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Always improvising

Mary Hasson

Details are not my strong suit. (“Yes,” my friends are nodding, “we knew that.”)

No surprise, then, that the beginning of the school year spins me into organizational vertigo, a swirling landscape of break-the-bank-book buys, endless supply lists, exacting uniform requirements, and irregular orientation schedules. Multiply by four kids and three separate schools, and add in the particulars required by 15 different teachers, and you’ll understand why I’m dizzy with details.

What puts me over the top is when teachers’ requirements reach this level of specificity: “1-inch blue three-ring binder, with pockets, divided into 8 tabbed sections, each labeled with a black Sharpie, filled with 200 sheets of college-rule looseleaf paper.” And that was for high school.  A whole generation of us learned quite well just by showing up with a notebook and pencil (or pen, once you reached the fourth-grade big leagues).  

This year, however, I thought I had it all covered. Why we even shopped in advance, with lists in hand, and…(are you ready?) money-saving coupons! (Ok, I confess. It was my college-aged daughter who thought ahead and brought the lists and the coupons, but I did bring the credit card. That should count for something.)

My illusion of preparedness lasted until 9:02 p.m. the night before our first day at St. Veronica’s. It was then that I saw the shoes. Black shoes, to be sure, just as the uniform required.  But not only black--black with radically glowing silver swooshes on the heel and either side—definitely not “legal.” How could I have missed those non-uniform silver streaks when we were in the store this morning? We’d searched three stores for shoes, looking for that magic combination of comfortable and kosher. John Paul was hard to fit, living in that no-man’s-land between youth sizes and men’s sizes.  He’d found this pair on his own and called out to me, “Mom, they fit!”  Music to my ears.  I looked over, saw black, felt the tips to make sure there was growing room and said, “Sold.  Let’s go.”  My mistake?  He’d been standing straight on, so that I saw only the front of the shoe.

What to do?  It was already past bedtime and we were still scrambling around trying to get things ready for the big first day. Plus the stores would be closing and we’d searched low and high without success before finding these.  The chances of finding a shoe that would pass muster at this hour were nil.

 “We’ll just have to write you a note, explaining the problem,” I said.
 
“But then everyone will see that I’m out of uniform, Mom.  I can’t do that.”
 
“Well, you’re obviously out of uniform with those glowing silver swooshes, honey, and there’s no way to get rid of them.” 

His eyes lit on a Sharpie permanent marker, black, and half buried in the countertop clutter of new notebooks, papers, and folders. “Mom, that’s it!  We’ll use a Sharpie and cover up the silver!”   A Sharpie to remake his shoes into the black-only variety, covering up the “cool” factor? Well, it was worth a try, even though I was skeptical that black ink would “stick” on the slick metallic silver swooshes.  But the ink did its job and ten minutes and two Sharpies later, those shoes were ready.  From a “scrunch down, peer at the sides of the shoes” level, the final results were a bit iffy—definitely a homemade solution.  But the silver-turned-black swooshes should pass the ten-feet-away, “Is he in uniform?” check. 

Twenty minutes later, they were all tucked in and drifting off to sleep, content that everything would go right on that all-important first day back. The details were in place, thanks to the ingenuity of a fifth-grader. Oh yes, and thanks to that impossibly organized high school teacher whose binder-labeling requirements aroused my scorn hours earlier. I never would have had Sharpies lying around otherwise. I savored the peace and quiet, raised a Sharpie in salute, and dined on humble pie.  Maybe these super-organized types are on to something after all.

Topics: Home Management , Parenting

Mary Rice Hasson, the mother of seven, is a Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C. She blogs at wordsfromcana.

View all articles by Mary Hasson

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