My husband gave my five year old son a spare key. The key doesn’t go to anything, but my son loves it. He’s carried it everywhere for three days.
Last night, my husband and I were on the couch watching TV when my son came downstairs crying. And not just crying. He was gasping for breath, his eyes swollen and red.
“Did you hurt yourself?” I asked, sitting up. I looked him over for signs of blood or bone poking out.
Crying hysterically, he said, “I dropped my key!”
“Oh,” I said, relieved. “Ok, well, we’ll get it.”
I followed my son upstairs while he hiccupped and wiped his eyes.
“Where did you drop it?”
The words came out in a rush. “I was going potty and I didn’t mean to but I’m sorry, Mommy, I dropped it and now I can’t get it!”
I stopped mid-step, my stomach sinking at the words “I was going potty…”
“Buddy, did you drop the key in the potty?”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice watery and miserable.
“Can you see the key?” I asked, thinking maybe I’d get lucky and it slipped down the drain.
“No,” he said beginning to hiccup again.
I took a deep breath. “Well, let me see what I can do.”
I walked into the bathroom hoping for a simple case of Number One.
I was disappointed.
My son saw the look on my face as I studied the toilet bowl.
“Can you get it?” He said, panicked. “Mommy, can you?”
I closed my eyes. “Tell you what, why don’t you go get me a towel, okay?”
I tried to smile. “Because Mommy is going to have to wash her hands really, really good.”
My son ran downstairs to get a towel. I looked into the murky water.
My first thought: No wonder he said he couldn’t see it.
My second thought: Dinner didn’t agree with him.
Hoping for a quick solution, I stuck the handle of the plunger into the toilet. I heard the sound of metal scraping on porcelain. The key was in there, but I couldn’t catch it with the plunger handle.
I walked into the next room and grabbed a pencil from the computer desk. I tried to fish the key out with the sharp end of the pencil. I heard the key scrape against porcelain again before it slipped back to the bottom.
I was debating the merits of simply flushing the toilet and telling him, “So sorry, Charlie,” when my son came back into the bathroom with a towel.
“Did you get it?”
I looked into that small face with those blue, teary, heartbroken eyes.
I thought of how proud he was that his daddy had entrusted him with the key.
I thought of how he’d carried that key everywhere, everywhere, for three days.
I looked into the toilet bowl again and sighed.
I thought of a time ten years from now when I would tell this story to his first girlfriend.
“I’ll get it right now. Go watch a show for a minute.”
He went, shooting me worried looks over his shoulder.
I turned back to the toilet, swallowed both my pride and the dinner that was trying to crawl back up my throat, and reached in.
Things squished between my fingers that should never squish between anyone’s fingers before I finally found the key.
Gagging, I pulled it out of water.
I immediately turned to the sink and doused both the key and my hands with soap and hot water.
I washed, rinsed, washed, rinsed, washed again.
My hands were red and raw when my husband called up the stairs. “Did you get it?”
“Yeah,” I said, swallowing hard against the urge to vomit. “I got it.”
My son leapt from the couch and ran into the bathroom. “You got it?!”
I held up the (now) shiny key.
“Yay!!” He skipped off.
As I flushed the toilet with my foot (and vowed to buy that boy a string) I overheard him telling his sister, “Mommy got my key!”
And, you know, I kind of felt like a hero.