I don’t know how it is in your house, but in our house, this mama right here finds everything. Every. Lost. Thing. If it’s lost I find it, except of course when I lose my own stuff.

“Where’s my backpack?” my daughter yells in the morning.

“In the front hall closet, where it always is,” I say back.

“Do you know where my library books are?” my son asks.

“In the library basket,” I answer.

“I lost my sparkly dress-up hat from three years ago,” my son says.

“It’s in your closet, upstairs, behind all your Lego bins,” I say.

When something is lost, I don’t stop until I find it. Victory is mine; I dust my hands off and walk away with a smile on my face. You can’t hide from me, I think to all the stuff we have in our house.

I like finding things—it’s a challenge. Also, it just adds to my insomnia when I can’t find something. And I need one more thing on my insomnia list like I need another pile of laundry to fold.

But lately, there’s this little nagging voice in the back of my head telling me I’m not helping the situation. It’s not just the annoying fact that the people in my house loose a gazillion things a day so they ask me a gazillion times a day where things are; it’s this thought that my kids are horrible at looking for things. They are downright lazy. And I have made them that way, I suspect.

The other night when my son asked where the tracing paper was, I suggested he look on his shelf in our living room. I knew the paper was there—in fact there were four pads of Strathmore tracing paper with the easy-to-find, bright yellow cover on his shelf. Only the blind couldn’t find this tracing paper.

He looked and whined and looked and whined and couldn’t find it. I could have easily jumped up and grabbed it for him, but I talked myself back from the ledge and let him search.

At the same time my daughter said, “Have you seen my new Wings of Fire book? I just brought it down and can’t find it anywhere.”

“Just brought it down as in when?” I asked.

“As in this morning,” she threw back at me.

“Nope, haven’t seen it,” I said. And I kept reading my own book. Let’s be honest here, I wasn’t really reading the words as the sound of two children whining over not being able to find what they were looking for pierced into my concentration, but I was pretending to read and I was not helping them. Neither was my husband.

Or, maybe we were helping them, in a way. Helping them work harder to practice their investigative skills, helping them by letting them problem solve, instead of me solving the problem for them.

“Help me,” my daughter snarked.

“I’ll let you look for it on your own first, and then, after you’ve exhausted everything you can think of, I’ll help you.”

“That’s mean, you’re not helping me at all!” she said.

“I am helping you,” I said.

“How? How are you helping me?” she said in her nastiest tone of voice she uses when she’s especially frustrated with me.

“I’m letting you learn to look for something on your own.”

“Great,” her sarcasm dripped from her words. And two seconds later, “Found it!”

And before I could even smile inwardly at the fact that she did, in fact, find her book all by herself, she spit out, “Thanks for nothing, Mama.”

Whoo Boy! Do my kids know how to get my hackles up.

“You do not speak to me like that,” I said at the exact same time as my husband said, “Don’t ever speak to your mom like that, Lily. You need to apologize.”

“Sorry,” she mumbled from her chair.

My son was still looking through all the books and pads of paper for the tracing paper. I could see it from where I sat. Maybe that kid needs glasses, I thought. Seriously, it’s right in front of you! I wanted to scream.

I thought of all the things we are trying to teach our kids daily. How to be kind, how to be respectful, how to problem solve, how to have compassion, how to not give up, what it means to eat healthy, what it means to have healthy relationships, how to take care of our bodies, how to take care of each other, how to take care of the planet, how to grow self-confidence, how to be brave, how to love. Academic skills, emotional skills, spiritual skills, and simple life skills. On and on forever!

Often times, the way we teach them is with an action, but in this case, my daughter’s words rang in my ears, “Thanks for nothing, Mama!” Maybe she was onto something. It’s one thing for me to find all the lost things for everyone, but by doing that I’m not helping them learn how to search for things on their own. In this case, my non-action would hopefully help my kids down the road in life more than my go-to action of taking charge.

I know it’s hard to step back, to not do something to help our kids, but I believe there are times when us not doing something, when the “nothing” helps them build up their grit, their survival skills, if you will.

And as hard as it is for me not to find every lost thing in our house, the next time my daughter says, “Thanks for nothing, Mama!” because she had to do something for herself, my answer will be, “You’re welcome.”

Sara Ohlin

Puget Sound based writer, Sara Ohlin is a mom, wannabe photographer, obsessive reader, ridiculous foodie, and the author of the upcoming contemporary romance novels, Handling the Rancher and Salvaging Love. You can find her essays at Anderbo.com, Feminine Collective, Mothers Always Write, Her View from Home, and in anthologies such as Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak about Healthcare in America, and Take Care: Tales, Tips, & Love from Women Caregivers. Find her at www.saraohlin.com