Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hunter-Downer Mom

My name is Shelby S., and I am a hunter downer.

What's that? Good question. It is a person who conducts a massive search with the whole family in tow every time his or her child loses a belonging. Sound a little over the top? Perhaps. But it's the reason why I have been able to hold onto most of my boys' stuff without having to spend money on replacements.

Single mothers like me can't afford to keep buying backup winter accessories, school supplies, and the like. We must be pragmatic by doing all we can to retrieve what's rightfully ours. I remember discussing this topic with a well-off married mother in my town. "Ugh," she said. "I can't be bothered to hunt down that crap. We just grab another pair of our own gloves or whatever." Indeed, the foyer to their home was stocked with children's gear aplenty.

Nonetheless I have a sneaking suspicion I would be a hunter downer regardless of my income. It's just the way I am. At first, I am annoyed at my son's carelessness. But when I stop to think about it, I realize I am excited about the challenge. I smell it, and I savor it like Prince Charles pursuing a fox on The Duke of Beaufort's Hunt.

Where's my scarlet coat?!

Everybody knows little boys are careless. My oldest certainly is. He would forget his floppy red hair if it wasn't growing out of his scalp. At school pickup every day, I have to consciously check that he has all his belongings. "Christopher, where is your jacket?" Scrunched up in his backpack. "Hat and gloves?" In the side pockets. No . . . wait! Only one glove is there. "Come on, Christopher! Not again. All right, back to the school. You, too, Charlie." The moaning and whining ensues, but it is a futile attempt because the boys know all too well it's a hopeless cause trying to argue with Hunter-Downer Mom when she is on a mission.

Full disclosure: I am an excellent hunter downer.

I have managed to find nearly every misplaced item since my second-grader was in preschool. I can vividly recall the year my son's hat went missing from his cubby hole the last day of winter. I kid you not. Why is it always the last day, or the first day? The black fleece hat from REI has a red, white, and blue tassel sprouting off the top and thirteen colorful world flags extending along its bottom edge. It is very cool-looking and gives the impression the wearer is worldly. In actuality, Christopher has never left the country. Yet he does possess a wide knowledge of the world for a child his age, thanks to hearing about current events from his news-junkie mother and stories she's told him from her extensive foreign travels.

Back to the preschool. I rummaged through my son's backpack. Then I poked around in other kids' cubby holes. Top to bottom I searched the place, including the "bike side" -- a paved play area for basketball and kids' vehicles -- as well as the yard on the other side of the house/school. I talked to the director, the second in charge, and the teachers on duty that day. Could any of them recall where Christopher might have left his hat?


Convinced another child mistakenly took it home, I pulled out pen and paper and drew up a sign. Okay, confession, a Missing Hat Poster. No, no, no, I know what you're thinking. I did NOT make it on poster board, just a piece of notebook paper. Yes, I can be a little intense sometimes, but I'm not a lunatic, for Pete's sake! It turned out to be a pretty good rendition, if I say so myself. In fact, I liked it so much that I have kept it all these years. Anyway, I thumbtacked it to the school bulletin board and waited for the calls about sightings to come pouring in. (Joke.)

Waiting, waiting. Still waiting! No calls.

Long story short, I got the hat back and now my younger son looks like he just stepped off the Milford Track in New Zealand. Terrific. Time to add one more tiny detail: I hunted that thing down with the best of my abilities. However, it didn't show up anywhere I expected. Embarrassment alert: I discovered it in my house . . . my messy house. I guess the hat didn't make it to school that day after all.

Oops. Someone else seems to also be forgetful.

No matter, you see my point. It pays (or, rather, keeps you from paying) to be a hunter downer. In the past few years, I have retrieved single gloves, a pair of gloves, a single mitten, a pair of mittens, a couple of hats, a sweatshirt, a school folder, winter boots, a tee ball mitt, a beach shovel, and a lunch box. Lots of successes and very few failures, including a bathing suit, a pair of cleats, and a Batman-themed glove. I blame myself for the last of these because I couldn't lead an investigation the day it disappeared. We had something going on that afternoon -- probably a sports clinic -- and I get charged for those as well. Let's see: a glove I got for free from the preschool director vs. a sports clinic.

Easy decision.

A couple of months ago, my younger son -- who is becoming an eager and clever hunter downer in his own right -- and I tracked down his "Toy Story" backpack one Saturday at 7 a.m. We had to act at that ungodly hour since his basketball clinic started at 8, and I was not about to let him skip it. We scoured every square inch of the grounds behind the school, believing he had slipped off the pack after dismissal the day before to play with a classmate on the sports field. It was not there. Then Charlie thought to look on the windowsill outside his classroom, and that's where we found it.

Another day the quest resulted in an awesome trifecta: a search of the same outdoor area just as it was getting dark, providing a bonus The Amazing Race sort of challenge (flashlights not included); a find of Christopher's glove on the floor right in front of his locker; and an after-school enrichment activity not sacrificed. Christopher was taking his jazz/hip hop class at the time. I hate waiting around at the Y with boisterous Charlie, so this hunt gave us something to do.

Late breaking news: Against all odds, part of the missing Batman-themed glove turned up today, of all days, after being gone for at least two months! Hunter-Downer-In-Training Charlie spotted it in the grass next to the side bushes behind the school while playing with friends after kindergarten early dismissal. "Mommy, Mommy," he cried, running toward me. "You're not going to believe what I just found!" He opened his fist. Inside was the crumpled and torn pinkie and ring-finger section of the right glove. It looked like an animal attacked it, or a pair of scissors.

Useless yet fabulous. It's just this kind of incredible stroke of synchronicity that makes me feel truly connected to the universe.

I think I want to be a detective when I grow up.

Are you a hunter-downer parent? What are some of your finds?

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