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Updated: 12/17/2013 @ 11:14am

“Wait a minute,” I said. “I need to save the penguins.”

Another one of those lines I never heard myself saying.

Among the great variety of grandchild toys scattered hither and yon in our house is a box that contains 100 tiny penguins. It’s some kind of learning game . . . 100 penguins, 10 plastic trays to hold them, 10 different colors . . . endless educational possibilities. I’m not really the educational grandparent – I’m the warm-up-the-car, shift-the-car-seat, carry-heavy-objects grandparent, but that doesn’t mean I’m not aware.

Along with the grandchildren and the penguins, something else that’s often in our house is Frances, the Giant Newfoundland.

Frances eats stuff.

OK, she doesn’t really eat stuff, but she certainly chews stuff. And she really goes for the penguins.  

In my day-to-day life, I have a lot to worry about. There’s Obamacare, global warming, and whether I’m going to run out of eggs at the café.  Giant meteors are stalking the earth and sometime in the next 500 years, the Midwest is due for an enormous earthquake. I don’t think I should need to be worrying about the penguins. Yet here I am. Every time I turn around I’m digging a penguin out of the drool-covered jowls of an adolescent Newfoundland.

You might be thinking, “Who’s gonna miss a couple of penguins?”

It’s the math thing. Ten rows of 10 penguins, 10 different colors . . . if one is missing, it’s really noticeable. I haven’t had this much toy-related trauma since 1986, when we took our three children along on a work project with our church youth group. Doesn’t sound too hard?  Well, the project was in Kingston, Jamaica, our youngest daughter was 6 years old, we were traveling with a vanload of teenagers, and I was driving said van cross-country on some not very good roads. In order to keep Little Girl Elizabeth occupied, we had purchased a set of little plastic animals called the “Sylvanian Family.” The idea worked. She played peacefully for hours at a time, in buses, on airplanes, and at the job site, setting up family scenarios and assuming all the roles. The only problem was that the little bears were only about 2 inches high and members of the family kept going astray. Every half hour or so there would arise a panic-stricken cry, “Sylvanian Family, Sylvanian Family!”  It didn’t take long to train the teenagers and roughly half the population of Jamaica. When the cry went up, everyone within earshot dropped to their knees and started searching for the errant creature, because no one wanted to deal with a joyless, toyless 3-year-old.

Here it is, several decades later, and I’m back to worrying about tiny plastic animals. At least in Jamaica there were no animals involved, and hardly any drool.

I don’t know why the dog has this oral fixation. Dogs are supposed to chew on sticks and cats, not plastic toys, my hat, or my grandson’s boots. She always has something in her mouth. I took her to the vet one night because she was choking. It turned out she’d eaten a cocklebur and it had stuck going down her throat.   

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