The night it went missing, it was dark and cold. The lights had been shut off, and the doors were locked. We made our way down the hall and into the bathroom, where we discovered, to our horror, that the toothpaste had been confiscated.
We scanned the immediate area: the cupboards, the floor, the bathtub, the toilet. The toothpaste was nowhere in sight. It was time to expand the search.
We checked under the couch and in the toy box. We looked inside the trucks and under the stuffed animals. We examined the closet, the drawers, the pet cage, and the VCR. We crawled under the furniture.
An inspection of the area above the fridge, a place designated for items that had been snatched away from tiny fingers in the nick of time, proved fruitless. Travel mouthwash, loose change, a piece of chewed gum, a rock, a toothpick, a marker. No toothpaste. The search continued.
It soon became evident that this mission would require a more thorough investigation. We delved deeper, beyond the drawings and finger-painted pictures, and found a half-eaten carrot in the craft box.
A cup of what we hoped was day-old milk surfaced in the laundry bin, and a tube of lipstick had melted on the radiator. We identified crayons wedged in the cassette holder, a tomato in the diaper bin, and a deodorant stick in the dryer.
A chewed-up cracker was recovered from a dress shoe, and a lost remote control was found shivering at the back of the refrigerator.
We paused a moment to marvel at the delightful sculpture found in the desk drawer - a splendid piece made of popsicle sticks and a potato. We shared a laugh at the small plastic men poised strategically in the houseplants.
The chair pushed up against the counter guided our attention to the stack of crayons hidden behind the cupboard door. With great surprise we came across the fort of jackets and boxes inside the closed doors of the hall closet.
As we chatted about the new song they had been singing that day, we folded the facial tissues and put them back into their cardboard box. Toilet paper was re-rolled, Lego pieces were retrieved from the sink, and an old phone book being used as a scribble pad was put back up on the bookshelf.
Resigned to the obvious, we decided to abandon the search for the toothpaste and head to bed.
Exchanging smiles, we shared the knowledge that tomorrow morning's cleanup had been superseded by tonight's quest. The day's inevitable chaos would at least begin with a fresh surface. And yet, in the dim lighting of our small home, we were deeply comforted by one truth.
Even beyond our awareness, our children demonstrate great qualities; they are inquisitive, creative, and energetic. And although our home seldom sparkles, the evidence speaks for itself that it is loved and lived in.
Smiling fondly into the other's eyes, we take each other's hands. We make our quiet way back down the hall, to the bathroom, where we hesitantly began to brush our teeth with the sickeningly sweet blue-and-yellow "Bubblemint" gum-flavored toothpaste for toddlers.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society