FOUND: Small toys, too numerous to count. Legos. Playmobil swords. Assorted game pieces. Chapstick. Favors from kids’ birthday parties. A deflated balloon. A tiger-shaped container filled with bubbles. An infant’s teething ring. A pirate pacifier. Erasers. Hair ribbons. Rubber bands. Green oval glass pieces left by previous homeowners, dug up by children in backyard, provenance unknown. Magnets. A Matchbox car.
My favorite kids’ movie is “The Incredibles.” I love how Mrs. Incredible’s superhero power is to stretch her body into whatever shape is needed to protect her family. Her arms can become 20 feet long to catch a falling baby; she can turn her body into a flotation device or parachute to quickly move her children away from imminent disaster.
As much as I’d like to be that flexible, my superhero power, delivered to me at the start of motherhood, is less glamorous: I find things. Missing shoes, books, and clean underwear. Mail, the tape measure, the iPhone charger, and the apple peeler. A favorite lovey, a purple marker, and that “thing-I-made-last-week-you-know-that-one?” That stuff is never where it’s supposed to be, at least according to my family, and after precisely 0.05 seconds of looking, I hear “Mommy! Where’s ______ [fill in the blank with the name of the missing object]?” Or, “Hey, Kimberly, where’s _______ [again, you can guess what goes in that blank]?”
My theory is that the missing item is not really lost; it’s just that no one actually looks, preferring to call me for help. However, I don’t want to undervalue my power; I really can find stuff. My technique is to visualize where the item should be (and where it usually is). If it’s not there, I stand still, close my eyes, and find a picture in my head of where I think it might be now or where I last saw it. That usually works. Sometimes, I get tripped up and can never find the missing item—like my daughter’s pink and white spotted stuffed puppy. It’s been missing for a year, and I have only recently accepted it might really be gone.
Another strategy is my superhero “I-can-find-it” arsenal is my Question Mark Jar. The jar sits on a shelf in my kitchen, next to glass containers filled with tea and loose change. Inside are items I find scattered about my house. Small and often abandoned, I find them underneath the sofa, underfoot as I walk through the kids’ rooms, and in the basement. Sometimes, they are broken; most often, they are just left behind, their purpose no longer clear. I put them in my Question Mark Jar, waiting for the moment someone is looking for them. Some items never leave the jar, while others are in immediate demand.
The Question Mark Jar, with its ability to produce long-lost toys and other paraphernalia of family life, is seen, as a result, as a mysterious, special resource. My children look at it reverentially. In quiet, eager voices, they ask to look inside, knowing they can only do so one at a time, with no bickering or grabbing when the jar is open.
My son, especially, is always awed when I agree to take the jar down from its shelf and let him sit at the kitchen island to explore its treasures. He takes everything out, one by one, examining each piece thoroughly. “This is G’s!” he will say. Or, “I’ve been looking for this!” he will call out, laying claim to a handful of small toys. “Can I have them back, Mommy?” When I agree, he makes a small pile of finds to take to his room. My Question Mark Jar gets a bit emptier, but my superhero powers are sharp, and soon it is filled back up.