Too many mental tabs open today.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back to the grind

When I stopped working for pay a thousand years ago (I use the term "for pay" because I do work, a lot) I thought the mountains of paperwork I dreaded were a thing of the past. I knew that taking on the position of CHO (Chief Household Officer) wasn't going to be easy, the hours were long and the tiny boss yelled a lot, not mention the pay was crappy. The benefits package was killer though: lots of baby kisses, a firsthand view of all milestones and an endless supply of that sweet baby smell. The best thing was the view, there's not a corner office in the world that had a view to rival the sweet smile of my baby girl.

I didn't mind that I would never again have a conversation with a grown up or that my new office attire would always be dirty sweats. OK, that part isn't true, I did my best to avoid the sweatsuit look, I failed miserably at the keeping it clean thing. I found a look that was somewhere between pajamas and soccer mom. It worked for me.

Everything about this job had highs and lows, as expected. We had good days and bad days. We laughed and cried and cried. It was always an adventure, and the unexpected things that would pop up were dealt with and managed.

Then K started kindergarten. The amount of work required initially was nothing. Fill out some forms, show our ID and take her for some shots (which was the worst of this process). The first day was full of tears (from me) pictures (of K), hugs and words of encouragement. I was there early and happily scooped her up, eager to hear all about her very first day of elementary school. She said they colored and learned about each other. She also had a big green bag she called her "Monday Bag" which would include all the homework for the week as well as correspondence from the teacher and school. It was due every Friday. How cute, homework. I was surprised how heavy it was. When we got home I took out the stacks of paperwork and K said "Oh, yeah, YOU have homework too!!" She wasn't kidding, the amount of information needed was staggering. I got to work immediately entering all sorts of data onto the brightly colored LAUSD forms. They needed my info, D's info, K's info, emergency info, allergy info, special requirement info, you name it, they needed it. They also needed me to be aware of the policies regarding traffic safety, the playground, pesticides, photographing students, wardrobe restrictions (no Crocs, flip flops, and belly shirts) and meals. They wanted to know what I expected from the school, the strengths and weaknesses of my child, her special talents and likes and what language she spoke at home. There was even a form to fill out saying that I filled out all the forms. Nope, not kidding on that one.

I so badly wanted to reply in typical me fashion: "I expect the school to teach her things, she's great at everything and bad at eating vegetables, she has a talent for being awesome, likes puppies and at home we like to speak Latin. Of course I didn't write that, although I should have, I highly doubt this crap is ever seen again. I took the rest of the day and filled out every single thing. I returned it the next day even though we had until the end of the week. Just like K, I didn't want to disappoint our new teacher.

When K started first grade last year I was surprised to receive an ever larger stack of forms to fill out. All the ones from last year plus a few more. The only thing that needed changing was my email address and cell phone number. Not because it changed but because it was listed wrong in the school contact book (even though I filled out about a dozen forms to change this proving that no one reads this crap, again). So once again I spent the first day of school under a mountain of paperwork vowing to bring this up and one of the million meetings the school liked to have. The first few weeks of school were now for complaining about the paperwork we all had. It was the one agenda in which all parents stood in agreement.

Cut to:

Monday. I send my darling K off to school with a brand new empty backpack, I retrieve my still darling daughter with a backpack so heavy she can barely lift it. My head suddenly becomes full of hopes that inside this adorable heart covered backpack are items that K will need for the year, like bricks and heavy rocks. Nope. It's those damn forms again with a note kindly asking to return as soon as possible. There's also a folder from K's new teacher full of what I'm honestly hoping is homework for her. Some of it is her weekly homework but most of it is more paperwork for me. This teacher has been at our school for years and is known to be tough but amazing, her students, upon completing second grade are not only fully prepared for the next year they could easily go right to fourth grade. She has her way teaching and it's worked for years. I was happy and scared at the same time and filled out her paperwork first. She explained how she does things and what will happen during the school year. She directed us to her website which will have homework, class assignments and projects. For the first time in years I felt like I had started a new job. I also made sure K got right to work on her homework. Side by side we did our work together. Later that night I attacked the usual LAUSD forms (with even more added for my pleasure) I filled out the form that said I filled out the forms. What I didn't have was the school contact book form. It wasn't needed for second grade families because they already had that information. Again, it was the only thing that needed changing because it was still wrong.

Yesterday K brought everything needed back to school in her heavy backpack. At pickup the conversation was mainly about the stupid paperwork. I looked around and listened, every single parent was talking about it. Then it hit me, this was LAUSD's version of a stun gun. There was no way a parent could complain about their kid's teacher, class size or room assignment while they were still walking around with "Paperwork Shock." It's a brilliant strategy because the paperwork is due on or around the same time class assignments can be changed (even though they are NEVER changed).

It all makes sense to me now, how did I not see this a few years ago? Oh yeah, my kid was starting school and I had other things to worry about. Hmmmmmm, think about it: Confuse parents with weapons of mass distraction. They got me for almost three years!! Now that I'm armed with this information I'm going to look at things differently today at pick-up. I'll keep you posted.

Shock and Awe indeed.

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