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Busy Mama: The mystery of the missing love object

There was much reason for my family to celebrate last week: Bubba was found.

The dirt-stained, slightly tattered and very well-loved plush yellow Labrador retriever was discovered under a giant pile of toys in the closet under the stairs that we call “The Harry Potter Room.” (Perhaps it should be renamed “The Place Where Things Go and Hardly Ever Return.”)

Everybody in our house was surprised Bubba turned up in The Harry Potter Room. After all, she’s a family member. What was she doing under all of those old toys that only get played with when cousins come over to visit?

For months, especially at bedtime, our 7-year-old bemoaned the loss of Bubba. I always hoped she’d turn up at Grandma’s house; my biggest fear was that she was left in the backyard and eaten by our real dogs, which often get jealous of those stuffed animals.

All three of our kids have favorite plush critters: Our 14-year-old daughter has Hunter, a black lab that she grabbed from a display at a certain big-box toy store when she was about 9 months old. They were inseparable for years. Hunter went to day care, dance recitals and her third-grade spelling bee. He travels a lot less now that they’re older, but I’m fairly sure he went to sleep-away camp with her last summer. I know he went to Grandma’s house last weekend.

Our 9-year-old son has two favorite plush dogs: Biscuit is a male basset hound that was a gift from his Grandma, and Bobo is a female chocolate lab. I think Bobo is “married” to one of the other dogs, but I don’t recall which one. Bobo has a yellow lab puppy named Goldie. (Hey, these are important things for moms to know!) The boys told me that all of the dogs were happy that Bubba was home again.

When Bubba went missing, we checked the vehicles (like most dogs, she loves to ride in the car), under the beds, and in just about every nook and cranny in the house, except The Harry Potter Room. Our son said he hadn’t taken her in there, so it wasn’t on the list of places to check.

When our boys were little, The Harry Potter Room was one of their favorite play areas. They’d put their toddler-size chairs in it, and call it their clubhouse. Sometimes we’d tack up some blankets so that they could use it as a fort.

A few years ago, I installed several shelving units and new bins in the closet. We sorted through the toy collection, tossing scores of broken toys and donating all of the ones that seemed too babyish. We finally had a clean and organized toy room. That lasted for about two months.

At first I thought the The Harry Potter Room was just messy. Now I’m realizing that it’s an area that our family has outgrown. It’s become a giant pile of Legos, wooden blocks, miniature cars, plastic castles, Nerf weapons, Happy Meal trinkets and a slew of stuffed animals that my kids loved mostly for the tag that unlocked virtual animals on a video game.

Our oldest two refuse to claim any of the toys that are inside of it. They’re big kids. They play team sports, video games and seemingly only “pretend” to play with toys, if their little brother asks them. (Although sometimes, it looks like they really are playing, but don’t tell them I said that.)

Our youngest son has a small collection of his favorite toys that he refuses to store in The Harry Potter Room, because he knows he might never see them again. He’s a smart kid.

Every January, I try to tackle an organizing project. I think my next one will be to donate most of those toys, and turn the area into space we can use — like a storage closet for coats, shoes and sports equipment.