They all looked at me like I was crazier than a monkey's uncle. Even the kids, who had been entertaining themselves (quite nicely for a change) at the back of the media center where we were meeting were looking at me like miniatures of their muddled moms.

"Have you gone ape?" said the one whose mouth had been furthest agape.

"Well, no, but I do think monkeys are cute," I said, giving her question the thoughtful reply it deserved. "Well, all except those winged ones in the mini Shriners' hats that terrorized Dorothy and Toto in The Wizard of Oz."

She ignored my answer. "I'm just so busy right now, the thought of taking something else on, especially something like this, seems like a waste of time."

Ah, this was what I loved most about Julie. She was never, ever afraid to tell it like she saw it, even when I viewed it much differently.

She continued: "Now, if by proposing we do it, you're volunteering to do it..." And that was what I disliked most about Julie. Darn her ability to always put two and two together!

"Uh, s-sure," I stammered before regaining my composure. Sure, I'd be happy to put together our entry for PTO Today's 2003 Parent Group of the Year search.

The general consensus was that of course our group was special, just not special enough to win. But most of the current membership didn't yet have kids in school when, for two years running, teachers served as PTO president because no parent would take the job. Most of today's involved parents didn't fully realize the apathetic jungle from which they had rescued their organization.

I guess I knew going in that this really wasn't a job for the entire membership, so I just got started. And once I did, it didn't feel so overwhelming or even much like work. It felt like a catharsis. Getting it all down on paper made me realize something: Even if we didn't win, we were winners.

But win we did. Oh, we weren't the top bananas, but we were in the fruit salad of regional winners, named western champions. It was an honor that not only elevated that year's PTO to new heights but also continued to inspire us to push the envelope.

Speaking of envelopes, getting our entry together was a snap compared to getting a picture of our bunch to the magazine. See, we found out we won right before spring break, and a photo was needed ASAP. That meant trying to round up everybody for a quickie photo session the Monday we got back to school.

While the camera gods saw fit to smile upon us, Mother Nature threw a monkey wrench into the works by delivering the biggest snowstorm Colorado had seen in decades. The goods didn't make it out of Denver till a full week later.

Nevertheless, winning was one of the best things that happened to us. It sure helped get that annoying inferiority complex monkey off our backs.

Brenda Rader Mross is a veteran parent group volunteer in Wellington, Colo.