As I slid my arm deep into the tall cardboard box and felt an edge of cardstock meet my fingertips, I knew that I’d found victory. “You have to be happy now!” I told myself. “That’s the third of the three!”
After we arrived at our new home early Wednesday evening – which is a mere three miles from our previous home as well as within the same zip code – I thought that the seemingly supererogatory organizational skills I’d been practicing for the past several weeks would pay off. I had been so vigilant about packing carefully and labeling boxes meticulously. Everything was supposed to be easy to find; nothing had been stashed away mindlessly. Especially in the final 48 hours, when I was packing those items we need at our fingertips every day, I was intentional as I slid them into boxes, paying careful attention so I’d remember just where they were once the moving trucks unloaded everything.
But once we arrived at the new house, all I could see was boxes. And yes, they were labeled – in my handwriting, no less – but the labeling wasn’t nearly as useful as I’d expected it to be. Tim can’t sleep without his ancient and ragged stuffed frog clutched in his fist, so with ever so much focus on what I was doing, I’d put the stuffed frog in a packing box with some kitchen supplies after Tim left for school on moving day. I knew I’d be unpacking kitchen supplies right away, so putting the frog in with them made sense.
Except that I was faced with at least a dozen boxes that said “Kitchen,” and none of them also said “Stuffed frog.” Somehow I’d thought I’d remember which kitchen box I expected to open first. But unlike at home when they were half-filled with the contents clearly visible, now they all looked the same.
It reminded me of an incident when I was about eight years old and visiting my grandparents in Colorado one winter. My grandparents had just returned from visiting Japan, and my grandfather gave me a Japanese coin. One snowy afternoon, my father and I were out walking along my grandparents’ driveway when I suggested a game. “I’ll hide the Japanese coin, and you find it,” I said. I thought I knew exactly which lump of snow I’d tucked it under, but once my father started looking – no doubt with complete prescience as to how this game was going to turn out – I realized the clump of snow I’d chosen didn’t really look different from any other clump of snow; it only looked specific and identifiable when it was the one I was focused on. So too with the boxes.
By dinnertime on moving day, there were three things that were vexing me because I knew I’d put them in sensible places but couldn’t find them. One was the frog; one was a stack of clean sheets for our double bed; and the final one was Holly’s homework notebook.
By seven o’clock I’d found the stuffed frog. Just before bed, as I wandered around the house staring at boxes, I lifted one and found that the box below it was labeled “Sheets for double bed.” There was the second mystery solved. Only Holly’s notebook remained lost.
And then late this morning I remembered packing the notebook at the same time I threw the final armload of jackets and hats from the mudroom into a box. So I found a box labeled “jackets and boots,” reached in, and pulled out Holly’s homework notebook, feeling every bit as triumphant as Little Jack Horner possibly could have.
Thus, the moment when I told myself, “Now, you have to be happy; that’s three for three!” And I was indeed happy. As happy as I can be with dozens of boxes filling every room in a house that still seems strange and disorienting to me.
Finding the three lost items gave me a sense of victory, though, just as unpacking the boxes eventually will. I’ll stick with it, remembering the Japanese coin (which even at the time my father and I laughed about; it wasn’t anything of significant value, and I’d learned my lesson). Boxes that look individual on one setting all look alike in another. And so I’ll just keep slogging through until everything is out of them and they are once again a herd of empty boxes.