“That’s Not a Toy!”


I think my wife and I are on the same page about most aspects of raising our daughter, but there is one philosophical schism that occasionally causes trouble. I think of it as the great “That’s Not a Toy” debate.

My wife dislikes that phrase, believing that the toddler should be able to explore her environment and everything in it with relative freedom (within reason of course—knives, electrical outlets, Ayn Rand novels and other existential threats are strictly off-limits). Curiosity should be encouraged as often as possible, she reasons.

In principle, of course, (and MOST of the time in practice) I agree.  But my sense of order about our apartment is delicate and easily offended (also hypocritical, my wife would probably note, accurately); a pile of playing cards the child has spread out on the floor or a nail clipper that’s disappeared from its usual resting place just when I need it is…well, irksome.

Usually, I tell myself I’m being too uptight. This is because, usually, I’m being too uptight. I may not always refrain from a muffled sigh or a roll of the eyes, but I recognize this.

But things got a bit more serious on a recent Saturday morning when my daughter was walking around the apartment holding my house keys.

Then, rather suddenly, she wasn’t.

And so, the search began. In drawers, under beds, in toy chests, in shoes, in trash cans, behind furniture—you name it, we checked it. Nothing.

Intelligence agencies of the world should note the child’s resistance to interrogation:

“Do you have daddy’s keys?”

Blank stare.

“Where are my keys?”

Blank stare.

“Can you show me where my keys are?”

Blank stare.

“Are my keys in a drawer?”


“Are my keys under the bed?”


“Did you put my keys in the toilet?”


“Are you just trolling daddy at this point?”


(That last one is true, I promise!)

Twenty-four hours passed. No keys. We checked and double-checked nooks, crannies, boxes, hiding spots. We were almost positive the keys were still in the apartment, but doubt started to creep in.  Our daughter had accompanied her mother to get the newspaper, could they have been dropped in the bushes without our noticing? Picked up by a passing malcontent? Carried off by an enterprising squirrel? All outcomes were now terrifyingly possible.

And yet I managed not to completely freak out during this (clearly irksome) turn of events, which leads me to Insight #1 from the ordeal: Social media, when used correctly, is therapeutic. Sometime Saturday afternoon, I posted about our ongoing search on Facebook and a number of friends and well-wishers offered their support and sympathy as well as war stories of their own.

There’s obviously a lot of great reasons not to post about (or post pictures of) your kids on Facebook, but I won’t rehash them here; I’ve made my choice. But the post and subsequent discussion helped me keep enough psychic distance from the missing-key situation that I didn’t lose sight of why it was funny. I was effectively crowd-sourcing my calm and it worked pretty well.

The situation became even funnier when, as I sat drinking my coffee Sunday morning, our daughter marched proudly into the family room, handed me the missing keys and grinned. Of course she did; was there really any other way this situation could have ended?

Where had the keys been? She couldn’t exactly say, and I’m pretty she’d forgotten where they were and discovered them by accident. I suspect they were in a clothing drawer which—I SWEAR!—I had checked several times the day before and found keyless.  Some mysteries, I suppose, will endure.

Insight #2, as you’ve probably been thinking to yourself for several paragraphs now, was simply to get the child her own set of keys to play with. My lovely wife went to our local hardware store the very next day, where they gave her four random keys they had lying around at no charge. (Unsolicited shoutout to Falkenhan’s in Hampden! You guys are great!)

The set of keys is now our daughter’s new favorite toy. This may not last more than a week, but it will be a good week; I’m breathing easy.

If I can laugh about this, surely the smaller stuff should irk me less.


  1. Great story, Dan! Reminds me of my cat, who loves playing with razor blades and sewing shears. I like encouraging her curiosity, but…there’s a limit! 🙂


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