Lockdown Day 45: Keeping the Pieces Together

Let me preface what I’m about to write by saying that I’m extremely grateful for my husband, my quaran-teammate, with whom I feel extremely fortunate to be partnered during this ordeal. I know this time is made infinitely easier because of the fortuitous combination of our complementary skills.

With that said, sometimes it feels like I’m the one who’s holding all the pieces together here, in a very literal way.

You see, during this lockdown, I’ve become intimately acquainted with one of my all-time pet peeves: missing pieces. Puzzles that can’t be finished. Playsets short one figurine. Book sets missing the final volume. Lost and misfit toys and treasures. I’m not terribly obsessive or perfectionistic about my space and its contents (heck, I can “unsee” most messes fairly easily), but with both our kids home full time, digging through all the deep cuts of our rather impressive collection of children’s possessions, I’m finding myself driven slightly mad by things like this:

These, as we call them affectionately, are “the guys.” My 5-year-old got them for her first birthday, and usually one or more of them is on walkabout at any given time. When playing with the guys with one of our kids, I always make sure to get all four of them back in their holes so they can live to play another day. But not everyone has this same attention to detail. The blue guy has been on walkabout for about a week now. Once the red guy lived for a few months at the bottom of a basket. The green guy shacked up with the crayons for a few weeks earlier in lockdown. It makes no sense to me how someone can ignore this travesty.

The other day my husband was picking up a puzzle my oldest had completed. I watched, horror-struck, as he closed the lid on the box while two unwrangled pieces sat idly behind him, mocking us silently.

Last night as I was preparing to put the toddler to bed, I saw–through two doorways and a hallway–my eldest slip her iPod into a felt purse for “safekeeping.” When it came time for her to go to bed (for which mellow tunes are indispensable), he could not locate the iPod. But I knew exactly where it was.

I’m not sure what it is about my parental role that has bestowed me with some preternatural sixth sense about where everything is. Nor am I certain how I wound up the guardian and keeper of things in this relationship.

But perhaps more aptly, I’m very attuned to things being lost and missing, and desperately wanting them to be found.

I realize this is in no small way related to my work as a therapist and parent consultant. Famed psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott also understood the importance of hiding and being sought, to young children and adults alike. He served as an advisor on the child evacuation program in England during World War II, delivering over 60 talks on the radio between 1943-1966 to comfort parents during and after that trying time. His words seem especially apt now:

“It is a joy to be hidden, but a disaster not to be found.”

– D.W. Winnicott

I’m sure Winnicott would have a lot to say about my eldest, who, more and more these days, wants what she calls “alone time.” She sits in her loft bed, listening to podcasts or records, sometimes coloring or doing sticker puzzles, but more often than not staring off into space. But every so often, she calls my name in a demanding, singsong way (“WA-a-A-a-A-a-BE-kka!!!). “I was lonely,” she’ll explain. Sometimes she likes to play a very rudimentary game of hide and seek (we don’t have that many places to hide in our apartment), in which she is under a blanket either on the couch or in her bed, and one of us must find her. Indeed, as Winnicott said so beautifully, it is a joy to hide, to be hidden, but a disaster not to be found.

Why can’t I stop thinking about missing pieces, about hiding and being lost? Perhaps because it’s been a tough week all around for many of the communities with which I’m in contact. Most of us have been in isolation for 6 weeks or more. Virus-related deaths are creeping in where they once seemed far removed, sneaking eerily closer to those of us who felt fairly protected from all but the vague uncertainty looming all around. People are beginning to feel weighted down by the dull, numbing realization that things will never get back to “normal,” not in the sense that we hoped in any case, and that they won’t even begin to approach it for quite some time.

Whatever initial joys we had of hiding, of feeling hidden, are starting to wear off, and we fear the disaster of not being found.

What pieces of ourselves, of our lives, of our communities have gone into hiding? Will we ever recover them, or will we need to fashion substitutes, lesser or greater? When does our own hiding pivot from joy to disaster? Will we ever find the blue guy, and am I the only one who cares? And if I am, why?

I reach out in solidarity to those among us who are the guardians of the lost, protectors of the hidden. Thank you for trying, as best you can, to hold all the pieces together, in service of connection and coherence. I keep myself going with the fervent belief and hope that we will find some of what has been lost during this strange time, maybe even finding new things we value deeply in the process. Perhaps we will have gained new appreciation for all we still have, in spite of what we have lost and may still lose. And through all of it, we must hold fast to the joy that is finding each other in our lostness, over and over again.

For additional reading:

Rebekka Helford is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Los Angeles, California. With over a decade of experience working with parents and young children, Rebekka specializes in short-term intensive parenting consultation, using a variety of tools including home, office, and school visits to help families navigate developmental hiccups and get back on track. Virtual visits now available!

Click here to schedule an appointment or contact Rebekka with a question – who knows, she might even answer it in her next post!

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