A journey on an endless paper trail

September 09, 2001|By Susan Reimer

I am the queen of paperwork. You need something signed? Filled out? Copied, paid, filed or mailed? I'm the one. I'm the best. I'm there for you.

Do you need important dates transferred to your calendar? Do you need your children's artwork or school papers sorted and stored by grade? I'm way ahead of you. To-do lists? I invented to-do lists. Phone trees, newsletters, address lists, rosters, agendas? Don't make me laugh.

I have piles of paperwork everywhere in my house: on the table in the kitchen ("Needs immediate attention"), by the phone ("Calls to be made"), next to the computer ("Letters and minutes to write, e-mail groups to create, bills to be entered in Quicken"), and on the dining room table ("Not pressing").

My husband asked if I could free up at least one table in our house so that people could eat or do homework, and I puffed myself up with injured dignity and said, "Do you want this job?"

That rejoinder always stifles any criticism of my paperwork work. Nobody wants the job of keeping track of paperwork. It is something you inherit by default. It became my job as soon as I realized that if my husband couldn't be certain he was remembering his mother's birthday correctly, he was never going to pay the mortgage by the 15th.

In the years since marriage, mortgage and kids, the paperwork demands of our life have exploded beyond all imaginings.

There are school forms, Sunday school forms, camp forms, team forms, permission slips, medical history forms, vaccination forms, class picture forms, Motor Vehicle Administration forms and leases to sign for a week at the beach.

Now the time has come for college applications, and I am wondering if the degree can possibly be worth all the paperwork.

I pay bills, I file insurance claims. When the insurance company denies the claim, I file more forms. When we refinanced our mortgage, they had to sedate me for a week.

I am good at all this paperwork, but I hate it. I am never free of it, I am never done. It is there when I wake each day, and it haunts my sleep each night.

I carry handfuls of paperwork to the office every day, in case I get a minute to clear some of it up. I have it in the car next to me to do while I wait in the car pool line.

But I usually end up carrying it back into the house. That is when I sigh and feel defeated, as if I am a balloon with a slow leak.

I spend Saturday mornings doing paperwork. Sometimes I stay up late at night. I miss church on Sunday so I can catch up on my paperwork. I don't go to the movies, to the pool, out to dinner or away for the holidays -- because of the paperwork.

I treat myself to a latte when I tackle paperwork in the mornings. But then I get jumpy and can't concentrate. I treat myself to a glass of wine when I tackle paperwork in the evenings. But after one glass, I don't care if I get it done.

I have thought about throwing it all out and pretending to start over: I stand over the recycling bin with an armload of paperwork, but I can't let go. What if there is something important in there? What if there is a deadline I missed? Something I forgot to fill out, submit, mail or file?

School is starting. The kids brought home the emergency information cards. You know -- the ones that ask if you are a member of the military or live on federal property, the ones that ask if your spouse has permission to pick your child up at school. (You have to wonder what lawsuits spawned that paperwork.) So I am taking the week off.

I tell myself I am taking vacation so I can give the kids a running start on the new school year. Hot breakfasts, dinner on the table, homework help, good family talks. The whole 7th Heaven scene.

It sounds idyllic. But the truth is, I just need time while they are in school to catch up on my paperwork.

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