April 1, 2008

Backpack Reminders

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At 3:45 on Friday, the kitchen counter braces itself for the weekly double-dump of school papers. There's the usual -- lunch menus, a slew of completed math, science, and spelling worksheets, a permission slip for a field trip to the Desert of Maine (yes, there is such a place), a plea for help with the Fourth Grade Farewell.

But there's also something new. A big hastily written note from Caitlin that reads: "Dear Mom, Mrs. Earle needs you to please help me remember my sneakers on Wednesdays and Fridays. Love, Caitlin."

I ask Caitlin about it. Apparently, she wrote this sitting on the floor in her socks while everyone else had played Jedi Knight. There's an instant surge of guilt. I let Mrs. Earle down because my kid was unprepared. I let Caitlin down by not making sure she had the right gear for the day.

Frankly, getting three kids going off to school every day feels vaguely akin to launching the Queen Elizabeth 2. I'm lucky if I remember what day of the week it is and who gets the peanut butter and jelly versus who gets the plain cheese with no butter, never mind about footwear. And hey, shouldn't a 9-year-old have some personal stake in packing a bag?

But it's my job to help her do this, so I decide to come up with a plan. Caitlin, Ellie, and I sit down and build a little chart. I've seen complex versions of these -- you know, with rotating wheels and sliding parts that indicate the day -- but my motto these days is to simplify.

With my trusty black Sharpie, I list their names down the left column and the days of the week across the top, and rule out a bunch of lines. They pick a favorite color, and write in the must-have gear in the box for the corresponding day, which boils down to recorders for music, library books to return on library days, and of course, sneakers for gym days. It hangs on the fridge; we check it every morning after breakfast. Simple. And a few weeks later, it still seems to be working.

Then, just an hour ago, I got an email from Caitlin and her teacher: "Dear Mom and Dad, I should have asked you to sign my reading log. I will try to ask you. I am reading each week but I need my log filled out for Friday. -- Caitlin."

Good thing we left space on the chart for additions.

Does your family have a system for remembering morning must-haves? Click the comments link below to find and share ideas.

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