Now that the kids are older and I sleep well most nights, my biggest parenting challenge is boundaries. The challenge is that I feel like I should have them and the small people refuse to acknowledge such a thing could exist.
For the record, I’m not talking about social or psychological boundaries. Those I’ve long given up. This boundary is a physical one and is, conveniently, exactly the size and shape of my desk.
I really don’t ask for much. Really. All I want is for my office supplies, which are all that keep this particular family from chaos, to remain where I put them.
Take pens and pencils. If you added up all of the minutes I’ve spent looking for something to write with versus actually writing with said something, the numbers would be nearly the same.
Every couple of weeks, usually after I’ve been on the phone and needed to write some crucial piece of information down, I’ll go through the house and collect all of my pens that have wandered off. I’ll get the pencils, too, and sharpen them. Half of the implements go in the pencil cup downstairs the kids can reach; the rest go in the cup on my desk.
Not 24 hours later, I’ll reach for a pen only to find nothing but undesirable and dull pencil nubs on my desk. Usually, their erasers have been chewed off, too, just to add insult to injury.
That’s not on the kids, though. Or, at least, it isn’t anymore, because the Boy as a toddler used to take great joy in eating pencil erasers. Now it’s the dog’s fault.
(And in the interest of honesty, there is another pen thief in the house who is not a kid or a dog. But I have no desire to be a single parent and will resist the urge to point any fingers.)
Just buy more pens, you say. Why didn’t I think of that? I respond as sarcastically as possible. If only I knew about stores!
The new pens barely make it into the house before they vanish. I can’t even find them when I do my quasi-monthly round up. It’s like they never even existed in the first place. Unless, of course, it’s a new pen that doesn’t work. That’s the one that is always on my desk, no matter how many times I throw it away.
Let’s just pretend for a minute that I can actually find something to write with. The next challenge will be finding something to write on.
There are three notepads on my desk that are perfect for recording small bits of information.
Five minutes ago, I couldn’t find any of them because they had been buried by heaps of loose pieces of paper, purloined from the printer, that the kids use to keep track of game passwords and nuclear launch codes.
I would just take a piece of paper from the printer to write my note, but, well, see above.
I’m not the only one hampered by this. The lack of readily accessible blank paper even affects the Boy.
His reading homework requires him to read for 20 minutes, then write three sentences about what he has read. Easy enough, if you a) use the booklet that your teacher provided or b) can find a sheet of paper.
What I didn’t realize for a few days a few weeks ago was that the paper he’d been using wasn’t on my desk in plain sight. Rather than go into the closet where I keep such things to get more or mention that he needed it, he decided to do his reading homework on sticky notes. He’d write part of a sentence on one and stick them together, making a very long and thin series of pages.
It took me longer than you’d think to figure out where all of the sticky notes had gone. I’m sure his teacher was a little confused, too.
I have at times been forced to copy phone numbers onto old student Scantrons, which I can somehow always lay my hands on, using a highlighter. I have, at times, marked essays with a crayon because the pen that I was using disappeared as I was using it.
Is it wrong that I’ve taken to hiding my favorite pens in the bag that I always take to work? If it is, I don’t want to be right. Because I want to be able to write.
See? The children have driven me to bad puns.
Since we’re on winter break and I won’t be back to teaching until after you read this column, my precious pens are out on my desk. I want to warn them that their lives here, with me, will likely be brutal and short.
But I’ve held my tongue. We’ve had a lovely day together, my pens and I, and I don’t want to ruin the spell.
Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of “Sweater Quest.” Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.