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I Can’t Teach My Kids How to Be Organized, But I Can Teach Them This

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My college years were a blur of last-minute study sessions and lost homework. Although I managed to graduate from Penn State with a respectable GPA, I paid for it in years of “forgot to study for my final” nightmares.

You would think that I would have learned my lesson after all those stressful college moments. But I didn’t. Over the years, I’ve missed appointments, lost passports, even booked hotels in the wrong city. When these things happen, my husband, the engineer, just shakes his head in disbelief.

Although he tries very hard to be patient with me, I know that my flightiness has caused him some hardships. (Ask him about the time I insisted that the travel agent said we could park our car ON the cruise ship…or about the time we hosted a Passover seder and the guests had to use spatulas and serving spoons to eat because I didn’t have enough silverware.)

When I had my first son I promised myself that I would never be that mom who forgets to pick up her kid from soccer practice or doesn’t send in the permission slip for the class field trip. I would get my act together and set a good example for my kids.

And I have gotten better. I really have. But, I’m far from perfect. When my middle son was in pre-K, I sent him to school in his adorable Blues Clues footsie PJ’s on what I thought was Pajama Day.

It wasn’t.

He still hasn’t forgiven me.

When my oldest son had his first baseball game, I brought him extra early…to the soccer field.

Maybe the worst was this past summer when my daughter turned 5. All she wanted for her birthday was to meet the “real Annie.” I searched diligently until I found just the right girl to play her. I made sure she had a costume that fit and knew exactly where our house was. I told her the time and date several times, just to make sure. And then I spent the next few weeks dreaming of the look on my little girl’s face when Annie showed up at her birthday party.

Only she never showed up. Five minutes went by, then 10. After 15 minutes passed I started to panic.

Her mom answered the phone when I called. I used my most understanding voice.

“These things happen, I’m sure she’s just running late, it happens to me all the time. She’ll be here soon, though, right? RIGHT??”

She wasn’t going to be there soon. She wasn’t going to be there at all, because I’d used last year’s calendar to tell her when to come and she was planning on coming the next day.

There is a happy ending to the story. My wonderful sport of a neighbor threw on the costume and my daughter very graciously suspended her disbelief and had a magical time chatting with “Annie” (who she sees every morning as Mrs. Jenkins).

I know that kids learn best by example. I wonder sometimes if all my constant reminders to put their karate clothes in a special place or make sure their homework is done even matter when they see me shuffling through my own piles of clothes or heaps of paper.

I haven’t given up on getting my act together. But, the truth is, it’s not likely I’ll ever be a very organized person. My brain is best suited for dreaming and creating, not making lists and color-coding closets.

My only hope is that instead of learning organization from me, they’ll learn other things. Like how to improvise when things don’t go the way that you wanted, or that a warm smile and sincere apology can smooth over a lot of mistakes, or that a moment that feels like a huge catastrophe could end up being the story that brings you laughter for years to come.

Still, a smile and a healthy sense of humor won’t get them through all of life’s hurdles. They’ll need to have some sense of organization in order to complete their first research papers, apply for colleges, land their dream jobs.

And, I’ll do my best to help them. I really will. But, when I’m lost under heaps or clothes or in the cloudy haze of a new idea for a story, they can always find their dad. He’ll know just what to do.


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