- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

I learned at a very early age that my April birthday entitled me to a diamond birthstone. While other little girls dreamed impossible dreams of ponies, I began lobbying for a diamond ring. Given that I was born to sensible parents of average means, I was not successful.

But when I was 8 years old, my grandmother gave me a very special gift for my birthday: a gold ring. It didn't have a diamond, but in my eyes, the beautiful ring with my initials inscribed on intersecting hearts was very close to being the answer to my high-reaching dreams.

I loved that ring and wore it proudly. Then one day, when I was probably 10 or 11, it no longer fit. I put it away in my treasure box and soon forgot about it.

A few years later, I came upon that box while cleaning out my room. I was delighted to discover the ring was a perfect fit for my pinkie. I put it on and went to the back yard to show my mother. I couldn't find her, so I sat down under a broad-branched chestnut tree and took off the ring to better admire it.

I was holding it in my palm when a squirrel dive-bombed off a high branch, grabbed the ring in its teeth and ran off. I chased that squirrel, and for months afterward harassed every rodent in the neighborhood, but to no avail. The ring was gone forever.

It took me decades, but I finally got my diamond ring. My now-husband got me a wonderful engagement ring but it also was the victim of a bizarre loss. This time the perpetrator was my own flesh and blood.

The elder of my two sons went through a phase in his babyhood when he delighted in doing away with any possession he could grab. New to parenting, my husband and I were slow to realize why we kept losing things. I couldn't find my glasses. He couldn't find his keys.

Then one day I followed my son as he toddled from his playroom into the kitchen. The kitchen was his favorite room because it contained his best friend: the dishwasher. At first I found it odd that left to his own devices, he would make a beeline for the dishwasher, then stand in front of it chatting happily to himself. Then I realized he was talking to the baby he saw reflected in the shiny black front.

That day, my son paid a quick courtesy call to the dishwasher baby and then went to the trash can, where he gleefully made a deposit by pushing in the swinging cover. When I went to recover his offering, I found my husband's wallet. My husband and I surmised that my glasses, his keys, countless articles of clothing and one of his expensive dress shoes all had made a similar but unfortunately unnoticed journey. Fortunately, my diamond ring remained safely on my finger.

We quickly went out and purchased a baby-proof trash can and thought the case of the sticky-fingered baby was solved permanently. We were wrong.

Shortly after my daughter was born, when my son was being introduced to potty training, we noticed things were disappearing again. We staked out the garbage can and found no unusual activity there. We were busy with a baby and a toddler and didn't have a lot of time for sleuthing.

Then, one day, after I had given the baby a bath, I heard my son in the bathroom repeatedly flushing the toilet and saying loudly, "Goodbye, goodbye, have a good trip."

I ran in to find him waving at the receding water with a very satisfied look on his face.

"Are you saying goodbye to the water?" I asked him.

"No, I'm saying goodbye to my pants," he said and told me he had flushed away the "big-boy" pants I had given him as an obviously unsuccessful motivation for leaving his diapers behind.

Then it hit me our missing items may have met a similar watery fate.

"Did you send away anything else?" I asked.

"Yes," he proudly answered. "Your ring."

Sure enough, my diamond ring, which I (foolishly) had left at the side of the tub while I had bathed the baby, was gone.

I never replaced that ring, and its memory took a place of honor next to the memory of my squirrel-purloined gold ring.

For my birthday last month, my husband surprised me with a new diamond ring. It is beautiful, and the whole family marveled at it. I let my daughters touch it and even try it on.

"Can I see it?" asked my son, now almost 15 years old.

"Sure," I said, waving it at him from across the room. I wasn't taking any chances.

Paula Gray Hunker, who works from home, is the mother of four children, the bemused wife of her amazing (but true) husband and a staff writer for the Family Times. She welcomes comments, suggestions and stories from her readers. She can be reached by mail at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave., NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; by phone at 202/636-4897; by fax at 610/351-1791; or by e-mail ([email protected]). Her column can also be found on The Washington Times' Web site (www.washtimes.com).

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