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SANDY BANKS

A Paper Savior for Families

January 09, 2001|SANDY BANKS

It was only five days into the new year and the bookstore racks were still filled with calendars. Surely, I thought, as I went store to store, I would be able to find the calendar I need among the leftovers now on sale.

But a dozen bookstore visits later, I still hadn't found my old standby--the Mom's Family Calendar--among the hundreds of puppies, kittens, pop singers and lighthouses on display.

"We carried it, but they were in and out so fast, I didn't even have a chance to get mine," commiserated Lucy, a sympathetic salesclerk at my local Barnes & Noble. She'd snagged one at a mall kiosk just before Christmas. "You might try them," she said. I did; no luck.

I'd waited too long. The one calendar I coveted was gone. The tool I have relied on year after year to coordinate my chaotic family had been snapped up by other mothers clearly more organized--and therefore less in need--than I.

No problem, I said. I'll simply call the publisher and order one. But I felt a tide of panic rise when I heard these words from the woman at the end of the line: "I'm sorry, but we no longer have that calendar in stock." No warehouse supplies, no back orders. The 2001 calendars were gone. It was all I could do to keep from crying.

Calls from distraught moms have been flooding the New York office of Workman Publishing in the past few weeks. The company makes the unconventional Mom's Family Calendar, an oversized wall calendar that uses a series of grids and columns to keep track of every family member's daily schedule.

"I've gotten at least 20 calls for that calendar already this morning," said Lydia Castrulli, a Workman customer service rep. "And when I tell them we don't have any more, they say exactly what you just said: 'How am I ever going to survive?' "

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It is more than just a tool, the calendar. It's a touchstone for active families--a place where busy lives intersect, at least on paper, day to day.

It records the rhythm of our days: weeks crammed with practices and meetings and doctor appointments, a flurry of birthday parties and basketball games. Then a few days spent camping; or even better, a block of squares with nothing written on them--the luxury of a stretch of blank days.

There is something calming, satisfying, about the simple act of filling in the dates--gathering phone messages and party invitations and sports schedules and appointment slips and scribbling them in to create a mosaic of our days. It generates a sense of mastery over lives so unwieldy, that sometimes seem to be spinning out of control.

The calendar business is booming these days, in part because of the busy lives we lead, says Dick Mikes, president of the Calendar Marketing Assn., a trade group based in Illinois.

"When I was a kid growing up, you didn't need a calendar to list everybody's schedules. You just knew where everybody was. Kids went to school close by, and their friends were in the neighborhood, and everybody wasn't driving around to music lessons and soccer practice. There are a lot more things to coordinate these days."

Castrulli, of Workman Publishing, said her company prints more copies of the Mom's Family Calendar every year, "but it's gotten so popular, we can't keep them in stock."

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Mikes wasn't familiar with my favorite but said calendar makers are scrambling to develop products aimed specifically at families. "You've got magnetic calendars, where you can move things around as they change. You've got calendars with ready-made stickers for things like soccer practice and dentist appointments. Functionality is a big thing these days" among calendar makers.

But people buy calendars for emotional reasons as well. "Scenery, florals, animals . . . those are all big sellers," Mikes says. "People buy them for their aesthetic appeal, for gifts, because they remind them of someplace they've been or something they love. I've got one on my wall I don't even use. I just like the pictures."

There is probably something for everyone, even on today's depleted calendar stands. Music lover? The Beatles or Britney Spears? Animal fanatic? There are "Amazing Reptiles," songbirds, sea otters, even a calendar featuring monthly photos of ferrets. You can buy the Venus and Serena Williams calendar if you're a tennis fan, or the feng shui calendar if you need to bring your home's vibrations in line.

Calendar prices began dropping on New Year's Day, but still, some versions will fail to move. It's not hard to tell what the big loser was this year. Store racks are still loaded with unsold copies of a Harry Potter calendar, based on the popular children's book series.

"It was a bust," Mikes admitted, "a fad that hit its saturation point before the calendar came out. That's the risk you take when you try to make money on a fad."

What happens to calendars that just don't sell? They're often shredded and used as packing material, Mikes said. "I was opening a box of books one day and looked at what was stuffed inside and said, 'Hey, there's that same calendar we were selling six months ago.' "

And what happens to moms who don't get the calendars they need? Fortunately, I won't have to find out this time around. I may not have much foresight, but I do have good friends. And one of them showed up over the weekend with a belated Christmas present: Mom's Family Calendar, 2001.

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Sandy Banks' column runs on Sundays and Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@latimes.com.

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