The presence of the present

One night we were going upstairs to begin the bedtime routine, and I pointed out the items on the stairs that had been put there by people other than me. “Whose things are these?” was the gist of what I said, and Arlo excitedly piped up with, “I know! We should have a “lost and found” place at home!” I said, “We do. It’s the whole house.”

You know what I mean: the jump rope on the sofa. The flash cards on the kitchen counter. The half-finished art projects on the art table AND the dining room table. A few more of those in the basement, too. The marshmallow launcher made out of a plastic cup and a balloon that has lived on the kitchen island for a week. The headphones on the coffee table. The empty bottle of probiotic gummy vitamins that they want to keep because they like opening it to smell the fruity air inside. The book on the stairs. The collection of singleton socks on a chair, waiting to be reunited with their mates whenever the twain shall meet. As I look around, I feel like this list is practically endless: our house is a home full of homeless things.

I thought about it some more and realized that maybe it’s really the opposite of what I’d said to Arlo. Maybe these things that are left out everywhere actually defy the states of being lost and being found, that they’re resisting those conditions by virtue of their visibility. Maybe the assortment of possessions that aren’t put away, among which there are many that don’t even have a clear home (that vitamin container!), exist in a purgatory for belongings where they are so readily accessible that they can neither be misplaced nor relocated. Perhaps there is purpose behind the kids’ reluctance to put their stuff away; when things are out of sight, they are often out of mind. If that jump rope were hanging on the hook in the mudroom, no child would come upon it on their way from one room to another and feel inspired to do some skipping. If that marshmallow shooter were in a bin full of fanciful ballistic devices, tucked neatly into the organizer in the playroom, no child would notice it in passing and think to engage in some delicious target practice.

It’s almost like these things are offering a passive invitation, activities attracting attention simply by being actively available. Maybe what’s happening here is that these items, by virtue of their accessibility, achieve a kind of temporary permanence, a vivid ubiquity that lodges them solidly in our present consciousness, enfolding them into our living space in such a way as to express their current utility, their relevance to the contemporary moment. Maybe their presence is the result of the fact that they belong to people who are so fully engrossed in the now, who intensely inhabit the present tense, for whom the past and the future are tangential and extraneous from what is of paramount importance. Children possess a preponderance on the present that is so far removed from the adult mindset, in which the present is commonly heavily informed by the past and the future, that maybe their disinclination toward putting things away stems from their ability to engage in each hour with such concentrated vitality, such complete absorption. This feels like a such a foreign concept to our older minds, which are subsumed with a myriad of other precautions and concerns that often manifest as inhibitions or, at the very least, eclipse our capacity for living fully in the present.

I try to remind myself of this when I see the stack of books on the sofa or the hula hoop on the living room floor. I try to infuse myself with feelings of grace rather than frustration, telling myself that these are markers of childhood’s extraordinary ability to home in on the present. I try to see the balloon on the bathroom floor as an expression of the particular ability children possess that allows them to invest in life with the present moment thrown into vibrant magnification. Oh, to be a child! To take life like an empty vitamin bottle, twist the cap off, and just inhale that sweet, sweet air inside!

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