It is the nature of places that house families, in particular small children and animals, to tend toward disorder and chaos.
And so I wasn’t alarmed when I couldn’t immediately locate my iPod last Tuesday as it is rarely found in the spot I reserved for it on my bedside table or its designated compartment in my laptop case. Most often it is found on the coffee table or dining room table, wedged between the cushions on the couch or pinched between the sticky fingers of my music-loving toddler as she belts, “Oooh baby do ya know what dat’s worf! Ooooh Kevin is a place on earf!” out of her blue popsicle-tinged mouth.
The last time it went missing, it had slipped from its resting place atop the piano and sat quietly behind it, leaning casually against the wall until my hungry hands recovered it. This time, I fully expected to find it once I was motivated enough to actually look for it. It never occurred to me that it may have been taken rather than mislaid.
I have learned that the tendency toward the disorganization of the family home is the result of a force. And while I have yet to learn its name, it is immediately recognized and universally accepted by mothers everywhere. It is the force responsible for the missing sock phenomenon. It is why you can find 12 flat head screwdrivers when what you really need is a phillips. It is also the reason duct tape exists as it appears to be the closest we’ve come to discovering the equal and opposite reaction to The Force.
When I was a child, we humanized The Force by naming it Charlie. When things came up missing or there was something that couldn’t be explained logically, we blamed it on Charlie. Charlie turned on the lights. Charlie took all the E’s out of the Scrabble game. Charlie left us with seven blue socks and three red. I hadn’t thought about Charlie in a long time, but he quickly became a prime suspect when my missing items began to grow, in number and size.
By Thursday morning, the purple brush from the downstairs bathroom – the one I use to tame Julia’s tangled mane through the day – was no longer there. The photos from my recent ultrasound and the drawing Julia had made of the baby – the same items I had carefully placed with my pregnancy journal and placed somewhere way up high – were gone. The pictures I’d been given at playgroup earlier that week where nowhere to be found. Disturbed, I kept an eye out for the missing objects, rifling through drawers while I fixed lunch and opening cabinets during trips to the bathroom. I notified the rest of the family who agreed to be on the lookout.
It was Friday morning when my mild perturbation exploded into a raging inferno of fury and I declared an all out war on Charlie.
Julia and I were getting ready to head out for her Kindermusik class. At her first session the week before, she had received a backpack full of books, cds, an interactive play set and a yellow slide whistle. She’d carried her backpack and explored its contents often through the past week. The last I’d remembered, she’d left it on the piano bench, so that’s where I ran to grab her slide whistle – the very important item she was meant to take along to class. But it was not there. I stormed through the house, feverishly searching for the backpack. After fifteen minutes, we were out of time and had to leave in order to make it to class on time.
I spent the entire car trip trying to deduce where a 12 x 9 x 2 inch backpack could have possibly disappeared to in our house. “Where can it be? I just don’t get it. I looked everywhere,” I muttered to myself.
We made it to class, where Julia was the only child without her slide whistle and I could tell the other mothers were envisioning a trash heap of a house where junk is piled from floor to ceiling as I explained that we couldn’t find her backpack, since that is the only place you could possibly lose a nearly flourescent turquoise item approximately the size of a kid.
humiliation class was over, I raced home vehemently determined to solve the mystery of the missing iPod, backpack, et al. I enlisted the help of every spare family member I could find and we launched a house-wide, full-scale, two-hour search. I worked closely with Julia, since she’d been the last one to see most of the missing items. I questioned her carefully, remaining fully aware that while the evidence pointed most directly at her, it was just as likely that I misplaced the missing items by stuffing them in the oven or under the sink at the sight of recent unexpected visitors creeping up the driveway. Thankfully, she was agreeable and helpful, suggesting we check in her wagon and her play kitchen. She opened all the drawers in her playroom and emptied the contents of her toy boxes. But it was all for naught. The sun set on Friday and my belongings were still lost.
After a long, sleepless night where I lay awake envisioning Charlie punching a hole in our world and stealing my iPod and my ultrasound pictures much like the evil spirit stole Carol Anne in Poltergeist and wondering if my child might be next, and then falling asleep for a minute and dreaming about that girl from The Ring, I stumbled downstairs. I’d just sat down next to Dave when my mother rushed through the room saying, “It just occurred to me that I saw Julia playing over here the other day..”
She approached the hutch where we keep things like tape, glue, spare batteries, flashlights, emergency candles and Shoe Goo. And duct tape. She opened the door and pulled out a stack of papers that were too insignificant to file, but too important to throw away and began to pull at something. I stood up and moved closer. She was pulling at something…turquoise! It was the backpack! My mouth fell open. Dave gasped. My mom shouted, “I found it!”
“Is her slide whistle in there?” I asked, relieved to take the backpack off the missing list.
My mom opened the backpack and pulled out the slide whistle and held it high.
“Hurray!” I shouted.
She dug in the backpack again and pulled out my playgroup pictures. And then, the picture Julia had drawn of the baby. Next came the ultrasound pictures. And a purple hairbrush. And finally, my iPod.
We stood silent for a moment, soaking it all in. I called upstairs to Julia and she ran down from her playroom, slowing herself to a stop with about three stair steps to go. She eyed the backpack and the items lying all around it.
“We found your backpack,” I told her.
“Yeah,” a wicked smile crept across her face.
“Did you put it in there?”
“Did you forget that you put it in there?”
“No.” God Bless her, she was stealthy enough to ninja all that stuff away, but not wise enough to take the out I was giving her.
“What was it doing in there?”
“I was hiding it from you,” she giggled.
And that’s the story of how Julia was duct taped to the wall.