I was driving along a strange highway, passing a ramp to the Manson Family farm, when my baby son began to cry. Pulling over, ignoring the feral pack of wolves near the Stuckey’s sign, I opened the van’s back door. He had dropped his pacifier. Unfortunately, he saw it in my hands. He began screaming. Blood-curdling shrieks. I felt a headache coming on. And the wolves ran.
Desperate, I thought of what Perfect Mom would do. She wouldn’t give her baby a pacifier that had dropped to the carpet splattered with stains and potentially infested with flesh-eating bacteria. No. She would sterilize it in her trusty Germ-O’Cide Kit, or extract a clean one wrapped in cellophane from her purse. But I am not perfect. I rationalized that human saliva is already rancid with hyena-like goo, a substance so foul that it makes a gelding out of flesh-eating bacteria.
So, alone, stressed, I did what any Springer guest would do. I popped the pacifier back into his mouth.
Oh, yes, I’m haunted by that decision, but the pacifier signaled something much bigger, a lifelong pattern of beloved lost things and parental misery. Until the item is reunited with my child, there will be no peace in the valley.
Over the years, I noted the missing item got smaller. Missing items ranged in size, according to my sons’ ages: a beloved teddy bear that appeared to have mange and needed immediate medical attention, a frayed blanky that looked as though it had been deep-fried, a breach-of-contract puzzle piece from Bob the Builder.
The routine was the same. The piece went missing, thus launching our quest for it in our toy-swallowing house. Archeologists could find chunks of Mayan pottery in the Amazon thicket easier than we could locate a missing item.
But we got better at it, increased our speed and timing, kept our children’s screams from reaching Boeing engine decibels. Uh-huh. My husband and I believed we had mastered search-and-recovery.
Until our introduction to the Lego set.
Detected only under microscope, Lego pieces arrive in various plastic bags. Color-coded, aerodynamic, they fly everywhere the instant a small child’s fingers come into contact. Their sharp edges are ideal for embedding into flesh, especially an adult’s foot, when mom or dad is staggering through a darkened house at 2:32 a.m. to get to the bathroom or assist puking offspring.
At birthday parties, my sons rip open their packages with glee. Inevitably the thing we dread most, the Lego box, emerges. My husband sighs at well-meaning family members who buy such toys, glares at me if I buy one. Putting the kit together will take the patience of a monk toiling over parchment and the insight of a physicist mining new math formulas.
“I always get stuck with this,” he complains.
I cheerily suggest it’s an opportunity to bond with the boys. He snarls at me.
We both know.
Until that 975-piece Lego battle cruiser with working guns and twelve seamen is assembled, there will be no peace in the valley.
Months later, my husband is gingerly applying the last piece with tweezers. His eye twitches uncontrollably. His fingers tremble from adrenaline and sleep deprivation. My youngest son bounds from the living room, knocking into the stern. Pieces go flying. Red-faced, my husband chokes back expletives. I keep the phone handy in the event his blood pressure ruptures his spleen.
My kids and I freeze. His black funnel cloud mood passes. Grunting, jaw locked, my husband picks up the tweezers. He shakes his head. Relieved, my sons and I breathe again. Hours later, the battleship is almost complete.
Except for one missing Lego.
“Where is this (censored) piece that goes to the turret?” Teeth gritted, face creased with strain, my husband jabs a finger at the instruction booklet.
Gazing around the clutter of our house, my heart sinks. My eyes flicker back to my mentally unstable spouse. My younger son’s lower lip quivers. My older son is positioned near the door, ready to evacuate. And the dog looks guilty.
I dive under the table, fingers probing carpet, praying. Please. Please, dear God, let that infernal Lego be there. I will contact several divisions of Scouts, alert volunteer firemen, secure the National Guard, anyone with access to metal detectors and who can physically restrain my husband.
Because. You know.
Until that obscure, tiny piece is located, there will be no peace in the valley.