Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Perfect Notebook

Did you feel it today? That shudder in the Force?

Today is the first day of school for most kids in these parts.

My kids are chronologically adults. It has been more than a decade since I wrangled the two of them into place for that tortuous "first day of school!" photograph. However, as I read a facebook update from a friend who still has a student in-house today, I was flooded with memories about the significance the start of a new year can hold.

When I was in elementary school especially, I enjoyed getting ready to go back to school much more than the act of actually returning to classes. No matter when my Mom and I had gone to get supplies, I would postpone getting them organized until the weekend before that first day of school.

The joy I took in setting up a new three ring binder each Fall was hands down my favorite ritual. I proceeded seriously, slowly, knowing that once I snapped those rings shut the final time it would never again be so sweet a sound. I might second guess and rearrange, but nothing, nothing about getting ready for a new school year held anything close to the promise of the Perfect Notebook.

Oh, yesss. The Perfect Notebook.

The ordering was significant in ways I could not fully articulate. Things could not simply be thrown in there willy nilly, OK? This was important. There were Herculean labors I set myself each year, tasks I believed if successfully completed might foretell if not guarantee my good fortune unfolding throughout the weeks and months of classes yet to be.

The first test of each year would be how well I managed to master this fresh chance to get my notebook divider tabs neatly written. I hated my handwriting early on. It seemed childish to me even while I was a child.

I could not understand how others seemingly effortlessly managed to control the loops and dips and connections of their letters. I practiced carefully writing out my subjects each year, experimenting. All caps? Printed or cursive? Whatever formula I employed it was paramount I not get stuck glaring with regret at sloppily scribbled subjects for another entire year.

Our subject dividers were manila pages with tabs fashioned out of clear colored plastic. There was a perforated piece of white card stock provided, pre-scored to fold neatly in half as each subject header was intended to be two sided.

This represented both an opportunity and a challenge because I only considered the job satisfactory when the writing met my approval on both sides of any given subject tab. If I screwed up once I could turn the tab inside out and begin again, but that would be my final opportunity. I tried substituting other pieces of paper for the supplied inserts but they typically fell out as soon as I hoisted the notebook, leaving an empty plastic tab as evidence of failure.

I know I accomplished a full set of neatly written tabs at least once or twice although honestly I do not currently recall if the school years following those calligraphic victories warranted the augury I laid at its feet. Assuming I got past that scribblers mire, however, there were still several crucial decisions to be made.The ordering of subjects and the associated color assignments loomed. Would English get the blue or the green tab? Social Studies orange or yellow this year? What to award the coveted ruby red tab? Would my most favorite class get a spot of honor with a red tab or would I appropriate the glory of red for a class I hoped it would elevate by proximity?

Some years I blithely ignored the colors altogether, coolly putting my class subject tabs in order of my schedule for the day. Other years I ranked my subjects in order of how much I liked them, privately enjoying my daily tiny joke on Arithmetic (last!!) for the entirety of 5th Grade.

If I managed all that with no snags, there were decisions regarding the division of that plastic wrapped pack of loose leaf binder notebook paper yet to conquer. Would I go with a basic arrangement this year and place an even number of pages in each section?

This was a farce, naturally, some subject sections ending up packed with smudgy blue mimeographed pages, others remaining empty as the nature of the course work dictated. But before the teachers had their say it was mine to decide. For the time being, I was the one in control.

And that was it, really. Control had become the key unlocking my "before school started" pleasure and I can pinpoint precisely when notebook control snapped into prominence.

It happened the summer we moved into a (nicer) new neighborhood between third and fourth grade. I loved my new room but faced being thrown into a class that had already sorted itself out into mysterious cliques. Attending a birthday party two weeks before school started had proved disastrous.

The invitation, arranged mother to mother, was quite well intentioned, but ignored the truth that a child's birthday party past the age of 3 or 4 is never truly a socially neutral gathering. There I was, a parentally inserted intruder awkwardly thrust into a backyard filled with excited soon to be classmates, currently strangers one and all.

I mostly stood to one side of the activities. Then a bird pooped on my plate of cake and melting ice cream. As I carefully brought my ruined food to the attention of the birthday girl's Mom she laughingly called out for a replacement. That triggered a spreading circle of exaggerated reactions of repulsion to my plate that mysteriously and quickly extended to me personally.

Young as I was, with that as my introductory experience, I just knew. There would be little of the social aspect of school under my control that coming year and not much positive to expect past that. That ship had sailed.

So it was that my notebook came to represent an island of decipherable calm prior to the storm of any given school year. If I could not control my social standing (and clearly I could not) then at the very least I could have my way with my school supplies.

Every year after that I would take my own sweet time getting that notebook together, enjoying the sense of control while it lasted. Putting in a pristine new zipper pouch replete with freshly sharpened number two pencils. Points up.

Lining up a row of blue ball point pens punctuated by the one red pen for self graded papers. Protecting the plastic edge of the pouch above the dangerously sharp pencils by carefully sliding into place above them my fresh new pink pearl eraser.Ah the joys of a fresh Pink Pearl. Those erasers only looked good for about a week. I typically lost every year's pink pearl long before I got close to using it up.

But just for that golden afternoon, everything was fine, in place, under control. There were no worries yet about where to sit at lunch. There were no fears at that point over the potentially nightmarish arbitrary alphabetical-by-surname seating arrangements. No faux pas to live down. Nary a single fashion blunder, cruel nickname or team choice humiliation to outlive.

Optimist that I was, at that point before the first bell had rung, the school year yet to come was all glowing potential. Every year was going to be the year I would finally come into my own, take my rightful place as leader, use everything I'd learned and figured out from all the years prior and make it all work to my advantage.

And if not? I had my wonderfully organized, perfect notebook as consolation.

Before anybody out there starts making calls to arrange a Get That Woman Some Therapy! Bake Sale I'll hasten to add that the skills I learned while navigating the not entirely friendly transition to a new school in 4th Grade eventually found me way ahead of most of my peers. When it came time to leave the safety of Elementary School and be thrown into a much larger regional Junior High setting, some of the Big Fish from that Elementary school never quite knew what had hit them. I, on the other hand, was already practiced at reading group boundaries, sensing where I could slip into or create my own space, and spotting other likely candidates for a new circle to call our own.

By the time we broke for Thanksgiving the first year of Jr. High I had found my own group of friends that pretty much stuck with each other all the way through High School. While I would be lying if I were to say I appreciated that hard start, I did learn some valuable lessons. Including, yeah, kick-ass notebook organizing skills.


PassivePastry said...

Who is in that photo?! hehehe.

I'm so glad i finally got to see you in the flesh today!

I love love loved school shopping- trying to find the coolest pens and five star notebooks, mmmmm!!

TexasDeb said...

It was a delight to see you in person as well. YOU know who the kids in that photo are.... : )

Siren said...

what a great post! so thoughtful and it probably took you a long time to write that one. you were really reminiscing :)

i was not a big notebook organizer like you but i did get excited about new school supplies. My mom used to make my new school clothes for me. I have a memory of "Hammer Pants" one year. It was this really wild print. Man. she was great. The pants were soooo, uh, not to be worn. I wore them, like some people in my school. Oh, Simplicity patterns, what the heck did you do to us?

TexasDeb said...

Thanks, Siren! For me (pre Hammer days by decades) it was a certain A-line sleeveless dress my Mom made that left me looking like an elongated bell with skinny clapper legs.

Labor of love for her to make and definitely an expression of love for me to have worn in public. Butterick and McCalls patterns still around in your time?

Siren said...

Definitely still McCalls but not sure Butterick? I've been to the fabric store a few times myself ambitiously thinking about making garments. Unfortunately mom never really taught me how to make a complete garment so that's never happened. I wish I could though, b/c I'd have a lot more clothes I liked. That fit. heh heh.

TexasDeb said...

Yeah - I "donated" my sewing machine to a border mission effort years ago.

Clothes that fit - cue the elastic waist garments. Sorry - was that written out loud?