Monday, October 26, 2015

The Case of the Missing Football

"Where's my football?" Ethan burst in the house one day last week after school, breathlessly. "Mama, I put it right here in the dining room, and now it's gone!"

"I don't know where your football is. I didn't see it in the dining room," I said, quite honestly.

"It was. I KNOW it was right here. Where is it?" Apparently Ethan had it in his head to go outside and pretend to be Tom Brady and the rest of the New England Patriots.

I told him to look for the football. He spent five minutes and told me it had disappeared. I figured that meant he was suffering from "Man Disease" and if I looked for a minute or two I'd come across it. Only I didn't.

"My football is lost forever!" Ethan wailed dramatically. But then I let him play Wii, and all was right with the world. I figured he'd forget about the darned thing, but no. He held on to this thing like a dog gnawing a bone.

The next morning: "You HAVE to find my football today."

That afternoon, first thing through the door after school: "Did you find my football?" (Alas, an outdoor search had turned up nothing.)

The following morning: "It's YOUR FAULT my football is gone. I put it in the dining room."

That afternoon: "Did you find my football yet?"

I was starting to hate the football. It wasn't even a real one, just a blue and white, hand-sized one we'd picked up somewhere (probably Target, since we live in Target). I had dug through five toy boxes and searched under furniture. I'd even pulled apart the couch, a scary endeavor that, while not revealing a football, did produce a number of goldfish crackers, pennies, popcorn kernels, and even a few pencils.

Worse than looking for the football and not finding it was eventually realizing that the football was a bigger issue because it was part of Ethan's loop of "Limited Things to Do When I Have Nothing Else to Do." We've talked about this before. In his mind, he wants unlimited screen time. When I tell him screen time is done, I attempt to give him options for other ways he might occupy his time (i.e. puzzles, building something, reading). He usually rejects most of them. Currently his go-to activities that don't involve screens are reading, going next door to our neighbor's house (where they feed him cookies and let him watch TV), or playing outside with his football. We were missing a big part of his equation, and he wasn't happy.

To make matters worse, we've told him he can't spend too much time over at the neighbors' house anymore. They are wonderful people, but they are growing older and Ethan can't barge over there at any time and treat them like an extra set of grandparents. We caught him last week walking straight into their kitchen (without knocking, because he said "the door was opened and he saw people in there") and asking for snacks 10 minutes before dinner.

But if we tell him no next door, then well, he wants his football. And so he asked for the football about 142 times. By Sunday afternoon, I was feeling worn down. We'd just watch the Patriots eek out a win past the Jets. He'd gotten to eat some of his very favorite food (Doritos!). Dan played a board game with him. Still, all was not right with the world, because, Ethan asked the moment the game was done, "Why is my football still missing??!"

I was THIS close to just driving to Target and getting another darned football. Ethan even had some extra money. The day before they'd gone to their cousins' soccer game with the grandparents only to learn their cousins' other grandparents reward them with dollars every time they score goals. Well, of course then my parents couldn't leave the kids empty-handed, so they each came home with five dollars.

I considered going to Target and getting the football. I wondered if there was anything else we could do to dig Ethan out of his ruts. I'd even tried paying him to try a new activity in the past, but would you believe that didn't even work?

In the end we ended up getting distracted by something and another night went by without the football. In the morning Ethan asked for it again and was off to school.

Three hours later I was in the kitchen when I heard scared shrieks coming from Anna's room. Chloe had somehow gotten herself stuck under Anna's bed. The crazy thing was, it took several minutes of finagling to get her out from under there. I was beginning to worry I would traumatize her as I pushed and pulled and shoved and wondered how she'd gotten under there in the first place. At some point I felt as if I was delivering an actual baby, gingerly tugging and trying to make sure I was simultaneously gentle and firm. At long last, out popped Chloe.

Clenched in her fingers, probably making it more difficult to extract her from under the bed, was the darned football.

Yeah, it was under Anna's bed. The bed she supposedly cleaned under on Saturday. Anna, who hates playing catch and would never touch a football if she could help it. Anna, who yelled, "I DON'T KNOW where your football is!!"

This story has played out a thousand different times in our home, in any home with young children. It's the: "How in the world did THAT get THERE?" Followed by no answers, but giddy relief, because you've found a way to plug up the whining. For just a little bit. Maybe. You hope.

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