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Happy Parents Don’t Cry over Lost Paperwork

Happy parents sometimes earn an F grade in organization and  paperwork.

Happy parents sometimes earn an F grade in organization and paperwork.

Because I work at home, I’ve been the default form filler outer for years. I’ve also been the person who makes all of the kids’ doctor’s appointments, keeps the kids’ social calendar, and is supposed to somehow remember where every pair of scissors and roll of tape is located in the house.

For years, I’ve been failing miserably. Way back in preschool, I showed up one day to learn that the teacher had sent home a paper a week before — one that I’d obviously not read. Had I read it, I would have known that this particular day was “camping day” and that my child was supposed to have a sleeping bag, pajamas, and a pillow — none of which I keep stashed in my car in case of emergency. Another time, late one afternoon a few years later, I received an email from my child’s gifted teacher. “I hope you are okay. Would you like to reschedule your GIEP appointment from earlier today?” Oops. Yes, that was on my calendar, wasn’t it?

It probably goes without saying that, come “wear your favorite hat day,” my kid is the one without a hat. On “wear yellow” day, my kid is in red.

On the day my kid was supposed to bring in junk from the recycling bin, my kid arrived empty handed. The teacher, thankfully, knew that parents like me exist in this sad world. He’d probably brought his entire recycling bin to school that day, just so kids like mine would be able to complete their school project.

And last year, the school changed the website that allows parents to add funds to students’ lunch cards. There was a paper about it. I lost the paper. Then I never got around to asking for another paper. So, for an entire year, I put cash in an envelope, along with a “please don’t hold it against this poor child that his mother doesn’t follow directions” note.

Why am I so bad at keeping track of such minutia? Oh, I’ve asked myself that question more times than I can keep track of. For starters, I attend to countless details for more than eight hours a day just to do my job. Perhaps the workday leaves nothing left for parenting.

Or perhaps it’s a genetic disorder.

Or maybe I just don’t care enough. Who knows?

The good thing: My husband is now a stay-at-home dad. School details fall squarely under his new job description.

So yesterday, when my son arrived home from the first day of fourth grade, I glanced at his folder. As usual, it was stuffed full of papers that all needed to be read, signed, and sent back. I assumed there were papers about medical immunizations, ones about parent-teacher conferences, others about fundraisers, and that all-important one that explained how to put money on the kid’s lunch swipe card.

I just stood there and sighed. Then I looked up brightly and said to my husband, “I’m so happy I don’t have to do this anymore.” Then I walked away.

At some point, a few hours later, I momentarily thought, “Perhaps I should help the poor man with it all.” Then I thought, “Nah.”

This morning, my husband asked, “How do we put money on the kid’s lunch account?”

“Um, you know those 8 million papers that the kid came home with yesterday? There should have been one that explained how to do that.”

“I threw that paper away,” he said. His tone of voice was pinched, in a, “if we don’t find that paper, the kid will starve to death” tone. At first, I was annoyed. After all, this was his job. His job. HIS JOB, PEOPLE!

THIS WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE MY JOB ANYMORE. NOT. MY. JOB.

I wanted to gloat, to say something like, “Wow, I thought I was bad at organization.”

But then, all of the times I’d fallen short flashed before my eyes. Tent day. Yellow shirt day. The recycling project. The GIEP meeting. Every single lunch the kid ate last year.

By the time all of my organizational failures stopped flashing before my eyes, my husband was rooting through the kitchen trash. As I watched him, face submerged in the rotting-cantaloupe-smelling can, I felt a wave of empathy. No parent enjoys disappointing their child.

No parent wants to be the one who brings a kid in a red shirt to school on “wear yellow day.”

Trust me, I know. Oh, do I ever know.

No, we become “that parent” because life is about much more than carefully reading 800 pieces of paper, most of which truly don’t need to be read in the first place. Life is about showing up: listening to our children, hugging them, laughing with them, and sharing experiences with them.

When it comes to showing up: my husband rocks it.

And he’ll probably eventually rock the organizational skills eventually, too. Give the man some time.

So I stuffed that temptation to gloat into the same place I store the urge to rear end people who drive five miles below the speed limit. Then I said, “I’ll email his teacher and ask for another form. Meanwhile, put cash in an envelope. Write a note to go with it. Trust me. It works. This is what we did all of last year.”

And you want to know what? Later in the morning, the husband found the all important paper. We laughed about it. Then we decided to throw it away. Who needs to use a high tech website when one can just put cash in an envelope, you know?

Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.

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