Send out a search party: A toy has gone missing

Like a SWAT team, we enveloped the closet, each of us strategically positioned to survey a specific area.

Fitting. Because, judging from the hysteria dripping from the 4-year-old’s face, this was a mission worthy of a U.S. Marshals-type manhunt.

She was sobbing, begging for help like a mother trying to locate a wandering child in the middle of Walmart on Black Friday. Any assistance will work. Just find it. Please find it. Now. Find it. Please. Please, please.

Of course, the target item was assigned a most vague description because, evidently, 4-year-olds lose their capacity for details when stricken by such dread. Here’s what she told us we were looking for: It is white.

With that, I set out to find this most treasured, um, white, eh, thing.

If your home is like mine, the first place you look for anything gone missing is the children’s closet. It is a lost-and-found with a door and shelves. Where I live, you could successfully hide a Winnebago amid the stuffed animals, whose population numbers somewhere in the thousands. My home happens to have two girls who share one closet. This significantly upgrades the chances that whatever is missing has fallen prey to something fuzzy. We have a trash bag full of squeezable tigers and penguins and monkeys and toucans and snakes and pigs and cows and leopards and cheetahs and lions and panthers and bears and unrecognizable ghouls. They are like a massive bullpen, called upon only when their more esteemed brethren in the starting rotation are deemed too stale to sustain their ability to entertainment.

I emptied the sack. Nothing.

I inquired for more information because, the search at the time, was like telling the FBI to scour the state in search of a specific empty beer can.

After careful prying, I was told, “It has dots.” Also, the 4-year-old added, “It’s lost. It’s somewhere. You know.”

This, as you may have ascertained, did nothing to downsize the parameters of the search. Which might be why the 6-year-old had commenced her own investigation. A notebook in hand, she began writing clues.

“Halle lost her teddy bear,” she said to herself as she wrote.

“So it’s a teddy bear?” I asked.

“Don’t you call it a teddy bear ever again,” the 4-year-old shouted at us before focusing the condemnation solely on her sister. “And you better not write ”˜teddy bear’ on that paper.”

“So ... it’s not a teddy bear?” I asked.

“It’s white,” the 4-year-old said. “I had it one time. It’s somewhere. It’s lost. You know.”

I bent myself inside the toybox, a custom-made model that’s roughly the size of a coffin. Among the decaying clutter, I located two old cellphones. I looked in the van and found a french fry. I checked under the 4-year-old’s bed and spotted evidence of dog vomit. I inspected a bin assigned to house my daughters’ collection of 117 baby dolls and discovered two remarkably wrinkled shirts. It’s possible they were never worn, wasting their lost summer tangled in the crotch of a Cabbage Patch Kid.

We are not hoarders. In fact, we have rules to eradicate senseless items. If anything sits on the bar longer than 24 hours, it ends up in the trash. The van, the children are instructed, is a mode of transportation, not a playhouse. The closet is reserved mostly for things that will prevent the kids from attending school in the nude. Clothes stay for free. Barbies may lease space but should they wander out for the night and, say, sleep under the kitchen table, they will be captured, admonished and discarded.

If you have children, you understand the unending trail of chaos that results from their mere birth. Children accumulate garbage at a rate surpassed only by the homeless. But at least the homeless confine their stuff in a shopping cart. If you do not have children and therefore do not comprehend the magnitude of searching for the white thing, try this: Stop at McDonald’s and request that a helicopter shower your property with every Happy Meal toy ever made. Then, try to find the white one. (No, not that one. A different one. It’s somewhere. You know.)

By the time our toy hunt reached 30 minutes, we’d utilized a flashlight, contemplated moving a bed and emptied a trash can. There was an instance of sister-on-sister domestic violence and a standoff in which the sister who’d lost the white thing refused to say bedtime prayers with the sister unable to locate the white thing.
“I give up,” I announced. “Go to sleep.”

Four minutes later, she bounced off the mattress and galloped into the living room.
“Found it!” she blurted, proudly holding a mouse-sized white cat-type creature speckled with multicolored hearts.

It was in a purse. The same purse we’d searched four times before but found only a notepad, five crayons and a washcloth.

Victory, I suppose, but I am granted no rest. The pajama party at school is soon. And she can’t find her slippers.

The pink ones. She had them one time. They’re somewhere. They’re lost. You know.

Jason Recker is the enterprise editor at The Herald. That french fry he found in the van? He ate it. His email is jrecker@dcherald.com.




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