Keys to an or­ga­nized home

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

If you have a tod­dler, chances are you’re al­ways find­ing things where you least ex­pect them.

And where you didn’t put them.

And where you’d ab­so­lutely never put them: like in an oven mitt.

When I came home to Spencer and the kids Fri­day, I put my purse on the ta­ble — like al­ways — and set­tled in for a week­end of clean­ing. Since re­turn­ing to work a month ago, I’m no longer home con­stantly star­ing at our clut­ter. So my mess tol­er­ance? Higher. Much higher.

I will make some tidy­ing over­tures be­fore bed: emp­ty­ing the dish­washer, wip­ing down coun­ters. Mov­ing blocks and books di­rectly out of a travel path. I didn’t used to bother putting away the toys — but since Hadley ar­rived, we’re up with the baby at odd hours. A dark, quiet liv­ing room and play pi­ano don’t mix.

Oliver has taken to mov­ing his “prizes,” as Spencer calls them, from one room to the next. He can’t go up or down the stairs with­out a gag­gle of stuffed an­i­mals, blan­kets and ran­dom trin­kets trail­ing us. Ol­lie searches for tiny trea­sures — a gaudy ring; a AA bat­tery; a wooden “stamp” from a toy mail­box — and car­ries these around for hours, even­tu­ally shed­ding them like bread­crumbs.

I was vaguely aware that my keys were MIA on Satur­day, but we weren’t go­ing any­where to need them. And any­way, they were prob­a­bly just buried in my purse. I typ­i­cally drop them in my hand­bag af­ter un­lock­ing the front door, but it’s not unusual for Oliver to greet me and reach up to shake ’em like a Po­laroid pic­ture (OutKast-style, of course). They’re dis­cov­ered on the couch or cof­fee ta­ble a short time later, and I put them back in my bag. No harm, no tantrum.

Since Ol­lie started walk­ing, Spencer and I have got­ten used to find­ing things like cook­ies in­side lid­ded pots. It’s not unusual for dis­carded socks to be found in soda car­tons, and bot­tles of lo­tion to be tucked in his toy box. Be­cause he’s so prone to these an­tics (and dare­devil ones), he’s rarely out of sight. We’ve just reached the point where Ol­lie can be trusted in an­other room for a few min­utes if we have to feed the baby, make din­ner, etc.

The house has been baby-proofed for al­most a year, but there’s just no Ol­lie-proof­ing.

I’ve learned to pick my bat­tles with his “trea­sures.” Like a rac­coon, he prefers shiny things — bracelets; new pen­nies; alu­minum foil — and is par­tic­u­larly prone to get in trou­ble when ap­proach­ing our dresser, where my ever-tempt­ing cos­tume jew­elry is kept.

Ol­lie takes his time choos­ing a prize. He can’t be too hasty, go in too hot; he knows that if he picks some­thing small, I’m likely to take it away. These trea­sure-hunt­ing ex­pe­di­tions re­quire bal­anc­ing the threat of a melt­down with the de­gree to which his se­lec­tion is a chok­ing haz­ard. Even at age 2, Ol­lie likes to chew on things. All the things. We say “no bit­ing” about 118 times a day.

I guess that’s why I’ve been pretty lax with my keyring. As a lit­tle guy, my keys were easy en­ter­tain­ment: shiny, noisy, harm­less. We did jeop­ar­dize our friend­ships with new neigh­bors when Ol­lie fig­ured out that press­ing a red but­ton on my key fob would set off a su­per cool car alarm at 6 a.m., but a lit­tle tape over it got us back in good graces.

Never be­fore has my son taken some­thing that I couldn’t quickly find, so I never no­ticed him ap­par­ently run­ning off with my keys some­time be­tween Fri­day night and Sun­day morn­ing. As we were head­ing out to run er­rands, I reached into my purse to lock the door and found . . . hair ties and cookie crumbs.

I am noth­ing if not or­ga­nized, so I looked again. I mean, they had to be in there some­where. My keys are in my purse. Al­ways. The end.

Only they weren’t. And they weren’t on the kitchen ta­ble, ei­ther — nor in my lap­top bag, or in­side the (empty) fruit bowl, or left on a ban­is­ter by the door.

The cul­prit was easy to guess. Hadley is still mas­ter­ing the whole hold­ing-her-head-up thing, so.

“Ol­lie, where are Mommy’s keys?”

My son, al­ready a “three­nager” at age 2, has selec­tive hear­ing. He raced his lit­tle cars through the kitchen while his dad and I up­turned the down­stairs, iron­i­cally bring­ing or­der to the chaos as we went.

I looked in Ol­lie’s fa­vorite hidey-holes off and on for hours: open­ing draw­ers and cab­i­nets; lift­ing lids on boxes; dump­ing out boots and sneak­ers, where we of­ten find blocks and bat­ter­ies.

By the time my par­ents ar­rived for din­ner, panic was set­ting in. I had work in the morn­ing; we had a spare key for my car, but what about the rest? Dad got a flash­light and helped me look un­der couches while Mom moved pil­lows and cush­ions. Spencer searched the bed­rooms, though I couldn’t imag­ine how Ol­lie would sneak jan­gling keys up there.

Even­tu­ally, sweaty and wor­ried, I came back to the liv­ing room. “I hate to say it,” I said slowly, “but the only other place I can think of is . . . the trash.”

Ol­lie, like most kids, re­cently went through a throw­ing-ev­ery­thing-away phase. I searched my hus­band’s face for signs of panic, but Spencer shrugged. “I have gloves,” he said.

It was 90 de­grees. The trash can — filled with all sorts of kid-re­lated gross­ness — had been sit­ting in the scorch­ing drive­way for days. Did he have a haz­mat suit, too?

“Let me look around one more time,” I sighed. What else was at Ol­lie’s eye level?

That’s when I saw it: a bright or­ange oven mitt hang­ing on the fridge, rarely used but hid­den in plain sight. I reached in and felt cool metal.

The re­lief was enough to carry me through sev­eral kid melt­downs and late bed­times that evening. Enough that, even days later, grab­bing my keys is still ap­pre­ci­ated for the lux­ury it ap­par­ently is.

Def­i­nitely go­ing to be more care­ful mov­ing for­ward.

And will be sure to bring out that oven mitt more.

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