It All Went Wrong, and I Survived!


Some of our favorite stories from parent group leaders about when things veered off course.


We’ve all been there: No matter how long or how carefully you’ve been making plans, everything still falls apart. But take heart from these real events shared by other parent group leaders—while your situation might not be funny in the moment, you’ll have a great story to share later. We bet you’ll even laugh about it!

Food Truck Reservation Gets Lost

“Every year, we do a teacher appreciation luncheon. I was in charge of getting the caterer. I booked a taco truck and raved about it all week. The teachers were salivating. It was a half-hour before the luncheon and I called the caterer, who then told me I was not on his calendar! I ended up ordering pizza, salad, and bread from my cell phone. All 42 staff members were fed on time and were grateful.” —Jennifer M.

Kids Ready To Dance and No DJ

A Friday night mixer for 7th and 8th graders was literally about to start at the Bellingham (Mass.) Memorial Middle School when organizers found out that the DJ was stuck in traffic 20 miles away. The assistant principal tried to keep things going with his own CDs and a mini stereo, but the kids didn’t know the bands. When the DJ eventually did show up, he did a lousy job and then wouldn’t leave when the dance was supposed to end. “The highlight of my night,” recalled PTO chairwoman Lena Wicks, “was hunting down the janitor to see if he had an extra we could get a limbo contest going.”

via Giphy

Tug-of-War Rope Falls Apart

For “play day,” a school tradition that was reinstated after a long absence, Hawk Point (Mo.) Elementary PTO leaders had to borrow a lot of equipment—including a rope for the main event, an all-student tug-of-war. Kids divided into teams, latched onto the line, and when the whistle blew began pulling with all their might—right up until the rope fell apart. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries. “We breathed a sigh of relief, retired the rope, and improvised serving snacks a little early!” president Sherry Hill said.

via Giphy

Volunteers Bail Out

“Our PTO was having our first-ever holiday craft night. We had several stations where students purchase tickets to make different holiday crafts. At the last minute, a few volunteers called to say they couldn’t make it. We didn’t have enough volunteers to run the stations. So, we had our principal run a station (that was a first), and a couple of us called our parents. Thank goodness grandparents will drop everything to help our school and make their grandkids happy.” —Nicole D.

800 Bowls of Melted Ice Cream

Several hours before the back-to-school ice cream social, PTO leaders at Lillian C. Schmidt Elementary in Columbus, Ind., decided to get ahead of the game by prescooping the bowls of ice cream; a cafeteria manager assured them that the spare refrigerator would keep things cool. When the event started, they found a melted mess—about 800 bowls’ worth! Hundreds of parents and students were impatiently waiting in a line that circled the entire school building. “The principal had to hold back the crowd as our PTO president made a run for the grocery store,” PTO secretary Julia Federle said; when the president returned, “we had to scoop like crazy.”

via Giphy

Dunk Tank Full of Rusty Water

At the John J. Flynn Elementary carnival in Burlington, Vt., PTO leaders thought they could save time and effort if the fire department filled the dunk tank. The kids were super excited by the spectacle. “It turns out that if water from a fire truck is not used frequently, the water is not a crystal-clear liquid but rather a rusty brown, smelly fluid that no one would use for anything—except extinguishing a fire!—much less volunteer to get dunked into,” secretary Colleen Case explained. “Luckily, dunking tanks drain faster than they fill,” Case said. It was refilled using garden hoses just minutes before the carnival opened.

Way, Way Too Much Pizza

“At our Family Movie Night, we were selling slices of pizza and I called the order in for cheese, sausage, and pepperoni pizzas. For some reason—my head was so full of numbers, times and other details for the evening—I completely miscalculated the number of pizzas we would need. By 10 times! The delivery man just kept saying, ‘I’ll be back with another armful!’ And we had so much pizza! I We ended up delivering the extras to a nearby shelter. It was definitely an expense I wasn’t planning for, but it sure worked out for the best.” —Jenny W.

via Giphy

Volunteer Coordinator Goes Into Labor

Hundreds of lollipops and carnations were being adorned with cards and ribbons for a Valentine’s Day treat for students. Volunteer coordinator Melanie Smith and other PTO leaders from the North Broward Academy of Excellence in North Lauderdale, Fla., gathered at Smith’s house for the project, absent a key volunteer who backed out at the last minute. Oh, did we forget to mention that Smith was 39 weeks pregnant? She began having labor pains. One of her fellow volunteers convinced her to go to the hospital around 10 p.m., and her son was born about 6 hours later. Her husband finished tying the cards to the flowers after that. “My worst fear was not being able to get the items delivered to the children [on] Valentine’s Day,” Smith said, “but thankfully two moms came through for us.”

Blackout at Catered Dinner

The Buckeye (Ariz.) Middle School PTSO celebrated the 100th Day of School with a catered Italian dinner and loads of raffle prizes. About 700 attendees, including the mayor, joined the event in the school cafeteria. A rare storm hit in this desert town, drenching the caterers—and blowing a power transformer. No power and a darkened cafeteria full of people? “We thought it was all over, then we saw everyone open their cell phones for light,” said board member Sally Stinson. “No matter how much you prepare, the unexpected is sure to happen. I don’t think we would change anything in the future. OK, maybe a few flashlights.”

No Cash Box at Concession Stand

“We discovered right before the start of our movie night event that our PTO president didn’t get cash for the event. We had at least 30 excited and hungry families in line waiting to purchase concessions, and the president was nowhere in sight. So we dug in our pockets, purses, wallets, and even car ashtrays to scrape up change and single bills to use as change. We managed to collect $30 to “open the register,” and it ended up being a successful event!” —Kristy W.

Not Enough Food for Teachers

The Fairview Elementary PTA in Mount Prospect, Ill., planned to provide homemade meals for school employees during Teacher Appreciation Week. Room parents recruited volunteers to cook all or part of a dinner, and the PTA would combine the dishes into complete meals to take home. There was so much confusion that some parents prepared the wrong dish or made one for the wrong person. Others forgot to make anything at all. And leaders didn’t realize they had a food shortage until much later. They made a run to a local deli so that every staff member could go home with something. PTA leaders swore off kitchen duty: “There are other ways to send food to the teachers and staff,” said copresident Lyna Swanson. “Hire a caterer!”

Truly Terrible Yard Sale Donations

A yard sale was planned for the front lawn of Eugene Field Elementary in Hannibal, Mo., to raise money for new playground equipment. PTO leaders invited families to rent a table for themselves or donate their items for the PTO to sell; the school secretaries offered to store donations in their office. When volunteers began sorting the inventory, they discovered that many of the items were outright broken, stained, or in need of repair. “We marked what we could and ended up throwing a majority of the items in the dumpster that evening,” said PTO president Cathy Crim. A cold, windy day resulted in poor turnout and even poorer sales. Crim said it will long be remembered, and not just for the lousy profits: “Afterward, the office had roaches bad!”

via Giphy

Snake Gets Loose at Spaghetti Dinner

At the annual dance and spaghetti dinner event, a decade-long tradition at Pottsville (Ark.) Elementary with 1,500 attendees, the PTO decorated the cafeteria with bales of hay in the spirit of the hoedown theme. But the hay bales did more than set the mood—they also ferried a copperhead snake into the room. A teacher, a parent, and a maintenance worker chased the snake across the floor before cornering it and removing it. “A no-hay policy was implemented immediately,” said president-elect Cindy Thompson.

Not Enough Prizes, Lights, or Change at Fall Festival

“Our biggest event of the year is our fall festival. While walking around checking everything out, I fell in front of everyone, severely injuring my hand. The event started, we ran out of change and prizes, we didn’t have enough lighting, and I was holding an ice pack throughout the whole event, but it finally ended. Kids loved it, parents were very happy, and the teachers and staff had a blast interacting with the families. We thought we were going to crash and burn, but it all worked out in the end (and my hand wasn’t broken like we thought it was). —Kristy O.

via Giphy

Originally posted in 2016 and updated regularly.

Add comment

Security code

^ Top