Decades ago, when I was still a child, I remember listening to adults discuss the move to a paperless world. In seventh grade, my computer teacher told us that in the future no more trees would die for paper, and we would do all our work on computers.
Why is it, then, that I am drowning in more paperwork now than my mother ever had?
The biggest culprit is the schools. Even discounting the reams of paperwork generated by the schools for two children on Individualized Education Programs, the amount of school paperwork I have to manage is ridiculous. Yesterday, I received the following pieces of paper that require some sort of response from me:
Nick’s Spring Picture Order Form. When I was in school, we took pictures once a year, not twice.
Jack’s Preschool Spring Conference Sign-up Form. This is 3.5 sheets of paper, printed front and back. I’m supposed to pick three time slots and rank them in order of preference, as well as write what I want to talk about with the teacher, and return all sheets to the school. With better formatting, the whole thing could be front and back, one sheet.
Permission Form for Preschool Animal Visits. Jack’s preschool class is inviting the students to bring their pets to school for show-and-tell in May, but for obvious reasons, parents need to give permission for their children to participate.
Kindergarten Weekly Newsletter. Every week, Jack’s kindergarten teacher sends a newsletter in a cheery but hard-to-read font telling parents what their children are doing that week in school. Attached to it was…
Weekly Kindergarten Homework. I don’t remember doing homework in kindergarten, but Jack has homework every week. It’s usually math, but this week Jack has to write sentences about what he did during spring break. It will take us all week to accomplish this because getting Jack to write sentences is a bit like teaching a cat to walk on a leash. Neither Jack nor the cat quite understands the point of the exercise and therefore neither can understand why the universe is torturing him in such a horrible way.
In addition to these papers that I have to do something about, I also received 30 pieces of school work, including one “cup” cut from an egg carton covered in glitter, a kite with paper-folded tail and more glitter, and 27 sheets of 8.5x11 paper (mostly worksheets, a “book” written and illustrated by Jack and thus largely blank, and a sheet covered in colored dots probably used for some sort of counting exercise).
The thirtieth piece of school work is a brown paper cut-out that looked like a peanut with eyes to me and a potato with eyes to George. I asked Jack what it was. He said, as if speaking to a complete idiot, “It’s my botato.” Well, duh.
That makes a grand total of thirty-four paper-based items brought home from school all in one day. I wish this were unusual, but it’s pretty standard. We’re drowning a deluge of school paper here, which leaves me wondering how my friend Karen manages to keep her head above the sea of dead trees because she has four children in school. God help her.
Another big culprit is junk mail. Yesterday’s mail was entirely junk…eight separate pieces of it. Today, we did slightly better, with only five separate pieces. NOT ONE IMPORTANT OR FRIENDLY ITEM of mail came yesterday or today. But I had to touch and evaluate each one of them.
And what about the mail that isn’t junk? No one will every hear me complain about the two Easter cards, one thank you card, and two scrapbook magazines I found while going through a big stack of mail delivered after our vacation. Yahoo! Happy Mail!!! But the bills, bank statements, insurance statements, subscription renewals, and PIN notification that were also in the stack took me over an hour to sort through and attend to.
Yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition. It’s just that sort of day.
Then there are the taxes. We owed the federal government this year for the first time in 18 years. (The previous sentence is totally irrelevant to the current essay, but while I’m being whiny, I thought I’d throw that in for added sympathy.) George used TurboTax for the federal and state taxes but couldn’t get the local online filing to work. No matter. We still had to print everything out (twenty-four pages) and add them to the rest of the contents of the 2008 tax file (more than thirty items).
I can do nothing about all this paperwork and typically try hard not to complain about things I can’t fix or that are necessary for living a law-abiding, responsible life. But not today. Today, I’m a big bundle of complaints, and I’m not sure why because I don’t have PMS. Perhaps it’s the weather: gray and drippy for three days straight. Perhaps it’s the fact that seven people I know and love right now are suffering much more than a deluge of paperwork and have real, painful problems I can do nothing about.
I have faith in tomorrow, though. This bad mood will pass, I will regain a sense of perspective and laugh at the fantasy of a paperless world, I will send chocolate and a good book to a suffering friend, and I will take delight in seeing the tulips in my neighbor’s yard. God’s time is not my time, and it all works out in the end.
Note: The morning after writing this, my friend Susan gave me a hug, which was the beginning of the end of my bad mood. Bless you, Susan!