Like many families with small children, our house is in a semi-constant state of disarray. Toys that belong in the basement have travelled to the kitchen and living room, and sometimes all the way up to the children's rooms. Action figures crawl under couch cushions and beneath chairs, puzzle pieces fall into cracks beside walls and under dressers, and stuffed animals find their way behind beds and to the bottoms of toy chests. Everything moves. No matter how conscientious I try to be about clean up (or how lax, for that matter) everything moves.
This is no doubt a common story, but our version takes an interesting twist thanks to the "Find It Game," brought to us by the makers of Autism. Once a day or so, Ellie will think of a toy - a little animal, an action figure, a stuffed animal, a puzzle - and absolutely has to have that object right now. Something has reminded her of it, and she can see this item clearly in her mind and she simply must have it back. Now. Right NOW!!
When she was a little younger this was especially challenging, as she lacked the verbal skills to comunicate her distress to us. She might have choked out "BLUE!" between sobs, but it was left to us to decipher what that meant. Was she doing a puzzle and missing a blue piece? Was it a blue parakeet from the animal bin? A blue whale toy? Blue from Blue's Clues? And while we tried to figure it out she would wail and wail, inconsolable, hysterical, missing so desperately the thing we couldn't understand or find. The Find It Game was frustrating for all when the lost object couldn't even be identified, and it was a game we lost A LOT.
Luckily, at this point she has enough language to help one of us to understand what it is she is looking for most of the time. But when we do understand, there is still the hurdle of finding the missing item --something that could have been missing for a few minutes or several months when it was called to mind and suddenly needed. And when the call comes, when Ellie has decided that something is missing, we are all on the hunt. Sure, we could try to talk her down, beg her to patient, ask her where she left it, but she will not answer, and she will not be distracted. She is fixated. She will not stop thinking about that thing, missing that thing, crying about that thing for a long, long time if it is not located. She will drip snot and tears and sadness all around the house, her cries a rising crescendo of misery and loss until we all think we will lose our minds. It's a painful and prolonged process and, at this point, one we all try to avoid.
So instead, the first one to understand what is missing usually puts out the family-wide APB, like today's:
Alert! Alert! Small green Yoshi has gone missing, has anyone seen it? (everyone stops what they're doing to respond)
I saw it yesterday in the basement, but it's not there now!
Lexi, have you checked the super hero bucket?
It's not there, Mom!
Spencer, is Yoshi with your LEGOs?
No, Ellie had it at the computer earlier today!
Lexi, you check the playroom floor, I'm going to look under the beds. Spencer - you check under the couch cushions!
And so it goes until either the item is found or we all give it up as lost. Meanwhile, the searchers are serenaded by the howls of the little one, still crying for the lost toy she just remembered. Thanks to this marvelous game, I have learned to take little mental snapshots of things as I move through the house: 3 elephants on the windowsill in Lexi's room, SNAP! A favorite book spied behind the edge of the bed, SNAP! A superhero sitting in the soapdish upstairs, SNAP! Several Angry Birds figures on the basement coffee table, SNAP! 2 LEGO figures battling in the bookcase, SNAP! Sometimes shuffling through these pictures can save me ten or fifteen minutes of crying and searching in the day. And sometimes nothing helps.
Today, Yoshi was found. He'd been kicked under the couch and was communing with a group of dust bunnies and two lost M&Ms. Like the Prodigal Son, his return was met with much rejoicing, singing, and joy. He was treated to a flying run around the house in the hot little fist of his greatest fan, laughing through the end of her tears. Tomorrow we may not be so lucky: tomorrow it could be a dinosaur Odin has chewed and distroyed, or a puzzle piece that won't be found until they cart us off to the nursing home and clear out the house, or a superhero that is half-buried in the dirt in the play yard not to be discovered for another week, if ever.
But today, we won the Find It Game. Today we won, and since it's the little things that make or break our days around here, I'll take this little victory and cheer...
Today we dance, for Yoshi is back!