It usually starts with “Mooooom…” Though it sometimes starts with “Hooooooney…” I hear it more in my lower back than in my ears, because I know this calm plea for help often leads to a trip down the rabbit hole. It’s the moment that some member of my family cannot immediately find the item that he’s looking for. He’s looked in the one spot he thought it would be and didn’t see it. We are moments away from pure madness.
This doesn’t happen with easily replaceable things, like the glass of water he was just drinking or a pair of white socks. It’s the uniform for the game that’s starting in an hour or the keys to the only car that has gas in it. The item is critical, the stakes are high, and the clock is ticking.
I stay very calm. At first. I go back to the place where it was supposed to be and re-look, mainly because this is not my first rodeo. I look under things. I sometimes wonder if my kids missed that peek-a-boo phase of development where you learn the concept of permanence. Just because your phone’s under a baseball hat doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Once I’ve exhausted the two most likely places the item might be, we collectively start to panic. I try not to get sucked in, but panic truly is contagious. And when this happens, a fog falls over all of us and we become visually impaired. We have opened our eyes to the fact that this thing could be gone forever, and from then on we cannot see anything but the absence of the object. We walk in and out of rooms, not really seeing anything. We paw through the laundry basket. It’s just not there. We look again.
The fog leads to the flashbacks, and that’s when the door to the rabbit hole opens. We descend single file. The owner of the lost item speculates that he had the item with him last week and thinks he remembers putting it down on the bleachers. But he thinks he had it again at Will’s house on Friday. Or maybe it was in his backpack at that scrimmage, which he remembers leaving open and unattended for an hour.
Obviously, it’s been stolen. This is a favorite theory in my family. With all the things in my house that have disappeared via theft, it’s weird that all my jewelry’s still here. And the TVs. It’s just muddy cleats and a favorite pair of blue exercise shorts that they’re after. Criminals are a mysterious breed.
Now that we are all the way down the rabbit hole, we are no longer looking in the house. I am on the phone with neighboring school districts asking them to check their Lost and Founds. Sure, I’ll hold. Someone drives to the field to check the bleachers. We’ve left three voicemails for Will’s mom. We are a frenzy of motion and loud voices and circular arguments. We stop short of calling the police.
The last time this happened (Tuesday), it got so bad that my survival skills kicked in. I had the presence of mind to try to make my way back to the surface. I said to the supremely panicked person, “I will find this, but I need to get your energy out of this house.” Oddly, he knew exactly what I meant. See, this wasn’t his first rodeo either. He was out of the house for 5 minutes before I regained my sight and 10 minutes before I found that thing. It was in the laundry basket that we’d been through three times.