Guest Post from Meredith O'Brien
I couldn’t find that ridiculous flier. The one that was accompanied by about 15 other compadres inside my kids’ backpacks at the end of the twins’ kindergarten and the youngest’s first preschool year. The flier that contained the list of school supplies I was supposed to purchase over the summer for my children’s new school year.
I didn’t know where all those pieces of paper had gone. The ones about long-past sign-up deadlines for summer camps. Notices from my kids’ teachers about what their classes had done in school in that last week in June. Their report cards. I actually found the report cards, but as for the other papers, never found ‘em.
I knew that crayons were on the supply list and seemed to recall that the list required particular brands or colors, and, what, pencils, maybe? Rulers? Glue sticks? I was, to say the least, a tad disorganized when it comes to my kids’ school papers. After my twins’ first year of kindergarten, I realized I needed to spend the summer checking out filing systems in anticipation of The Flood from their first grade classes.
What is The Flood, you ask? It’s a pulp-driven torrential downpour that I knew was headed in my direction, like a hurricane that weather forecasters can spot on the Doppler radar on TV days in advance, only I hadn’t nailed plywood over the windows or stocked up on bottled water yet (or actually bought the filing system and binders) before the next school year began.
I knew that, in short order, my three children’s backpacks (you gotta include the preschooler in the mix) would be stuffed on virtually a daily basis. With paper. Paper that I could never seem to get a handle on. Papers with deadlines that I always seemed to miss because I was consistently overwhelmed by the volume of stuff.
What kind of stuff?
Here’s a sampling of the school-related material that came into my home when my littlest one started preschool and my twins started kindergarten (at least the twins shared a classroom so I got only one set of some papers, when they switched to separate classrooms, the paperwork nearly doubled):
A thick booklet on the status of the public school system.
PTO sign-up sheets—separate ones for both preschool and kindergarten — for parents to volunteer to participate in classroom activities, chair art shows, organize spring events, plan a pumpkin decorating evening, as well as a puppet show, book fair, family dance, etc.
Bus route information.
Information on exactly when and where we could drop off/pick up our children at the various schools.
Announcements on soccer league signups.
Fund raiser announcements/requests for donations or goods.
Information on providing healthy snacks for my kindergarteners, as well as notices on which classrooms contained members with food allergies (my twins’ classroom did, so I needed to keep that particular piece of paper to remember exactly what foods to avoid when it was my turn to provide classroom snacks).
A pamphlet on the kindergarten curriculum.
Solicitations for donations of food and household items for the local food pantry.
A parent handbook.
School Committee agendas.
A request that parents submit monthly letters, poems or collages about their child explaining how the student reflected the theme of the month, like respect, honesty, friendship, etc. (Being well-organized was not on the list.)
Lists of books being read in the classroom and songs being sung, along with lyrics.
Class portrait information.
Now, let me say this up front: I really appreciated knowing what was going on in my children’s classrooms. For example, it was great to know what songs my preschooler was learning so we could sing them at home. It was also wonderful to know when my kindergarteners’ class was going to focus on science or on phonics or math.
I likewise thought it a stroke of genius when this material was put together in one packet and came home only once a week. I could put the packet aside and read it in its entirety later and it wouldn’t become a scattered mess. (However if there was dated material to which I needed to immediately attend, my system fell apart and I inevitably missed deadlines.) I also loved the fact that the quality of my children’s education was enriched by so many wonderful activities.
But (and here’s the not-so-nice part, well, it’s more like a plaintive wail): I needed help. I was drowning in all this paper. In all these requests. For money. For time. For baked goods. For parents to do unexpected projects with the kids. For parents to provide stuff for math day. For parents to help celebrate the square root of pi.
It began to feel as though I was working in an office from hell, where you keep getting memo, after memo, after memo, followed up by e-mail, after e-mail. You get so much correspondence that nothing seems individually important. Everything gets lumped together. Put in a pile. Pushed aside.
I don’t remember things being this way—let’s all climb aboard the memory machine—when I was a child. Sure, my parents volunteered for things. Had parent-teacher conferences. Came to school to see my special projects. Signed permission slips. Bought things they didn’t need to support the PTO. But, is it just me, or does it seem like there’s an excess of events and requests nowadays?
In an attempt to not fall prey to the same disorganized mess, I tried to plan ahead. I purchased a 3-ring binder for each kid, bought a red wooden wall-mounted filing system in which to store those binders, as well as a separate binder labeled, “Miscellaneous, Kids.” I volunteered to do a couple of school and soccer-related activities that fit into my schedule, hoping that I won’t succumb to mommy guilt when I didn’t volunteer for every other event that came down the pike.
Halfway through the school year, when my twins were in separate first grade classrooms and the youngest was in a new preschool, those binders were chock filled and had to have their contents rotated to a filing folder in a cabinet each month. The papers started piling up each week around the kitchen. Taunting me.
I took one look around and actually thought about buying an oxygen tank, goggles and flippers (or starting a bonfire), and reading up on that Noah guy.