Lessons in Losing Things

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I am a pretty organized person. In fact, there was an eight year stint where I worked as a professional organizer and was paid to go into people’s homes and help make systems to create order out of the chaos that surrounded them. And I was really good at it.

Truth be told, I am supremely organized. I used to lie about my house being as neat as it is. It doesn’t look quite as fabulous as the homes in Style Magazine or House Beautiful, you know, where everything has been staged to perfection – the beds heaped with fluffy, organic linens with a thread count of two million and smoothed so they 100% lump-free; every knick-knack is interesting and placed at the proper angle; the glass in the picture frames on the side tables sparkle, and the familes in the frames sparkle too.

It’s not like that here. Things here aren’t perfect; I just know where my stuff is.

Usually.

Except when I don’t. Because that happens sometimes.

One night, around 10 pm, while I was folding laundry and my husband was out enjoying a Jeff Beck concert, my son apparently realized he had lost his book, Pendragon: The Quillan Games, (#7 in the series) somewhere at school. Pendragon is not a book he checked out at school; it is a library book. A thick, hardcover library book. Apparently, he laid there in the dark perseverating. You know, that thing we do that gets us absolutely nowhere except more freaked out? He was running “what if” scenarios over and over in his head, trying to figure out where he might have left his book, even though he thought it was probably in his desk. Alone in his bedroom he was thinking, What if I can’t find the book? What if it’s really gone? What if I left it on the playground? What if the library charges me three times as much as a new copy would cost. What if my parents get really mad at me for losing the book and don’t trust me and won’t let me take out any more library books? (For a voracious reader, that would be a major punishment.)

Apparently, he tortured himself like this for about thirty minutes before he finally exercised the good sense to come downstairs and explain his dilemma.

My child is the responsible type. He doesn’t like to lose things. He doesn’t like to miss deadlines or due dates. The thought is abhorrent to him. I understand this – apples don’t fall from pear trees, right? – so I was glad when I was able to share something with him that a friend of mine helped me with not too long ago with when I was freaking out about something insignificant, that seemed really big at the moment.

I asked my son to sit on the floor beside me, to close his eyes, and listen to my voice. I told him I was going to take him to the worst case scenario: His worst fear.

photo of "mother and son" by pcgn@flickr.com

“Are you ready?” I asked.

He nodded.

“The book is, in fact, lost. You will have to pay for the book, maybe even three times the price.” Then I added this part: “But you are okay. You aren’t sick. We are all healthy. You have dad and me. We have a home. We have food and clothes, and we love you like crazy.”

He was calmer. Quieter. It was working. (Plus, he was really tired.) And because he was being quiet, I added, “And just so you know, assuming you live a long time – and I hope you do – you are going to lose stuff. A lot. It happens. I lose things all the time. I write notes to myself on slips of paper and they disappear. I don’t know where they go. I lose bills and receipts. Bottom line is, you have to know that you are going to lose shit, and you have to know it’s not worth losing your mind when you lose something.”

He giggled.

“What?” I asked.

“You said the ‘s-word’.”

Ooops.

Drawing on sage advice from my friend Jennifer Hess and her children’s yoga practice, I asked my son to take a deep breath, take in as much air as he could, and then exhale as if he were blowing out a million candles. At first, he couldn’t do it. He felt stupid, he said. But I insisted that he keep trying. He got it right on the third try.

“That felt good,” he said, calmer now.

Walking upstairs together, he let me hold his hand – something he doesn’t always let me do these days.

I hope he gets it: That adults aren’t perfect. We can strive to be organized and have our perfectly-perfect systems, but nothing is fool-proof or fail-safe. The important thing is to have the perspective to understand that what feels so terribly, awfully, overwhelmingly, miserable at one moment can be dealt with and the awful feeling will pass. Even when it is a big something – the loss of a friendship, a major illness, even death – these things have to be dealt with calmly too. Freaking out doesn’t help.

That night was about a lost book.

That night I counted our blessings.

Afternote: Boy found the book at school the next day. It was rescued just as it was about to be sent back to the public library. All’s well that ends well. He is now well into Pendragon Book #8.

54 responses to “Lessons in Losing Things

  1. LOVE IT! Although if he ever reads your blog…he may never let you hold his hand again🙂 (“Moooom, I can’t believe you TOLD everyone!”)

    I have used Rescue Remedy for years…I have no idea if works physiologically or psychologically or both. But, clinically, it works. She can slow down enough to breathe (we do the yoga thing, as well).

    I am your polar opposite…my household is cluttered, seriously cluttered. I don’t know if we lose things more than others do. But tracing our steps has helped and I borrowed something from a kids show (Blue’s Clues? or Winnie the Pooh?) just sit down and think…I believe it slows them down long enough to start their cognitive processes again…in a panic we don’t THINK we DO.

    • As a son with a talkative mother, I have to second this: If a mother (or, for that matter, girlfriend) shares something that I consider part of my private life and nobody-else-business, it can be annoying, hurtful, or even damage the trust. In fact, one of the main reasons why I hardly ever share anything with my mother (to her eternal complaint) is that I have no trust whatsoever that what I say will remain with her.

      • I always check with the child before I post any entry in which he is the “super-star.” He was cool with it. We’ll see if this changes as he moves through middle school. Luckily, by September, I’ll be back to teaching more adult students at community college and the focus will, likely, turn back to them. But your point is well made. Must respect those boundaries!

  2. This is such a nice post! Great response to his problem. Love it!
    http://www.denwrites.com

  3. Ssssshhh, don’t tell anybody, but I lie about my household too.😀

  4. Pingback: A life lesson in losing « Superfluous Thoughts

  5. I try to stay organized but invariable aggregate random stuff that just forms clusters around my work area… maybe I should hire an organizer!

  6. Great post. Wonderful lesson, and wonderful way to teach it.

  7. My little sister has a bad habit of panicking (She’s eleven, I’m quite a bit older), and whenever I try to get her to calm down and breathe, she just gets frustrated. I’ve never heard of your assuming-the-worst-case-scenario tactic… I’ll have to try it. Thanks for sharing this cute story.

    Haha, she also giggled when I accidentally said the s-word once. Kids are funny that way.

  8. I love this post! I think sometimes you are secretly writing these posts for the confused adults in the world, but can be seen through a child’s eyes as well. Your son is a lucky kid to have such a great mom!

  9. Lovely post. I get so upset when I lose things. And I think I pass that down to my kids. And it is important to remember the important things…

  10. So you ended up being just a mother.

    Just another mother, like a chimp, a cow, an elephant, a whale, just another mother, like an insect, or an octopus, or a worm. Just another mother.

    Your kids will not thank you, your husband will not like you, your own mother will pity you for making her own same mistake.

    Just another mother.

    For a moment of frenzy, of uterine voracity, irrational and irreversible, you destroyed your body, your beauty, and your own intellect.

    Parental-brain-atrophy-syndrome, where your brain biologically adjusts to the need of your infants, descending at their own subhuman level, with just one dimension, food, or perhaps two dimensions, food and feces.

    You left your ambitions, your achievements, your potentials outside your life and outside the lives of those who really loved, only to become a receptacle of an unknown body of an unknown person that never will be yours, and to whom you will never belong. Strangers united in a pool of blood and dirt.

    And dirt has become your life, and your life has become dirt. Urine, remains of food, excrements, diapers, vacuum cleaners, old soap, crusts, a life of dandruff and diseases, vaccine and lice, high school and drool.

    You lost your dignity through your open legs, first inwards and then outwards, first-in-first-out, garbage-in-garbage-out, a boomerang of boredom.

    Do you remember who you were?

    Do you realize your loss?

    Nobody chooses prison voluntarily, except for mothers, except for you.

    You chose the life of a slave in a cavern of dirt.

    People around you, who know that you are just another mother, do have compassion for you, but no respect. They know all about your emptiness, your pain, your despair, all dressed in the robes of a Virgin Mary.

    And a Virgin Mary you are not, because Mary was not a Virgin, and you are not a Mary.

    You were manipulated into just another life wasted on the heap of trash of a lost humanity dedicated to popular procreation and proletarian proliferation, to please the leaders of a domain of plebeians.

    The world lost you, and you lost the world.

    Good bye, sad mothers, good bye, old cows, with dried-out utters and distorted hips, good bye, and so alone you all will die.

  11. Isn’t it amazing what our kids can learn when we take advantage of spontaneous teaching opportunities. You are one hell of a mother. Even if you do say the “s-word” sometimes. 🙂

  12. What a great post. My daughter gets like that sometimes, when her worry outweighs logic. I never thought of telling her, OK, your worst-case scenario is true. I’ll have to remember that.

    http://www.toddpack.com

  13. I hate losing stuff. I’m actually in the process of reorganizing my room and getting some things together. I absolutely hate when I lose things, especially when I just saw it… lol

    • Lakia:
      I don’t think anyone enjoys losing things. As I said, I lose things all the stinkin’ time. And I don’t know how it happens because I am extremely organized. That said, I think it is helpful to have a little coping mechanism in one’s back pocket – to remind ourselves that most stuff is just stuff and can usually be replaced. Unless, of course, it can’t – in which case, it just sucks!😉

  14. I love the way you told a story while teaching a lesson! My youngest daughter sounds a lot like your son. I will have to try your calming technique with her instead of allowing her anxiety driven outbursts to cause so much chaos at bed time. So glad I got to read your post today – added you to my blog roll and hope to share stories over coffee and blogging.

    – Emily

  15. My mom still does that with me. (I’m 23) It always has (and probably always will) work wonders.

  16. This seemed like a quintessential parenting moment. I feel warmed that there are people like you out there who, instead of becoming enraged and escalating the emotions, decided to take a much more, oh, shall we say, holistic approach, in seeing that there was more to the ‘situation’ than just finding a lost book. While your son might not be extremely calm all at once the next time he loses something, I imagine that he will recall this time that you spent with him, and it may take the air out of his fear – at least a little bit.

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

    PS: On a side note, but not completely unrelated, the next time you or your son loses something, you might want to try ‘remote viewing’ to find it. 😉

  17. I just found your blog and love it.

  18. it is amazing what our kids can learn when we take advantage of spontaneous opportunities. What a wonderful thing!

  19. I love your honesty. Catastrophe turned precious moment is one of my favorite parts of being a mom.

  20. YoungBoy'sMom

    Real sweet approach to putting the event in perspective by reminding of all life’s blessings and their permanence. I will use that!

    My approach is to begin with validating the feeling. My child is 4 y.o. so I help by identifying the feeling to help him express his thoughts rather than having an emotional, out-of-control reaction.

    I speak in a soft, calming voice. Also, take a moment to calm down by giving a hug.

    Once relaxed enough to talk about the issue, I ask him the questions to help him realize the answer and guide him along.

    I also like talking about solutions to prepare and prevent future scenarios.

    • I used to do that when my son was younger, Now that he is older, he jumps right into freak out mode and he says the “validation feels fake.” He wants a solution. I understand that. But sometimes I can’t fix everything, and sometimes he just has to learn to live with the discomfort, to learn to push through it and realize the sky is not falling, that he will survive.

      Enjoy these years of hand-holding and snuggles.

  21. blackwatertown

    Very good story.
    Yes, you’re right. Sometimes the thing really is lost, or may be, and we just have to learn to accept it and move on.

    However, it’s sometimes worth trying to picture and even physically re-enact your movements from when you are last sure you had the missing object. It’s often the path to locating it.

    • Dear Blackwatertown:

      Oh, you are sooooo right! We were waaaaay past thinking about where he was. He simply couldn’t remember where the book could be. He thought he had either left it on the playground in which case it was now drenched in the rain (glurg); or he thought he may have left it in his classroom, possibly in a desk (less glurgy) or maybe in another classroom (an in-between glurgy). He couldn’t get comfortable with any of the scenarios – especially since he was most certain he’d left it outside. But yes, you are right, trying to retrace steps is always first in this discussion. I should have said that! Thank you!

  22. But what if you lost something valuable because of others’ fault?
    And the trouble is that you will never know where the very thing is.

  23. Nice post. As a mother of two boys ages 18 & 20 I know what you are talking about and it only gets even more fun, believe me!! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Blog On!!

    evelyngarone.wordpress.com

  24. Wow.
    This was excellent.
    Love your work.
    xx Action Wolfe

  25. I love this. Thanks for posting it! Made me think of my own mom while growing up. For the record, my brother and I still giggle when my mom lets “shit” slip.

  26. Bravo Renee. This blog is my favorite. What a beautiful way to console your son. I even had a tear drop. To me it was such a tender moment.

  27. I love this. I’m the organized one in the household, but have lowered my standards, so clutter is what we all deal with daily. However, I am the keeper of knowledge of where just about everything is. The kids tend to rely on this and use it as a crutch. While this can be helpful, I’ve begun to take a different approach and when asked where is my ??? (any item), I ask them to think about it, remember holding it, etc. and see if they can back track to where they last remember something. Sometimes this helps pinpoint the item, but often it just serves as a calming device. It has also put the power back in their hands, and we’re all better off for that.

  28. This is so cute! I can’t wait to have kids so I can teach them little life lessons like this🙂

  29. What a great mom you are. Lucky boy!

  30. Great post!!

    I’ve often written about a special place where everything one has ever lost is quietly sitting in this special place waiting to be found. It’s also a magical place where lost items essentially lose their “lost-ness” by gracefully losing the very definition of something being, well…lost.

    See, in this world, experience is the true dynamic we’re destined to be married to as we trek in and through our lives. So as the lostness of an item is met with a ferocity of that item to be found, we tend to forget about the intrinsic experience of that item. In essence, we never lose the experience gained from an item even if we never see, taste, feel, or read the item again.

    Again, great post!

    M.C. Davis

  31. Nice blog. I enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing.

  32. Yes, he’s a lucky boy. Very lucky.

  33. What a wonderful post! A little secret: “All mothers are a blessing in disguise” – cheers to all Mum’s here.

  34. What a great tip for calming down children! I especially loved the breathing excercise… I use it- why would not children as well! Good post!

  35. I think it’s a greate method to educate children. And I really hope that I could do this like you.

  36. I love your blog! I just found it. My mom was a teacher too before she decided to become a full time mom; your blog brought back fond memories! I’m gonna make my mom read it too, i bet she’ll love it.
    I think you’re a great mom and from ur approach a great teacher too.🙂

  37. Just Amazing, and so inspiring. Simply Great!

  38. Your post seems to strike a chord in many of us. I lost my cellphone last Sunday (a first for me) even though I thought I had secured it properly in its sac and have pretty pickled over it. DS thinks it’s hilarious mum has lost something important, because I am always grilling him since it is rare for a day to go by without him losing something. DS takes after me, we can hardly hold more than a few things in our heads at a time (we are intensely focused people though usually on one task) and he is disorganized, as I have the tendency to be but have learned over the years to organize, organize, organize..but it doesn’t come easy for me and I envy those who do it effortlessly like yourself. DD and DH on the other hand, are like you only DD and DH actually are organized and seem to have photographic memories, so they never lose things. In fact, we give DD the honorary title of “seeker” because she finds all our lost items for us (DS pays her to find his things!). People like my son and I find the DD-DH type to be both a pain and a blessing to live with – I have to go against my grain to keep the house in a state that complies with his standards -which are pretty high. But I suppose they feel the same way about me and ds.

  39. squirrelsloveacorns

    Very cute story.

  40. I wish him the best on his journey of life. I’m glad you are there to help him, but, more importantly, recognize that he is a child and not an adult.

    I hope you can see the real picture. As a mother looking back, I wish I could have seen my child as she really was–not just the apple of my eyes. Polluted eyes.

  41. This post would have made my childhood way less stressful.

    However, I understand that these words can be spoken to some kids, particularly the responsible types. If they are taught to kids that lack responsibility, it will not encourage them to develop that sense.

    Thank you for sharing.

  42. Pingback: Lessons in Losing It: The Sequel « Lessons From Teachers and Twits

  43. Can you help us LOSE weight, cholesterol, guilt, resentments and ex-wife’s attorney (from 1984)? Can you help us find LOST dreams, innocence, and time? How about replacing my fatalistic existentialism with a child’s glee running down the stairs on Christmas morning for each and every day?

  44. Goodness Mrs. Jacobson, I wish you were there every time I lost my stuff!! Unfortunately within moments, I jump into a screaming frenzy thinking to myself, Damn it! I just left it right here!

    Surprisingly, as I read your words of encouragement to your son, I forgot about him losing his book and time warped back to 5 months ago when the doctor came into the waiting room and told me my fiancée was dead: just dead. Shot 4 times in the head, no one could fix it and no one could give him back to me. The only words I spoke were through my eyes. My mouth uttered not one word, not a single breath past my lips. I was frozen. To this day, I still have a hard time accepting the fact that the love of my life is gone. Reading your words to your son today has brought me a welcomed calm, as the saying goes:

    God, grant me the serenity
    To accept the things I cannot change;
    Courage to change the things I can;
    And wisdom to know the difference
    (Reinhold Niebuhr).

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