My Paper Piles, Or Why I Still Haven’t Registered My Kids For Camp

As published in The Rye Record on March 13, 2012
The problem. Actually just part of the problem.

I’ve never really been one for spring-cleaning. Spring seems like such an arbitrary time to organize your life, clean your closets, and generally get your house together. I mean we’ve usually just come off of three months of shut-in weather, so if I haven’t done it by March 21st, it’s just not going to happen. But I always hold out hope that it might happen next year, because, you see, Future Me loves this sort of thing. She tackles paperwork with pure joy, she scrapbooks, she RSVPs on time. She carries tissues in her purse. She is detail-oriented and dangerously fit. I just adore her, but today all I have is Present Me.

Present Me doesn’t really mind the great mass of paper strewn around my kitchen. I suspect my Present Husband does, so I try. My version of spring-cleaning is straightening the piles and then remarking to myself what nice straight edges I’ve made. Report cards, bills, coupons, insurance forms, and medical clearance forms that were due weeks and weeks ago have become part of my visual landscape.

But even tidied, those piles aren’t going anywhere. They have a healthy pulse and a voracious appetite for reproduction. Every day, the mail makes its way inside and the backpacks seem to spew sign-up sheets, reminders and sticky depictions of snowmen. The paper multiplies like so many wet Gremlins. Or the laundry. I eyeball one pile that is about eight inches high. How many paper-thin liabilities does it take to make a pile that high, I wonder? Future Me is proactive and full of enthusiasm for finding out. Present Me kinda wants a nap.

I know I’ll have to actually tackle them all before tax time, but the problem is that each piece of paper sets into motion a complicated chain of to-dos that seems like it’s better suited for tomorrow than today. A simple camp registration form, for example, necessitates a call to the pediatrician to schedule check ups so that I can include a recent report on my kids. I look up the number, sit on hold, negotiate a post-3 p.m. time for all three of my children to come in, provided it’s after basketball season and before baseball season and not on a Wednesday because of religion class. I have to be extra friendly on the phone to convince the scheduler that I am not in fact insane. Though I hang up with a pit in my stomach, knowing that she’s telling everyone I’m insane.

That task, completed in nine minutes and at great personal expense, is just the first step in getting that one piece of paper out of the pile. To the naked eye, that pile will still be eight inches high when I’m done. I try a different approach: I sort. I take the pile and make it into three less intimidating piles. The first is stuff that has to be dealt with or my water will be turned off and my kids will be home all summer. I label it Code Red and straighten it furiously. The next pile is stuff that means something to my husband but not to me. I mark it “Tom”, and put it out of my line of vision. I’m really getting somewhere.

The next pile (rejoice!) is stuff that I should have dealt with but now it’s too late, so I can throw it out. It’s the order form for the yearbooks, a flyer for a seminar I wanted to attend back in the fall, a request for me to make cookies for a bake sale that was yesterday, and a note home saying someone in my kid’s class had lice. As these things seem to have worked themselves out with no involvement on my part, I sashay to the recycling bin and rid myself of three inches of paper, secretly happy that I forgot about the yearbook. It’s just more paper, bound in cardboard.

Now I’m left with just a two-inch pile that’s not my problem and my three-inch Code Red pile. I go back to the camp registration forms and see that they want me to provide my kids’ T-shirt sizes. That really just involves looking at the ones from last year and going up a size, but they’re all the way in the basement. So I pick up the next paper. This one’s not so bad — the insurance company wants me to call to verify my date of birth. I hold it determinedly in my hand while I make tea. And then I put it down without calling because I have a great idea…

I decide to make a sub-category called Problems That Can Be Solved With a Checkbook. I pay three bills and see that my pile is down to two inches. It’s two inches of Code Red, but still, I’ve made some progress. Future Me is going to be so proud. And she can take it from here.