There once was a child who swallowed a screw

He confessed right after breakfast, as I was busy trying to get all of us out the door. His guilty expression gave him away.

I stopped in the middle of styling my daughter’s hair and asked him to repeat himself. “You ate what?!”

“I ate a screw.”

Life is never dull with young children, except I wish it wasn’t quite as exciting as a four-year-old swallowing a hunk of metal.

I put down the hairbrush, knelt at his level, and started firing questions at him. He couldn’t tell me when he’d swallowed it. He said it happened when I was at Zumba and Daddy was working, which was clearly not true because he’s never home alone.

Then he told me it happened “last week.” When I pushed him again, he said “maybe Sunday?”

Four-year-olds have no sense of time, which is frustrating when their stomach might be a ticking time bomb.

My journalistic instincts took over and I started asking if it had been dark out or light out. Had it happened at naptime or after bedtime? Where did he get the screw? How big was the screw? Oh yeah, and WHY WOULD YOU SWALLOW A SCREW, CHILD?!

The only details I managed to get were that he’d taken apart “a wittle green car,” and eaten one of its screws.

We were about to head to our family doctor for flu shots, so it was a pretty well-timed confession.

Twenty minutes later, we were heading straight to the hospital with a typed X-ray requisition. In the description, it simply said “Swallowed screw.” It was almost funny. Almost.

We’re no stranger to ER visits, especially with our eldest. When he was two, he pulled his dresser down onto himself and wound up with a black eye (yes, it’s since been bolted to the wall).

When he was three, he opened up a toy and gnawed the coating off a couple of batteries. (WHAT?!)

Twice in the last few months, he has stuffed a LEGO up his nose — the same damn piece, both times! 

We were taken straight into the X-ray room, and Dexter quite enjoyed the whole process. The tech was very gentle, and kept making him laugh as he stretched out on the table so she could “take a picture of his tummy.” A few minutes later, he was hopping back down and getting stickers to share with Charlotte.

The whole experience was far too pleasant. Is it wrong that I wanted someone to lecture him about the danger of swallowing non-food items? He certainly wasn’t listening to me. Where was the stern healthcare professional who would scare him straight?! 

In the end, the X-ray didn’t show any screws. He’d either already “passed” the screw, or it was too tiny to be seen in the X-ray, they told us. My husband was convinced he’d made up the whole story, but I’d pulled out enough details that I believed him. 

As punishment, we took away his wooden train set for a week. He begged us every day to give it back, and we stuck to the same line: “You can’t have any toys in your room until you learn that it’s dangerous to put things in your nose or mouth.” I also threw in “Screws are not for eating!” a few times, which felt … weird.

A few days later, I was putting away his clean laundry and found conclusive evidence: a little green car (possibly from a Happy Meal) missing a front axle. A microscopic screw lay next to it on the carpet, and there was a gap where a second screw should go. Where’s my CSI vest? I’m ready.

Triumphantly, I presented Exhibit A to my husband. Our son was telling the truth! We’re not raising a liar, but we are certainly raising someone with questionable judgement.

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