I used to think contacting books – the application of a sticky sheet of protective plastic – was a punishment parents put themselves through, but now I realise it’s the school. It’s the system. And I’ve just faced it for the first time. I’ve just had my first wrestle with the giant sticky multi-limbed heartless beast that is contacting schoolbooks and, since it’s possible others didn’t make it out the other side, I’m reporting in.
We were told at the parent information night on Thursday that it’s to make sure labels on the front of the book stay stuck on properly. Heard that yourself, have you? Apparently that’s often how it starts, but don’t be fooled. If it’s the case, why not just stick them on properly in the first place? Why slap a label on in some dodgy way to start with, then require someone else to do something infinitely more complicated to keep it there? And then judge them for their handiwork? Because be in no doubt about it – there’s judging going on. In the classroom next to my son’s, the teacher has already sent some contacting back to parents to be re-done. Which, having just escaped the ContTact chamber, seems to me like sending an omelette back and asking for it to be returned as two eggs.
‘What is this contacting books?’ the parent next to me said, recently arrived from a distant land. ‘How do you? Is this reading she is talking about? Contacting books?’ In the movies when a platoon arrives on a planet inhabited by unseen but deadly aliens, there’s always one guy you know will be taken first. Phew. In our room, I wasn’t that guy.
So, I spent a day or so in denial of the gravity of my mission, and then I did what any first-time contacter would do. I turned to Facebook for help.
Fifty-six comments later, I determined I had to go in. The advice was mixed. Of course it was. ‘Rebel,’ some said. ‘Get those slip-on covers … Just don’t do it … Life is already too plasticky.’ (‘Yes, yes it is,’ I heard the nagging voice of doubt say in reply. ‘More plastic in the sea than fish soon, I read that …’)
Rebel? Well, sure, but I’d be pitching my son into the middle of my revolution, and he didn’t choose that. Make him the one hold-out in a class where every other child is parented by ConTact-adept suck-ups? It took me straight back those three years of Indonesian at school, when everyone else had bought exactly the right Indonesian-English dictionary in time, but I’d got to the shop just after the last one sold, to be told the next would come on a slow boat who knows when. I ended up with a brightly coloured Malaysian-English dictionary instead, since it was apparently ‘near enough’. Near enough? There’s no near enough. For three years I confused my untuks and my untoks and I still can’t eat satay without breaking out in a sweat.
So, I took the best practical advice given to me, attempted to compile a summary and went to cross-check it by googling other sources (as also advised). There I realised my first mistake. Years ago, I’d gone and got myself a Y chromosome. Every site on how to contact seems to have ‘mum’ somewhere in its URL. Contacting apparently isn’t a job for men at all! Perhaps, in some other bi-gendered parent teams, men stand by with nets and flamethrowers and stuff (warrior-like, semi-tough but useless) as the ladies boldly face the beast. But not at our place, apparently.
I settled for the illustrated contacting process at ‘mouthsofmums.com.au’. If these challenged mums were gamely pushing on and contacting books with their mouths, I should be brave enough to step up and try with two hands.
So, I’ve done it. I’m back, somewhat scarred by the experience, and here’s what I’ve learned:
• I’m an ace ConTact cutter, but a dud ConTact applier.
• It’s the application that’s the real skill. Therein lies to path to ConTact glory and/or unmitigated disaster.
• First ConTact is crucial. If the line of the book’s spine doesn’t land correctly, you’re already sunk. The book will end up like an ultra-sticky spitball, your child will probably be failed out of grade one, have to repeat, lose contact with his/her peers, be fire-setting and harming small animals by eight and, of course, be lost to a life of crime soon enough. Other than that, first ConTact isn’t crucial at all.
• Book covers are actually animate, sentient and wilful, and sometimes flap when they want to, bellyflopping onto that ConTact sheet with all the precision of a drunk with his eyes shut tripping over the edge of a swimming pool. Again, this is a trivial matter (see outcome above). No pressure.
• ConTact has its own limbs, and reaches out for the parts of the book cover you least want it to.
• ConTact is almost certainly an aerobe, seeking to trap as much oxygen as it can between itself and the book cover.
So, how did I fare? I’m guessing if you’re having to use your chin or your knee to hold something down, you’re doing it wrongly. Unless ConTact was designed to be applied using at least three limbs and no one on the interwebs told me.
I can’t say I did well, but the job is done. And it would have been even worse had it not been for Facebook guidance and the Mouth Mums. Yes, I used the ruler to smooth, as directed, but it turned out to be only a partial remedy for flaws on the scale of which I was capable. Only once did I contact the ruler to the book. Only twice did I clip off a tiny bit of book corner when trimming, but we won’t mention that again. They’re less likely to hurt people now, anyway. Untrimmed corners can be very pokey, right?
I have to admit that parts of some covers ended up like tactile maps of river deltas, but that’s just how it is. Put me down for a D in contacting, teacher, but there ain’t no re-do.
Ah, ConTact. We’ll only do this eleven more times and then it’ll be over between us.