My children each have a backpack they carry to and from school.
Inside the backpack is a folder. Each afternoon, I empty the folders. The next day the folders come home filled to the brim.
It is just one of those things I can count on.
At the height of my overcommitted life, the mere sight of the backpacks made me queasy. I knew that the folders inside contained more papers, more responsibilities, and more activities I didn’t have time to address. This feeling only added to my “cup o’ stress” that was already overflowing.
As a teacher myself, I knew these communications from school were vital to the success of my children. I knew I should be thankful for every shred of information I received, every test score, every spelling test, and every chance I was given to be involved. I knew I should be grateful for the time and energy it took loving hands to evaluate these papers and place them in the folder.
But when you are overwhelmed by life, the positives get buried. When your daily planner is bursting at the seams, blessings in the ordinary, routine moments of life get covered up. All you see is more. More to do. More to do right now.
So when my children’s papers came home, I felt the need to rid myself of the excess as quickly as possible. I glanced through them, ensuring there was not a permission slip or a lunch account notice, and then I pitched all of it right into the trash can.
Occasionally, I pulled out a nicely colored picture or a well-written story and offered a quick, “Great job on this, honey.” Then I mailed the creation to one of the grandparents, where I knew it would be lovingly showcased on the refrigerator or windowsill.
I resorted to the grandparents because in my heart of hearts, I could not bear to throw away a potential keepsake. But in my overcommitted state, I did not have the energy to post it, place it in an album, or actually sit down and talk to my child about it.
That is how far beyond my limits my excessive array of unnecessary commitments had taken me. I was so overwhelmed by the chaos I had created that even my children’s school papers were too much for me to bear.
It’s hard for me to even type that sentence. When I reread it, tears come to my eyes. But if I have learned anything on this Hands Free journey, it is this: The truth hurts, but the truth heals and brings me one step closer to the person I want to be.
You see, each time I tossed another wad of school papers, I missed the chance to see what really mattered — and it was written in my children’s very own handwriting.
But things are different now.
We now have a new end-of-the-school-day unpacking routine. After sifting through the papers in each folder, I set aside a pile of the children’s work pages. Then I wait for a time when we can actually sit down and look at them together. Sometimes it isn’t until bedtime and occasionally it becomes several days’ worth, but I make a conscious effort to talk about these papers with my children.
We talk about the interesting word choices of Big Sister. We talk about the fascinating color choices of Little Sister. We talk about Big Sister’s beautiful penmanship.
We talk about Little Sister’s exquisite letter formation.
We talk about their growth, risk taking, creativity, and perseverance.
We talk about mistakes and how we can learn from them— and I speak from experience.
We were merely two weeks into our new routine when something remarkable began to happen. As soon as I picked up Avery from school, she talked about how she couldn’t wait to show me her folder. Before we’d even made it into the house from the garage, she’d get down on her knees and begin opening her backpack. She then proceeded to show me every single item in her folder. By the look on her face, each paper was a masterpiece. Every sheet was worthy of her winning smile.
I saw a change in Natalie as well. When she came home, she quickly located her little sister’s papers and called her to the sofa. Together, they went through each one.
“You sure are making the letter D really good!” Natalie would say to Avery, who sat there beaming.
One day during a sister-to-sister evaluation session, Avery requested I join them as quickly as possible. She pulled out a coloring booklet that was a spin-off of the children’s literary classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? With a delighted look, my child proudly announced, “I can read!” She then proceeded to read the entire booklet to Natalie and me as we both watched in amazement.
She read with inflection.
She read with pride.
She read with pure joy and delight.
And to think I used to throw away beautiful moments like these!
But things are different now.
Now I sit between my precious children peering at a pile of papers that read like a map of their day and reveal a path straight to their hearts.
From where I sit, life has never looked so good.
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What distractions are you working on putting aside as a parent so as not to ensure you have undistracted eyes? Leave your comments below. We’d love to hear from you.