File 13

I don’t like clutter, especially on the kitchen counter. Papers are the worst. The amount of crap my kids leave everyday is staggering, probably a whole trees worth. Several recycle bins live in our garage, carefully labeled to avoid confusion. The paper bin, unfortunately, is the least filled. We have a bad habit of throwing them in File 13, the kitchen trash. I find graded papers, school announcements, book orders, notes from friends and scraps. Occasionally there will be a paper that I am unsure of its importance and will place it in the appropriate child’s “In Box”. There is also a “Lost and Found” basket in our hall closet for anything else that I refuse to carry back to that individual’s room, things left haphazardly around the house, forgotten at the end of the day. If you can’t find it, then you at least know where to look for it.

The Hare receives a homework folder on Fridays that is due on Thursdays. It is a perfect system for a busy family. The folder typically stays on our kitchen desk, in plain sight, so she can fill out her reading log each day and complete tasks. Those are the only homework papers that have ever come home. This Tuesday, she pulled out two stapled pages. It was classwork that had not been completed. My mom is visiting this week, so she helped at the kitchen counter helping her finish the work. It was all due on Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, my smiling third grader was replaced by a grumpy, weepy kid.

“You forgot to put my classwork in my backpack! It was due today.”

I smiled politely, “No, you forgot to put your classwork in your backpack.”

“Well, Mrs. G said I could turn it in tomorrow anyway, ” she grumbled.

My mom and I dropped her at gymnastics, picked up The Tortoise from practice, went home and started dinner. I fed my mom, The Tortoise and DW. A few hours later The Hare came home and I fed her, then got her ready for bed. As I turned out lights and wiped the kitchen counter one last time before bed, I scowled at a new pile of papers decorating the counter. I sifted through them absently. Blue grades stared back at me, paper after paper. I scooped them up and put them in the trash.

I went to bed knowing I would be greeted by a clean counter in the morning.

“Ok – you have about 5 minutes left, so you better finish packing your backpack,” I called from the kitchen after breakfast this morning. “And don’t forget your homework.”

The Hare grabbed her blue folder off the kitchen desk, scanning the kitchen counter. She sifted through her “In Box” and then headed for the “Lost and Found”.

The tears came quickly. “Where’s my classwork packet?”

“What classwork packet?”

YOU KNOW!” she said, throwing her hands in the air, “The one that I forgot to bring on Wednesday, so I have to bring it in today.”‘

My gut wrenched.

“I think it got thrown away.”


I took a deep breath in, then exhaled out. My heart was heavy that she would most likely have to do the whole paper over, but I knew she should have put it away in the first place. This was a combined mishap, and one that I was tired of always taking the brunt of the blame. But that is what “us Moms” do, we take on everybody’s responsibilities. But this makes our kids accountable for nothing, while we are accountable for everything.

“It is unfortunate that your work was thrown away. But all I saw on the counter were graded papers and I didn’t realize you left the classwork on the kitchen counter…”


“Let me finish. If something is important to you, it needs to get put away. You knew that work needed to be turned in and it should have immediately gone in your backpack or in the homework folder.”

The Hare crossed her arms and glared at me.

“And for the record,” I added, “my first name is not But.”

Still glaring.

The Hare was so mad, she wouldn’t speak as we crossed the parking lot. I went in the school to talk with her teacher, but unfortunately she had a sub today. A sub that is very familiar with my daughter, and agreed to write Mrs. G a note. There is no doubt in my mind that she will get to re-do the work and get a grade.

It took all my might not to say, “I’m sorry, this was my fault.” I didn’t want this to ruin her whole day. But I can’t teach her to be responsible if I continue to take away that responsibility. Instead all I could leave her with this morning was a quick face to face.

“I love you and I am sad that you are sad. This situation is unfortunate but it will be fixed. We need to work harder at being more organized and putting papers away where they need to go. Okay?”

The Hare looked through me, “Whatever.”

Sometimes being a mom is harder than I ever imagined.

9 thoughts on “File 13

  1. I love the idea of the inbox system. i’ve tried a few things (and I’m not the parent in my household), and still, paper piles up. My mom is a paper packrat…

  2. Having already forgotten it once, I would have thought that she would have immediately packed the work in her backpack when she found it. The fact that she didn’t do so means that she still wasn’t taking the responsibility to heart, so I am glad to hear that you stood your ground.

  3. I am awed and amazed at your system and will be copying it first thing tomorrow, right after the recycling gets picked up. Genius.

    I am also awed by your patience and the way you’re encouraging your daughter to take responsibility. Mama, you’re a teacher’s dream!

    Belly (daughter of teachers)

  4. I didnt feel the need to respond to this until the last sentence. SOMETIMES being a mom is harder than I ever imagined???? I thought it was ALL TIMES it was harder than you ever imagined? :o)

  5. You are smart to do this now. I waited too long to teach this to my son and now he is paying the price. Because he had ADHD I helped him too much and it’s hard for both of us now that I won’t take responsibility for his mistakes.

  6. I probably would have been the one to say “This was my fault.” (not that you should have) But I love teaching “If something is important to you, it needs to get put away.” As hard as it can be, you’re definitely teaching her responsibility.

  7. Love the idea of you all having an In Box as well as a Lost and Found. I’m always amazed at how paper just BREEDS. 🙂

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