You know what one of my favorite things about living with children is?

Missing things.

The other day I was stirring a pot of mashed potatoes, and I laid down the spatula and went to dig in the freezer for some broccoli I could lay out on a cookie sheet and pour olive oil over and roast in the oven. And then I went to stir the potatoes again, because they were boiling great white foam over the sides of the stainless pot, and my wooden spoon was gone.

None of the boys were around. I hadn’t heard anyone come inside or go out. I searched high and low, thinking maybe it had fallen on the floor and I just couldn’t see it because I had some unexplainable spoon-shaped blind spot. There aren’t many places a bamboo spoon can hide. It wasn’t on the floor. I crawled on my hands and knees, just to be sure. So I gave up and took out the metal spoon, which was probably a better one to use anyway. Oh, well. Not a big deal. I probably hadn’t stirred them in the first place.

I drained the potatoes and unwrapped the butter to melt in them and shook out some salt and hooked up the mixer so I could make them nice and smooth, and then I called the boys in for dinner.

You’ll never guess what happened. One of those 3-year-old twins came traipsing in with the very bamboo spoon I remembered stirring the potatoes with, like I hadn’t been using it first. He must have sent a ninja to do his dirty work, because when he’s trying to steal books from the home library after lights out, his footfalls are so thunderous they resemble a herd of elephants fleeing whatever makes elephants run. I heard nothing this time around.

If it hadn’t been so maddening, I would have been a little bit impressed.

I can’t keep a house tidy, because boys keep swiping my stuff. They’re like practiced thieves when it comes to things like wire whisks and flashlight batteries and the last of the flour in the freezer. The other day, I found a metal nut cracker upstairs in their room, because they “wanted to see what happened when you use it on a bouncy ball” (sadly, the ball is no longer with us). I will find perfectly good table spoons out in the backyard, because they “wanted to see how long it would take to dig to the earth’s mantle using a silver spoon” (You never actually get there, because there’s too much limestone in our soil. And it would take twelve hundred years.). I will find random things in the freezer, because someone wanted to know “what would happen to a glass mixing bowl when you fill it with water and put an old banana in the middle of it and freeze it.”

Tell me, please, how it’s remotely possible to keep a clean and tidy house when you don’t even know where half your possessions are? The 8-year-old has broken into our bedroom while both of us were occupied by boys downstairs and stolen paperclips, because he wanted to clip all his papers together, and by the time we found him, he had a string of a hundred paperclips already wrapped around each other, because, in his words, when he looked at that paperclip in just the right way, he realized that he could string them all together and that would make a really cool decoration for his room, which he plans to put…

On the floor.

Boys use forks to try to dig out rocks, no matter how many times you tell them to keep what’s inside inside (and no matter how many times you almost curse because you just stuck a prong up your nose while the rest went in your mouth, where they’re supposed to go). They will use butter knives to carve boxes into houses and leave the knives on the table instead of putting them back away so the next time we need to spread butter or jam on something, there’s no utensil left that will work. They will use baby spoons to pretend that their stuffed animals are eating something tasty, and when you need to feed the real live baby in your house, those three metal spoons have disappeared into the black hole of a 5-year-old’s room.

And the most annoying part of it all is that you won’t even know those things are missing until you finally need them, which for some things is a relatively long time. I didn’t notice the foil was gone until I had a dish, months later, that didn’t have a lid, and I needed to use it to cover our leftovers. And when I asked the boys if they had seen the 500-foot roll of foil anywhere, the 8-year-old brought it back downstairs and said he’d been using it to “make a person out of a toilet paper roll.”

There are so many things that disappear in a house with children, and they will not turn up until you’re kneeling down on the floor and that missing object comes out to maul you in some way. You will not realize your serving spoon went missing until you sit on the couch and you suddenly have bamboo up your bunghole. And then you’ll wonder who in the world managed to lodge a spoon down the crack of the couch (and now in another crack) when they’re not even allowed to eat in this room, and you’ll never know, because they’re too busy laughing at how it’s perfectly wedged between your cheeks and you’re, honestly, too busy trying to get it out and, after that, trying to walk back to the sink, because it may be easy to recover from an injury like that one when you’re 8, but it’s much harder when you’re 30.

So, in a way, it’s actually pretty hazardous to live with children, because they’re always setting up traps for you. And I would be willing to bet they really like doing it, because it’s pretty funny to see a mom limping around after stubbing her toe on a metal bowl that was hiding under a blanket she kicked in her frustration because it shouldn’t have been on the floor, yet again. I guess it is pretty funny. I guess I can at least give them that.

But I cannot give them permission to use my household utensils for God knows what. I will have to draw my line there, because those are things I need. Seriously, kids. Stop trying to pretend your lunch containers are doggie bowls for your stuffed animals. If you want a lunch tomorrow at school, curb your creativity a little. I promise you’ll find plenty of other supplies elsewhere, if you’ll just get out of my kitchen.

This is an excerpt from The Life-Changing Madness of Tidying Up After Children, the second book in the Crash Test Parents series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.

(Photo by Jarosław Ceborski on Unsplash)