I spend 30% of my time searching for some irreplaceable, invaluable piece of paper. I haven’t timed it, but it seems about right. Permission slips. Book tracking slips. Camp forms. Directions to doctor’s offices. Invitations to birthday parties. Sunday school calendars. Bowling schedules. And the list goes on and on. One problem is, these nuggets of information are usually buried within a teeming mass of junk. Another problem is, everyone is bringing home equally important papers on an almost daily basis and they pile up in the designated "important paper" area until they’re a foot high, and no individual important paper is able to be found within the heap. A couple of weeks ago, my son returned from school, like any other day, with his folder bursting with papers. I rummaged through the dozens of completed homework pages (should I keep them ALL?), coloring sheets depicting penguin facts, doodles he created during dull times during the day, and there…among all of this (can I call it trash?) was a manila envelope with raffle tickets and a note telling me that if the unsold raffle tickets weren’t returned by the indicated date, I would be liable for prosecution by state law. Unless I fastened the envelope to my body somehow, the tickets would be lost between the time I received them and the date they were due. I decided not to hot glue them to my forehead and drove the tickets back to the school, informing the receptionist that I was terribly sorry we would not be attempting to sell them, but it wasn’t worth potentially going to jail for. I chose not to mention how I thought that this was a terribly sneaky thing to do to the parents. I can’t imagine most parents have this paper thing down better than me, so we’d be faced with either paying for the lost tickets ourselves or going to jail.
Since when has our society become this paper trail? I see my children, my husband and myself as this blur of newsprint and printed 9X11’s. I have not one single memory of standing there crying because the bus was long gone and my mother was sweating while digging through a pile of "important papers" looking for my field trip permission slip, muttering "Dammit, I put it HERE, I know I put it right HERE, I saw it LAST NIGHT, dammit, where IS it? Oh, here’s THIS, I was looking for THIS yesterday…". For some reason, my own parents were able to maneuver the paper trade without hysterics on my part or theirs. Things between the school and my parents happened almost by magic, I don’t even think I ever saw a permission slip, and certainly was not forced to try to describe it in minute detail to my mother the morning of the field trip. On the way out the door. With her assuring me that the handwritten note she gave me would suffice. Again.
Yet, my childhood occurred before the electronic age. With everything electronic these days, where is all this paper coming from? Really, would it be so hard to set up an electronic code for permission slips? Send the parents an e-mail and they give permission with their ‘secret parent code’. There really is no reason why everything that isn’t handwritten by the children can’t be handled electronically. Heck, even the raffle tickets could be purchased online with a credit card or by Paypal if the school took the time to set it up. And, oh, I long for the day when that is a reality.
In the meanwhile, I have come up with a new system. I strip search each family member upon entering the house and file each member’s important papers into their own box, throw the trash away and put the rest into a communal box of things to be filed later…which is a whole other issue. How many filing cabinets do a family of four need?