Saturday, January 31, 2015

No Soup (Labels) For You!

As soon as Nathan started kindergarten, I was bombarded with a slew of school fundraising opportunities. There were the big ones—the 5K fund run, the magazine sale, the catalog of wrapping paper and other assorted gift items.

And then there were the little, day-to-day fundraisers. If you have a child attending school, you're probably familiar with them, but let me recap what we have:

  • Box Tops for Education: General Mills cereals, Ziploc bags, Avery binders, Old El Paso food products, Green Giant pre-bagged vegetables—These and many others are among the brands that contain that coveted little Box Tops for Education rectangle that you're supposed to cut out, save, and then glue to the monthly Box Tops collection sheet that comes home with your kid, which always has a fun seasonal pun like "Box Tops Are Snow Much Fun!" Now, I immediately decided that if I didn't send my kid with this completed sheet of ten box tops, the day after it was sent home, I would be labeled Bad Mother. So I became obsessed with finding these box tops. The last time anybody was this excited about box tops was during WWII, which, if the popular camp song "Up in the Air, Junior Birdman" is to be believed, were among the random household scraps that patriotic children collected for the war effort. (How box tops helped us defeat the Axis Powers is unclear to me, but presumably there were some soldiers in an office somewhere assigned to glue them to these silly sheets and return them in exchange for $1 per sheet.) So, you become a bit of an eagle-eyed birdman yourself as you putter around in your kitchen, spotting box tops from a mile away and cutting them out. You
    get stupidly excited to find one. Until you realize that each Box Top is worth 10¢  and you're a grown adult with a college degree who theoretically has the ability to earn more than 10¢  in the time you spend cutting and gluing down these little rectangles. (Oh, and you have to cut precisely. Every extra inch of cardboard costs the school more in postage, which means your net earnings from Box Tops go down. I kid you not, most schools have somebody assigned to cut off extra layers of cardboard using a razor blade, just to cut down on mailing costs.) Now, the thing is, I think it's nice that these companies make donations to schools. I think the Box Tops are a good way for a family of any means to help raise money for their schools. Collecting box tops in your kitchen is an easy, free way to solicit donations for your school. And the program is coordinated by a school volunteer, so basically the school isn't laying out any capital to earn the money from Box Tops. It's pure profit (postage costs notwithstanding), and from what I understand, the school makes about $1,000 a year off of the program. There's a lot of good to be said about it. It's just, you realize that if you're theoretically filling one sheet per month, the school makes $1 per month off of you, which means $10 per year, and wouldn't it be easier if you could just find the Box Tops coordinator and hand her a $10 bill at the beginning of the school year? 
  • Dunkin' Donuts receipts: It's very nice of the owners of our local Dunkin' franchise to donate 10% of all sales to the school when you turn in receipts. Still, I suspect that the whole Dunkin' fundraiser is just a way for the school to secretly check up on how often you're feeding your kids donuts. Which, in my house, is a shameful amount. 
    "Donuts ... Is there anything they can't do?" —Homer Simpson
  • Campbells Labels for Education: This is the one that befuddles me. Campbell's Soup, and its associated brands like Pepperidge Farm and Dannon, have these Labels for Education on their packaging. I didn't even know we were supposed to be collecting these until Nathan was about midway through kindergarten, but as soon as I found out I developed a new obsession with finding these silly rectangles, too. From what I understand, these labels earn your school points to buy items from a catalog of useful school items. Last year the labels purchased these little stand-up plastic warning creatures, which I refer to as the Safety Turtles: 
Now I'm thinking, Wow, just by cutting out a bunch of annoying labels, I helped my school earn three safety turtles. What if those turtles saved somebody's life? How can I deny the school these life-saving plastic turtles? And were safety turtles what really helped us win WWII? So I feel compelled to cut out every stupid label I see, even though it's hard to remove a soup label while keeping it intact, or to cut through the double-layered foil innards of a Mint Milanos package. (Wow, I am not painting a very positive picture of the nutritional situation in my household.) 

Mmm! Mmm! Guilt! 
Anyway, the relevant anecdote to which I am taking a very circuitous route here goes as follows: The other day I was making a recipe that called for two cans of Campbell's soup. Naturally, once the cans were emptied, I began to attempt label removal. Compounded by other minor annoyances in my cushy suburban life, I was getting all kinds of frustrated with this process of label removal. And then I had one of those What am I doing here? moments and just ... wait for it ... threw two valuable turtle-earning labels in the trash can. No soup labels for you! 

Oh, how I love a good Seinfeld reference. 

Now, Seinfeld was all about the trivial, and certainly the choice to throw out soup labels is possibly the most trivial decision ever. But it represents something larger, and for that I have to reluctantly make a reference to another franchise, one I'm not so fond of. 


Because, the thing is, that minor choice to throw away the labels was the first step in learning to Let It Go. I'd become obsessed with doing everything right as a school parent—helping in the classroom, attending every evening event, helping with every fundraiser, checking every last problem of the homework. And God forbid I ever signed a reading log with slightly inaccurate information; I mean, those things are serious, legally-binding contracts, right? 

And not to imply that this is some sort of huge breakthrough for me, but since the Soup Label Incident, I have also taken the following "Let It Go" actions: 
  1. Throwing away the flier for Family Reading Night, because it just didn't sound like something that would be a good fit for my family. 
  2. Choosing not to participate in the Six Flags Read to Succeed program, for which you fill out a log of every book your kid reads for 180 minutes (or something) and then earn a child's Six Flags ticket in return. Every year I fill this thing out, not for the free ticket, but because I don't want to look bad as a parent. We never even use the damn ticket. 
  3. Skipping my weekly assignment as a computer lab volunteer because my paying job was just too stressful that day and I couldn't handle it all. 
  4. Letting Nathan turn in a homework assignment that was full of spelling errors. 
  5. Allowing Nathan to watch The Flash with Bill instead of completing his nightly required reading. 
The thing is, I'm starting to feel more comfortable letting things go in other areas of my life, too. It's not that I was a perfect specimen of cleanliness, productivity, and willpower in all areas of my life before. It's that I felt guilty that I wasn't. It's the guilt I need to let go of. 

Though I can't let go of the guilt I would feel if I didn't end with the following disclaimer: 

The previous comments were by no means an attempt to insult my school district and the dedicated people who work for it. I love our school district, and I love public schools in general, and I know they are severely underfunded. I know the burden of filling in the gaps in funding tends to fall on teachers, and I will do the best I can to allay these poor teachers' out-of-pocket costs. But the best I can is the relevant phrase here. Nobody can do it all. I was feeling guilty that I couldn't do it all. It's the guilt I'm letting go of, not the desire to support my local schools. 

And the soldiers of WWII and their contemporaries were The Greatest Generation. I understand that their sacrifices were nowhere near something as trivial as cutting out cardboard. Their sacrifices were unfathomable. I know, because I just saw the film Unbroken. 

No comments: