Here’s the thing about our house, as an engine of entropy: there are parts of the house, at any given moment, which are simply a mess. There is nothing the little guy (and his little sister, for that matter) loves more than to take a large box full of toys and just dump it all over the floor. Sometimes this is to play with assorted liberated toys, and sometimes it’s simply to climb into the box and play with that. My wife and I will sometimes devote some time to the chore of picking up toys and putting them back in boxes, but this goal is never ever fully accomplished. We make more of an effort depending on the room (the living room gets more attention than the den, while the basement gets almost none at all) and the context (whether or not the sitter is coming the next day, or we’re having company, be it family or friends, &c.) but overall I would characterize it as simply something we live with. Above and beyond the low-grade disaster of messes belonging to our small children (who, in fairness, are arguably too small to consistently clean up after themselves), we also have a fair amount of clutter. Unopened mail and various things we’ve set aside for later, either as reminders of something or as projects in and of themselves, these things tend to accumulate in certain designated zones of the house until they get so large they threaten to topple over. It’s not pretty, but there’s a system to it, and every once in a great while we try to beat the large piles into submission (or just into smaller piles). And then above and beyond all that there’s the simple fact that we own a lot of stuff. Honestly, most of the blame for this falls on me, the collector. Even if everything has a place and is in that place, the shelves and bookcases full of DVDs or paperbacks or knickknacks or whathaveyou represent a not inconsiderable mass of stuff to contend with on a daily basis.
So the point is that before you even start considering hiding places for missing things, you must consider all of the pools of scattered toys and bulwarks of clutter and veils of other visual distractions. So my wife and I spent the week keeping an eye out for Buzz and thinking, on the one hand, how hard could this be? The toy is 12 inches tall and too barrel-chested to accidentally slide under a couch or fit in many other narrow spaces. Not to mention he’s bright white with purple and green trim. But then again, given our little guy’s obsession, there are tons of white, purple and green things all around the house: the Buzz Lightyear costume from Halloween; a Buzz Lightyear bubble-blowing gun we’ve had forever and the little guy recently discovered and laid claim to; the old broken Buzz figure; the boxes both Buzzes were sold in. And trying to catch a glimpse of the able-bodied Buzz doll amidst the clutter, chaos and cacophony with those further distractions and decoys was not easy at all.
The good news is that, once again, the little guy kept his cool about everything, expressing his disappointment at Buzz’s absence but willing to wait until the weekend when we would have a lot more free time (and mental/physical energy) to mount a proper roof-to-foundation search. The other good news is that I did chance upon Buzz on Saturday evening, so the dark cloud of his disappearance did not hang over too much of the long holiday weekend. The errant space ranger was, in fact, in the basement. My wife and I had both done quick visual inventories of the basement earlier in the week, and seen all the other Toy Story character toys scattered around the floor and the train table and whatnot, but no Buzz. I took a different, more thorough approach on Saturday (Pro Tip: whenever you are looking for something your kids have misplaced, get down on your hands and knees. Your likelihood of success skyrockets when you look at the world from their perspective.) and sure enough Buzz was waiting to be found, lying atop some books on one of my bookcases, his white uniform blending in with the white finish of the shelves and the colorful spines of the books camouflaging his own accents. Yet another crisis averted.
I would feel bad about maintaining a household in which one of my kids’ favorite toys is unfindable for days on end, but really, what other choice do I have? My wife and I both work to afford the food and shelter and clothing our kids have access to, not to mention the schools and activities and enrichments and so on. And we tend to prioritize sitting down and reading a book to our two-year-old above grabbing a broom and trying to make the corners of the floor spotless. So we endure a certain level of disorder in our surroundings, which may (or may not) change as everyone gets older and can pitch in more (or demand absolute attention less), but either way I’ve made my peace. Raising three kids does not leave a lot of time for certain luxuries and niceties, so be it.
It’s somewhat (and sometimes surprisingly) comforting to know that this is more or less understood across most of the general populace of the world we live in. My wife and I have been unofficially playing a game for the past several months and we are on the verge of codifying the rules and scoring of this game. For lack of a better name I’ll call it the “Hands Full” game, and the thrust of it is this: one parent takes all three children out in public and counts how many times a complete stranger remarks that the parent has his/her hands full.
That probably seems straightforward enough, and it is, but if we were really going to keep score I would have to insist on some kind of handicapping system. I could go on and on about what it indicates and what it all means, but the truth is that even now, in 2013 and in our semi-elitist East Coast-adjacent culture, sexism is alive and well particularly in regards to traditional familial roles. So it’s always inherently likely that I will be on the receiving end of far more you’ve-got-your-hands-fulls than my wife, because a father taking care of multiple small children by himself that is crazypantstalk. All things being equal (and I’d like to think they are), other people just find it more remarkable when I’m out and about with the whole brood and no co-parent than when my wife is in similar situations. So a fair scoring system would have to involve my wife getting two points for each you’ve-got-your-hands-full while I only got one, or something like that. I haven’t quite figured out the appropriate leveling exchange rate.
For demonstration purposes, here’s what happened yesterday when I took all three kids to the grocery store for our weekly shop. I parked, got everyone out of the car, and started walking through the parking lot. I held the handle of the baby’s carseat bucket in one hand and my daughter’s hand in the other, and she held her big brother’s hand with her other, and we strolled toward the store in a human chain like so. Literally the very first person I saw was an older gentleman (who may very well have been a veteran, at that) coming out of the store and he took one look at us and the first thing out of his mouth was “Well I’d say you’ve got your hands full!” I am not paraphrasing, he was bang-on feeding into our little game as if he were reading from a script. (That's what everyone does, which is why the game practically plays itself.) I loaded all the kids into a shopping cart and ran through the aisles, then went to the checkout, at which point the bigger kids of course just wanted to wander around on their own and I had to keep calling out for them to return to me (or at least to within my line of sight). The cashier noted that I had my hands full, which I think only counts as about half a point since people waiting on you feel obligated to make conversation or running commentary and it’s not a completely spontaneous outburst. Finally as I was leaving the store the man who had been behind me at checkout (poor guy was only buying like two things) passed me on the sidewalk and not only sympathized that it looked like I had my hands full but also exhorted me to enjoy the kids while they were young, since his kids were grown and he missed those days. Without a doubt there has to be a cherish-every-moment bonus point structure built into the game scoring as well. Rest assured I promised the man that I was doing my best to enjoy my kids, who I then proceeded to herd home and feed lunch and try to convince to take naps so that I could maybe possibly get another load of laundry done without interruption.
So yeah, between the hide-and-seek with toys and the public perception bingo, it’s all fun and games around our house. That’s pretty much just the way I like it.