told him he’d have to take it up with Dolores Umbridge. He looked stricken. Couldn’t I ask?

“Look,” I said, “it’ll be weird if I get involved. You don’t want people to think your mommy has to fix your problems, do you?”

Actually, that’s OK with him.

And that’s what I don’t get. Neither his dad nor I is a shrinking violet. We face our issues head-on. We don’t take getting stepped on lightly. We advocate for ourselves.

And we do it in front of our kids. I mean, we’re not going around raising hell all the time. But many’s the time my husband had argued with someone about an overcharge. The kids are always rolling their eyes behind his back.

Myself, I take the “good cop” approach until pushed to defend myself, which I’ve also done in front of the kids many times.

But our oldest – he sort of takes a Zen view of the world, at least this part of it. There must be some reason his grade fell a whole letter grade. Who is he to question fate? The grade is but one step on his path to enlightenment, blah blah blah.

Let him get slighted by the xBox while he’s playing FIFA soccer, though, and hoo boy. There’s hell to pay, xBox. And if his siblings short him a cupcake or donut or eat the last Little Debbie cake, watch out!

So I’m puzzled. Is this his way of rebelling against his dad and me, by becoming passive? I am a little worried.