Please, no small pieces

I will always remember those times with a toddler. I’d be on my hands and knees on the hard tile floor, creeping from couch to coffee table to TV stand, looking for lost treasure.

Tailing me (quite literally) was a crying three-year-old whose undecipherable whining sounded kind of like a dentist drill and kind of like a cat caught in a blender. He had lost his mini Lightning McQueen dinky for the seven hundredth time, and he had enlisted me to head up the search party.

The loss was catastrophic. The world was ending. This was the absolute worst thing that had ever happened to him, based on what I gathered from the sobbing and the hiccupping and the sniveling. I didn’t have much of a response, as I was too busy searching wildly in an effort to quiet him down.

All I found under the furniture were dust bunnies and assorted junk: a pencil, a few dog toys, the back off an old remote control, a headless WWE wrestler. (Note to self: sweep more often under the furniture.) Defeated, I straightened up. My back would kill me and my knees throbbed, as was par for the course during these missions, and the little half-inch car was still nowhere to be found.

“It’s not here, honey,” I said between clenched teeth. This tiny car was the bane of my existence. It was the smallest one he owned, of hundreds, and misplacing it was to be expected, considering its size and its owner. “Maybe you lost it in your room?”

He howled. This was it, I thought. This is how it would end for me.

Toys with small pieces are the worst. They should be banned, banished, embargoed, outlawed, whatever it takes to remove them from the lives of harried parents. I have to imagine that the toymakers who design them are sadists who are sitting around laughing at the image of parents having to search for them or stepping on them.

And yet, most houses with children of a certain age will be full of them within the past few weeks. Legos. L.O.L. Surprise dolls. Any blocks or building sets. You’d be surprised how the toys you least expect to contain small pieces will invariably have a few. Think of board games; Do you still have all the playing pieces to your Monopoly, Battleship, or Clue? Of course not. No one does.

There is nothing more shocking than stepping on a missing teeny toy piece in the middle of the night, barefoot, in the darkest dark, on the way to the bathroom, when you’re half asleep and trying hard not to wake up a spouse or child, or dog. It happened to my friend over Christmas. She has two kids, each with their own stash of toys and corresponding components.

“I hate them!” she told me, after lodging a small piece in her foot and falling into the end table, which caused the phone and its base to crash onto the floor and make such a racket that her whole house was up at 3:15 a.m. Christmas morning. She was referring to her 5-year-old’s growing collection of Legos. No matter how diligent she is about picking up all those little cubes and storing them in their special container, a rogue one always ends up on her path.

Been there, done that. Small toy pieces are nothing new. I remember the Barbie accessories that I liked when I was a kid, particularly those stiletto heels that matched the doll’s outfits. Even at that young age I remember wondering how long it would take before one of those dainty pumps disappeared. And they did – all of them. Every time.

For a while my kids were into Micro machines, and those dang little cars and trucks were everywhere, just waiting for me to step on one and skate clear across to the other side of the room, arms flailing.

Small-part playthings don’t get half the negative press that other toys get. Drum sets, microphones, and recorders probably top the list of no-no gifts. Wonderfully noisy and headache-inducing, these are the kind you buy your nephews or nieces to get back at your siblings. Close behind are the toys with sirens (like the fire truck my youngest received as a gift when he was small) and the toys with repetitive sound effects and phrases (like the Sing and Snore Ernie my oldest had). Then there are the slime, Play-Doh and glitter kits. I’ve never had to deal with those, but I have had nightmares thinking about them.

Eventually, of course, the lost tiny piece of a kid’s prized toy will show up, but never when or where you expect it. And they never remember – you do.