There will come a time, maybe after a lengthy road trip or simply on a random Tuesday afternoon, when you will pull out your children’s car seats and look—or, heaven forbid, reach with your own hand—into the dark caverns of your floorboards. From an innocent, if ominous, Barbie head, to a festering hunk of a chocolate chip bagel, the wilderness there will leave no emotion untapped. Hint: that was once a plain bagel.
Here are 10 things you should prepare to find:
1. The kitchen tongs that one of your toddlers adopted as a preferred tool for a rock collection. You once used them to flip over gluten-free chicken nuggets halfway through baking, before you started just using your fingers for the flipping. Before you stopped flipping nuggets altogether because children should learn that both sides aren’t always going to be crispy in nuggets or life.
2. Traces of white sand, red clay, black soil, more terrains than your Chevy has ever seen, somehow assimilated here, as if your vehicle were, in fact, one of those Land Rover Defenders that follows around the narrator of Blue Planet.
3. Your sister’s sunglasses that you swore were not under the seat because you looked, and she should recheck her purse because your car does not just eat sunglasses, for heaven’s sake.
4. A blue crayon melted over a battery that is also sort of melted and probably really toxic, creating a whole scene that is so fascinating that you’ll sit there and stare at it, then pick it up and hold it to the light at different angles, feeling like you’re right back in seventh-grade science, all-powerful in front of a Bunsen Burner.
5. A gluten-free chicken nugget, crisped to golden on one side.
6. The little gray LEGO brick that would have completed the 500-piece set that sat spread on your dining room table and almost ended your marriage before you threw it away because no one could find this piece.
7. A receipt for a grande latte with two pumps of pumpkin, because you’re too embarrassed to flat out order a pumpkin spice latte, but goodness they are delicious, if out of season for four months now.
8. Coins amounting to 37 cents, despite the fact that you haven’t paid cash for anything in the last decade.
9. A single Cool Ranch Dorito, remarkably and disturbingly intact, with no signs of decay, perhaps because it has hardly any actual, non-chemical ingredients.
10. A popsicle stick, halfway stained purple, from that day at the pool when your two-year-old climbed up to the diving board and walked all the way to the end with his still-chubby toddler toes curled over the edge, and looked down at you treading water below. He was so scared, but you told him he could do it, that he was brave. He believed you, and he jumped, and you were so proud, and now you are holding that popsicle stick and you are crying because he will never be two again, and because one day you’ll look under these seats to find the floorboards tidy.
For now, you will get out the little handheld vacuum and relish the sound of it slurping up all of the crushed goldfish. You’ll wipe those car seats down with water, like the experts say (chemicals can weaken the plastic). And take my non-expert advice: don’t put the car seat cover in the dryer. You’ll buckle the seats all back in, until the next time, which will be two months even though you are telling yourself it’ll be two weeks. And then you will throw away all the junk – all of it except that popsicle stick. You’ll slide that into your back pocket.
Hampton Williams Hofer lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she writes and raises babies. Her work has appeared in Flying South, Walter Magazine, Architectural Digest, and Food 52, among others. Family aside, her great loves are a South Carolina beach, a Roger Federer backhand, a Charlottesville lawn, and—most of all—a good story.