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  • Writer's pictureAlmost Favorite

Lost and Found.

Updated: May 28

Everyday at school dropoff, I walk by the lost and found rack. An overflowing display of some, frankly,  pretty great coats and sweaters. Over the years, I’ve noticed the same pattern. It starts with a trickle at the start of fall. But as the cold settles in, contrary to what you’d expect, the amount of lost winter wear only grows. It’s a mystery. And the primary source of mystery is “Aren’t they cold?”.

 “Maybe they forgot” I hear you thinking. Sure. But at some point, the cold makes you remember, no?  But that is not the case. In the heart of winter, the lost and found rack stares back, unflinching. The lost and found rack laughs in the face of reason. 

I’ve pondered the puzzle of this fixture in the school hallway. Surely these kids  have to notice at some point during the season that either (1) they are cold or (2) that fantastic piece of clothing they own is missing, and on display in this extremely centrally located  clothes rack. 

It is incredible to me that so many things are lost and never found. Especially when the lost and found rack is strategically located right outside the main entrance, facing the cafeteria. If you go to school, and definitely if you happen to eat there, you have to see this thing. It’s right there, in the middle of all the classrooms. Virtually everyone has to walk by it whether entering or leaving the school. It’s hard to ignore. Did I mention, it’s right there?

“What’s the big deal? What’s so great about an overstuffed clothing rack?” I hear you thinking. The lost and found might look like it’s overflowing with clothes. But it is really overflowing with violently ignored good intentions. Some of those intentions  are really quite good. I’ve spotted a few Lululemon pieces, GAP, Eddie Bauer and other brand names, when attempting to casually peruse the quality of these items on display. 

Usually I take care to say something like “Oh, that’s NOT ours,” loudly, in case the correct claimant is nearby. It wouldn’t do in the local PTA circle to be known pilfering from children. As the weeks pass and these high-value items aren’t claimed, I remain tempted. Maybe one day, I will. For now, I just stare longingly at the lost and found rack, and mentally calculate how much money I could save if I just had the courage. 

But the lost and found rack is just a symptom in the disease I call, “continuing the human species and the emotional roller coaster it contains”. 

“Oh that’s just modern parenting. We didn’t care this much in our time” I hear the echoes of forefathers in the distance. But that simply isn’t true. Sure, they didn’t worry about social media and location trackers in previous times. But, I’m willing to bet that the annoyance about the property loss was constant. It was just about different types of property. We can go back as far as you want. Let’s go back a ways, say cavepeople times. 

I bet there was a maddeningly large pile of child-sized flint axes somewhere in the vicinity of the local cave. And I was to hazard a guess, it was probably right at the entrance, too. In my opinion, that’s the real tale as old as time. It’s just that “Lost Personal Items” doesn’t have the same cache as “Beauty and the Beast”. Still, Disney, if you’re reading this, I’m open.

“It’s different, kids just don’t feel cold the same way,” my friends say, attempting to be helpful, as I swallow my iron pills and put on a third layer in April. That’s really wonderful to hear, but I don’t care. I want them to adhere to my perception of cold because that is my truth. And they better live it. 

Unfortunately for me, having children has been one long reminder of how little I control. And I don’t just mean in the “haha my kids don’t listen - aren’t I silly?” way that cool moms on TikTok do. I mean it in a deep, cellular way. We direct the inputs and hope for the best, but the outputs just land where they lay. 

And the lack of control starts right at the start. With pregnancy tests, when the kids are basically thought experiments. “Will I get a period this month or will my life change irrevocably?” Thus begins a life on the tail of the beast. The call from the daycare. The letter from the school. The message from the doctor. A wail for you at a party. A sudden silence that seems too suspicious. A bathroom door that’s been closed for longer than any biological process necessitates, even the ones we don’t want to think about. Which raises the question, which biological bathroom process does anyone want to think about?

I provide my children winter wear with the best of intentions. It’s not complicated. I want them to feel warm, not cold. But that is not what I get. What I get is chancing upon the expensive wool coat that my mother-in-law sent over, in  a puddle next to the school field because I happened to turn up at pickup a few minutes early and decided to get some steps in with a small walk. 

What would have happened if I hadn’t walked that way? Would my child have noticed? Would we have to ask Grandma to send the next coat over? The weight of that coincidental finding lies heavy on me. But for the grace of I, go my kid?

 I am incredulous at the be-tshirted offspring I find, sniveling in the cold at the monkey bars. 

“Where’s your coat?” I ask, not revealing that I found it.

“I don’t know,” the respondent shrugs.

“I found it on the field.” I say smugly, hoping for some remorse.

“Oh cool,” comes the reply. 

No, it’s not cool. It is uncool that this expensive, valuable, necessary item is treated with such casualness. I see you, the child, shivering. I spend the next few minutes demanding an explanation. But there is none to be had. 

Yes, the cold was felt by the child.

Yes, the coat was wanted.

Yes, the child remembered leaving the coat near the field. 

But no, the coat never stood a chance. That’s what I mean. It can all line up and make sense, and sometimes it still won’t happen. And accepting that has been difficult for me.

“This is not some great philosophy experiment. This is a disgusting outcome of modern excessiveness”, you might be thinking. But I assure you, this is not the product of a culture with too much. It is the product of beautiful, random, preoccupied minds living their best lives, not yours. And it can also be about the fact that things get lost. 

You cannot control how the universe will receive your efforts. But you still have to try. You cannot let your hopes and dreams go out there in the sharp morning cold, shivering. You give them the best fighting chance that you can muster. And hope that even if things get lost, you can help find those things, throw them in the wash, and try again.

As a side note to the reader, sometimes ugly coats need to be given the boot. If that is what happened to you, then take the hint.  It’s called feedback. It’s a gift. Fortunately, I never need feedback from my kids as I am perfect with perfect taste. 

In a sense, the lost and found rack is a poignant statement of stoicism. It accepts that losses will happen. With its presence, it presupposes the inevitable. It doesn’t say, “If the bad thing happens”. It says, “When the bad thing happens” . In my opinion, there is no greater symbol of how little we control, than the lost and found rack at school during winter. 

It’s not that some problems can’t be solved. It’s that some problems won’t be solved. And some problems don't see themselves as needing any solving.You can do your best. But sometimes your best is left on the lost and found rack while problems play in the dirt, unbothered. I try to talk to my problems and ask them what their motivations are. But they are too busy pouring slime from the latest goodie bag on my fabric upholstered furniture to respond to that. 

Once upon a time, before kids, I only bought winter wear only for myself. I roamed free like the wind. Or rather, I roamed freely in the wind, protected with appropriate cold weather wear. 

Shopping these days, I look less like a fancy lady about town and more like a contestant in that grocery store game show where you run through the aisles trying to bat as many relevant ingredients into your cart as possible, before the buzzer goes. 

Inside me there seem to be two women, one who is lost and one who is found. Personally, I couldn't describe my fashion sense to you at gunpoint. And yet I buy the kids clothes, not just with confidence but with an aggressive confidence. I tell them what to wear. And when they refuse I don't back down. 

“You better wear this coat” I say.

“I don’t want to,” comes the response. Or at least that’s what I hear over the freezing rain pelting us. 

“You have to,” I counter.

“You’re forcing me,” comes the trump card. 

I am defeated. Who am I to force another human being? Oh yes, I am their mother. The whole story started with a forcing out, of sorts. Why should it change course now? Albert Einstein’s got nothing on me and forces. 

And thus starts the next daily bout of me vs. lost and found rack. Will the coat that I finally manage to get on them make it home? Who knows? Not me. I try to let go, but it’s harder than it looks. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what the kids think of the coat. It doesn’t matter what you think of my kids. This essay is about me, and my needs. 

After all this, there is some redemption. Now that I know better, I try to do better. Now, I scour the local Buy Nothing group on Facebook. I get on there and bravely face the judgment of strangers in my neighborhood who slap me with thinly disguised negs that slip past the admins like, “Wow - that’s a lot of exercise equipment you’re giving away”, in order to get free stuff that I won’t mind losing. 

With humility, I receive hand-me-downs from strangers, knowing that buying new may be an exercise in futility that my perimenopausal rage cannot handle anymore. But even that only takes me so far. It makes me feel less bad about the losses. But it doesn’t do away with the wash cycle of hope and loss that continues to toss me around.

For some the answer is radical acceptance. For me it's repeatedly shouting "Wear your coat! Did you hear me? And don’t forget to bring it home!" We know it doesn’t make a difference, but sometimes, we  just want to be heard.

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