Birth of a PTA Goddess

Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

I woke up the other morning and found myself on the PTA Board. Like all of those stories that start with, “you’ll never believe where I woke up,” I used to hear from my college roommates, I’m not quite sure how it happened.

I was daydreaming my way through a nominating committee meeting and the next thing I knew I was saying “sure, great idea” to what I swear was the rather brilliant suggestion that we have an open bar at our next meeting.

I was wrong.

And then there was training involved.

Last weekend was the PTA Leadership Round Up in Buellton. I got to the cafeteria of Oak Valley Elementary School a few minutes early, salivating for coffee, only to find that the first speaker was already cheerfully jabbering away. What kind of homicidal parent group starts early? And on a Saturday morning! Not only had they started early, they put the coffee in the front of the room. I had to stumble by dozens of perky morning people to get to the java, all the while enduring the stares of the keynote speaker, and it wasn’t my fault.

Did I mention she started early? Who does that? And she was really, actually 10 minutes early, in real time, not Santa Barbara time.

Had I not carpooled with a couple of other moms, I might have turned around then and there.

I daydreamed my way through most of the first session. It’s not that a review of various PTA job descriptions isn’t compelling first thing in the morning. I mean, who knew that “ways and means” was a fancy way of saying “fundraising?” I just thought that my time could be used more effectively by doodling out a series of plots for my new mystery series, Murder at the PTA Meeting. Could you really bash someone to death with fundraising wrapping paper?

Little did I know that a whole genre of this type of novel already exists. Murder at the PTA Luncheon, Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA and my personal favorite, Death of a PTA Goddess, were all conceived during PTA training, I’m told.

I started to understand why when the two head honcho PTA ladies put stuffed fish on their heads (so that’s where Nemo went) and showed us a motivational video of the fishmongers at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. Seriously. I learned from this video that I’m supposed to smack the principal with a carp at our next PTA meeting. More and more I’m thinking that my open bar idea was a stroke of genius.

I know that the only two men in the room would agree with me, as I watch them try to pick a door prize from a slew of Mary Kay perfumes and flowered tote bags, FYI guys: join your PTA board, and go to the conventions, even if you don’t have a kid. Fish in a barrel.

The guys also remind me of next fall’s Survivor show. I’m told the producer plans to enlist 12 men, who will be dropped into the suburbs with a van, six kids (each of whom play two sports and take either a musical instrument or dance class), and no access to fast food. They must keep the house clean, correct all homework (receiving at least a “C+” on all papers), complete a science project, cook, and do laundry. Plus they have to shave their legs and wear makeup, which they must apply either while driving or while making six lunches.

The competitions will consist of such things as cleaning up after a sick child at 3:00 a.m.; making an Indian hut model with six toothpicks, a tortilla and a crayon; and attending a PTA meeting and accurately reporting the results.

I would certainly fail at the latter.

But then again, reporting about how nice and normal and less thin and blonde and perky the real PTA moms are than the ones on TV wouldn’t be very entertaining, would it?

As the 37th person in a row introduced herself as someone who “never thought of herself as the PTA type,” I realized I was going to fit right in just fine. Especially once we get the bar installed.

When her mind isn’t wandering to thoughts of murder, Leslie can be found in the carpool lane, putting her makeup on peanut butter sandwiches. Share your PTA adventures by emailing

Originally published in Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 26, 2006.

Yes I Cannot Say No

Can a Yes-Woman Become a No (to)-It All?

“You know how to do it, ” whispers the assertive angel on my shoulder, and yes, she sounds a bit like Lauren Bacall. “Just put your lips together and say, ‘NO!'”

I can feel the unfamiliar sound forming, it’s just a breath away from coming out of my mouth … then the word gets stuck in my throat. Inexplicably, my lips start moving and those other familiar words come out: “Yes,” or “Sure, I’ll do it,” or even worse, “Why not?”

Why not! Why not indeed!

Because I have too much to do.

Because I did it the last time.

Because I want to be at home with my family.

Because I don’t want to.

Because I, Leslie Dinaberg, am a yes-aholic.

There. I’ve taken the first step toward recovery.

Why is it so hard for me to say “no,” I wonder for the umpteenth time, as I sit here writing this column, at home, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, while my son and my husband are off enjoying themselves at the pool?

I wish I could blame this on an evil boss who piles on the weekend assignments, but it’s my own fault. I’m taking the day off tomorrow and I knew I’d have to finish this column before then … but all of last week I kept saying yes to appointments and obligations and assignments that I knew I didn’t really have enough time for.

And here I am, just another “yes-aholic” working on a Sunday, with no one to blame but myself. What’s so tough about saying “no?”

“No” was one of the first words my son learned to say. He mastered it by screaming the word at the top of his lungs, usually in quiet public places. He got so skilled at saying “no” that my husband and I even made up a song (to the tune of that “Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow” commercial) where the word “no” was the sole lyric.

We still perform occasionally when a toddler comes to visit.

If preverbal children can say “no,” why do I have such a hard time?

“Most women find it very hard to say no and set limits on what they do for others,” writes Judith Selee McClure, Ph.D. in Civilized Assertiveness for Women.

While most sentences that begin with “most women” are mostly never true, she does mostly have a point.

“Women are conditioned to say, ‘Yes, I’ll give you whatever you need or want’ — and to feel guilty when they don’t.”

Has McClure been spying on me or are there actually other yes-aholics out there?

When the “Y-word” comes out my mouth instead of the “N-word,” it’s not because I’m so toxically nice I can’t say no, and it’s not that I don’t think someone else can do the job as well or better than I can. That’s a lie, but it’s still not why I’m saying “yes.” Really it’s all about guilt.

As Erma Bombeck put it, “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.”

It sticks with you all right. Ask me a simple question and I can’t bear the thought of disappointing my child, my boss, my parents, my husband, the coach, the teacher, even the receptionist.

When they say, “Would you mind, the doctor/dentist/manicurist is running a bit late,” — of course I mind! But I’d feel like I was a terrible person if I told them so. That would imply that my time was equally as important as theirs. How could I be so selfish?

Because ultimately, asserting yourself isn’t about being selfish. There are lots of good reasons to stop saying “yes.” For one thing, saying “yes” when you want to say “no,” makes your stomach hurt and your head ache. You feel like you’re being taken advantage of, and then guilty because after all, you’re the one who said “yes.”

“You go girl,” cheers my assertiveness angel, who apparently doesn’t know it’s 2005. “No more ‘I’m just a girl who can’t say no,'” she sings, sounding more like Gwen Stefani than Celeste Holm in Oklahoma.

She’s right. And in her honor, I’ve devised a three-step program to help combat yes-aholism. I was going to do two steps, but my boss told me to do three. I said “yes.” Hmm.

1. Just say “no” and you and those around you will be happier. Always saying yes will only land you in places you don’t want to be, like therapy, divorce court, or with no friends to complain to because you’ve alienated them all by making them look bad because you do more than they do.

2. Just say “no” and you’ll have more enthusiasm, not to mention time and energy, for the things you do say “yes” to.

3. Just say “no” with a little bit of grace and your kids will learn by your example how to stand up for themselves and balance their goals with other people’s. You don’t want to raise little yes-aholics do you?

All together now, just put your lips together and say “no.” If that doesn’t work, keep your mouth shut, and turn your neck to the left, then turn it to the right. Repeat until the other person walks away.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 26, 2006.

How About a Hunka Hunka Hotness in the White House?

west-wingCount me among the many millions of Americans who mourn the loss of The West Wing. How many millions? I don’t know. But apparently not enough to keep this smartest-guy-in-the-room-full-of-dumb-television-shows from being cancelled. Perhaps the ultimate political fantasy–a White House controlled by a president and political staff who always put the best interests of the American people above politics–was just too farfetched when compared with the hard-hitting reality of Fear Factor and America’s Top Model.

I’m going to miss The West Wing’s idealized vision of what the country could be like if our leaders said what they really thought, without filtering their sound bites through a blender of image consultants, polling data and checkbook loyalties. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shouted at Martin Sheen, “Why can’t you be the real president? So what if you’re a midget!”

And I’ll definitely miss creator Aaron Sorkin‘s razor sharp writing, which took us behind the scenes for a look at how Washington really operates–or would operate if spectacularly witty and deeply principled people ran it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shouted at my TV, “Why can’t I write like you do, Aaron? So what if you’re a coke fiend!”

While Aaron’s been in rehab the past few seasons, I have also been working my way through withdrawal from his witty repartee. I almost gave up on the show in 2004 until the new writing staff lured me in with a brilliant bit of casting.

Jimmy Smits. All those m’s in his name spell out mmm, as in yummy. Come to mummy yummy.

I can’t believe they cancelled the show just as Jimmy was sworn in as president. We were robbed! Jimmy Smits would have made an amazing president.

His Hispan-ethnicity makes him a pollster’s dream come true. His character had intelligence, youthful vigor, a sweet, supportive wife and photogenic young children to make him easy to relate to. But that’s not why I was really looking forward to watching him every Sunday night.

Quite simply, Jimmy Smits is hot. And a hunka, hunka hot president could go a long way toward healing what ails us in this country. Just think about it.

Americans are arrogant and insecure; we’re fat and lazy and simple-minded; we yell a lot (not just at our televisions but at each other); we’ve got short attention spans; and we’re violent, promiscuous and hypocritical–and with a few exceptions, we just keep on electing dumb guys who start too many wars and can’t balance the budget.

But we’re not blind.

Therefore, I nominate Jimmy Smits for president. His campaign platform: he’s a hunka, hunka hot kind of guy.

A hunka, hunka hot Jimmy Smits as president would cure political apathy, as women would flock to support his initiatives, and men would eventually get up off the couch to see where all the women went.

A hunka, hunka hot Jimmy Smits as president could single-handedly restore the economy with his “buying American is sexy” campaign. I’m picturing a series of commercials where I viciously tear that cheaply manufactured, “made in China” shirt off his rippled abs, thus exposing the benefits of buying U.S.-manufactured items. Or maybe I tear those cheap buttons off with my teeth, one by one… This may require some further thought to get the creative details just right.

A hunka, hunka hot Jimmy Smits as president would rock on the international relations front. With his legal expertise from “LA Law,” his street cred from “NYPD Blue” and his intergalactic diplomatic experience from Stars Wars, this guy would surely dazzle the UN into doing his bidding.

Do you think I’m too old to be an intern?

Want to join in on the Jimmy Smits for president bandwagon? Email email

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 19, 2006.

Caution: Images in Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear

Image courtesy Wikipedia Common.

Image courtesy Wikipedia Common.

Every once in a while, I’ll look in the mirror and see a face that’s not my own.

Now I know how that French woman with the face transplant feels. At least she got a stranger’s face. Not me. The face I see is my mother’s.

I’ve never been one of those mini-me kids, who are the spitting image of their parents. If I were, I guess I’d be used to this by now. Which is not to say I’d like it. After almost 20 years of clogged drains, my husband recently cut off his Fabio-like mane, and people keep saying how much he and our son look alike. My son doesn’t like it one bit, and quite frankly, I can relate. At least he doesn’t look like me anymore.

At least my mother is not a bad person to look like. She’s quite lovely and I’m not just saying that, mom.

Not only does she have great eyebrows and a killer smile, she also has a full range of super powers I’d be happy to develop: eyes in the back of her head, a knack for being able to let me know what she is thinking with just a look, and the ability to fling guilt rays at me from a thousand feet away.

According to my son, I’ve mastered the first two. But practice though I may on my husband and friends, the guilt thing is still really challenging. Maybe it’s because Koss is only six and hasn’t developed the sophisticated sensitivity to respond to guilt yet. Right now all he does is cry when I try to guilt him into doing something he doesn’t want to, which doesn’t exactly make me feel better. And even worse, it doesn’t exactly make him do what I want him to.

I always thought that if applied wisely, guilt was hereditary, easily inflicted, and would last a lifetime. Why doesn’t it work on my two guys? Is this yet another Christmas/Hanukah, Easter/Passover, Let’s Ignore the Problem/Let’s Talk the Problem to Death, Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp/Brisket and Gefilte Fish complication in this Jewish/Goyish marriage of mine?

Back to the mirror. It’s a weird thing to see these resemblances creep up. It’s not really about aging (although I certainly have issues with that). When I picture my mom in my mind, I’m actually older than the age she was then, and fatter, and not nearly as pretty.

I should be flattered when I see her face in mine. What could be better than seeing one of the people you love the most in your own reflection? At the same time, what could be worse than looking in the mirror and seeing the one person who can push all of your buttons? I’m tempted to tell myself to sit up straight and not to wear so much makeup.

It’s not just my mother’s face I see glimpses of in the mirror. There are times when I hear her voice in my head, and it can get a little bit irritating. “Cut it out, you’ll leave fingerprints,” “Did you write a thank you note,” and “Hurry up, we’re going to be late,” are all on an endless loop on my mom soundtrack.

I can also hear her telling me, “You are smart and kind and a good friend,” or “You can do anything you set your mind to,” on a pretty regular basis. And she never stopped telling me she loves me. She still tells me, almost every single day, and sometimes more often than that.

So when I tell my son I love him, and he says, “I know that mom. You only tell me that like, a million times a day,” I just smile, and look into his eyes that are so much like my mother’s.

You’ll appreciate it someday, kid.

And by the way, mom, I do too.

Am I the only one who sees others in my mirror and hears voices in my head? Email email

Originally published in Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 12, 2006.