House hunting

For parents, life is one long search-and-rescue mission.

We spend an inordinate amount of time looking for stuff. Much of that time, we have children trailing behind us, weeping because they know the lost toy/book/pet/garment will never, ever be found.

This is not a happy situation. Most parents are only good for one or two of these rescue missions a day. More, and the parent becomes spent and angry and prone to profane muttering.

As one of these muttering parents, I've drawn some conclusions about operating a lost-and-found service:

--Stuff will go missing at the most inopportune times. Now, this is sort of like saying, "It was in the last place I looked," because usually you don't know stuff is missing until you or your kids need it. But parents typically don't discover the loss until a minute or two before its use is imperative. Duct tape emergencies, for instance. Birthday gifts as you're on your way out the door to the party. Overdue library books. Science Fair projects on deadline.

--Missing stuff becomes the most important stuff in the world. Your kids may own nine gazillion toys, but the one they really, really want -- right now -- will be missing. Rather than shrugging it off and playing with other toys, the children whine and insist until the parent grunts to his feet and starts searching.

--Your house contains a million hiding places. No matter how spare your decor, no matter how well you keep things picked up, your house is a black hole when it comes to your children's possessions, sucking them into a cosmic emptiness from which there is no escape. Searching all the nooks and crannies is like doing calisthenics. Up, down, now bend and stretch. Here's a Handy Tip: Check that tight space between the bed and the wall. It's as good a place to start as any.

--Kids don't know how to look for stuff. Sure, they'll tell you they looked. They'll insist they've looked everywhere and the missing stuff is just inexplicably gone. You can tell them to look again and they'll perform the task the same way they did the first time: Listlessly wandering about, their heads lolling on their necks, barely able to put one foot in front of the other as they peruse the ceiling, apparently in search of inspiration. This causes the parent to grunt to his feet and show them how to REALLY hunt for stuff, which is what the kid was after in the first place.

--Stuff that belongs to other people is the hardest to find. Other people's possessions are tasty morsels for your hungry house. Let your kid borrow a toy from another kid and you'd better keep it on a chain, like a bank pen. Otherwise, it's gone forever and you'll be ponying up the replacement cost. At our house, books that belong to the public library apparently can crawl away under their own power, go out to my car, open the door and hide under the seats. That's where we usually find them after the overdue notices arrive in the mail.

--The more important the garment, the more likely it's missing. It's wintertime, so coats are the first things to go. Then shoes. Then socks. Pants and shirts usually can be located, though they will be in a large pile in the bottom of a closet and none of them will be the one the child really, really wants to wear. Look under this pile when searching for shoes. I don't know how they get there. They just do.

--Looking for stuff often results in inadvertent housework. Start peeking under furniture and behind drapes, and you'll see how dirty your house really is. Oh, you may think it's clean, but dust bunnies and cobwebs and stray popcorn lie in wait. You start out looking for a Digimon, and end up vacuuming the whole place.

--Finding stuff makes it all worthwhile. The reward for parents is a beaming child's face when the lost, never-to-be-found-again toy is located. The warm glow of success usually lasts 15 minutes or so, until something else goes missing.

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