I sat on the floor, clipping my toenails. I have thick, gnarly toenails, “sheep rippers” one of my old roommates called them, and I have to work to keep them respectable. Nate wandered by.

“What are you doing, daddy?”

“Clipping my toenails,” I said. “Do you need yours trimmed?”

“No,” he quickly replied. He hates getting his nails trimmed.

I finished my big toe.

“Wow, that is huge!” He picked up the cut nail, a thick, beautiful one-piece cut, a real giant that looked a lot like a claw. “Can I have this?”

I laughed. “Sure, I suppose. Why do you want it?”

“Because it’s cool. Look how big it is. It’s ginormous”

“Um, okay.”

Nate wandered away with my toenail.

Later that night, after I put him to sleep, I noticed something lying on the floor between his two favorite monster trucks, parked by his bed. I looked closer. It was my toenail, carefully placed in the spot of honor, close enough to where he could reach out his hand and touch it if he wanted to. Trying not to laugh, and loving my little guy desperately at the same time, I crept from the room.

The next morning the nail was gone.

“Hey, where’s my toenail from yesterday?” I asked.

“I’m saving it,” he said. “It’s in my garage.”

I looked in his toy garage. The toenail was in there, sitting in the service bay.

“Hey buddy, why are saving that toenail? It’s just a toenail, right?”

“Yeah, I know. It’s ginormous. But it’s your toenail, daddy, and it’s cool.”

I let him keep the toenail for a couple of days and then tossed it when he went to visit his mom.  I mean, I’m flattered that my son wanted to save my ginormous toenail, but I’m not sure how psychologically sound it is for him to be collecting body parts when he’s three.  On the other hand, he could someday be rich and famous for having the world’s largest toenail collection, so I’m going to fish that dried up thing out of the trash and put it back in his collection box and see where it takes us.

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One summer I was taking Nate to Texas for “family heart camp,” where a bunch of kids with heart defects and their families get together and enjoy normal life for a week, usually under medical supervision. Some heart camps are really “camps,” with cabins and bonfires and kayaks, and others are in hotels, more along the lines of medical and social conferences for the parents while the kids run around the local museums and water-parks with volunteer escorts, usually nursing students. D and I have taken Nate to a few heart camps, mostly so he could meet other heart kids or because we were involved on the boards of the group. But this was my first official solo heart camp with Nate.

Nathaniel spent a couple of weeks telling everyone he met that he was going to heart camp, which of course virtually every adult heard as “art camp.”  He got lots of puzzling questions, such as “Oh, what kind of art do you like, painting or drawing?” When I told Nate the heart camp was at a hotel, he was thrilled because he thought he was going back to the Ronald McDonald house, the “heart surgery hotel,” one of his favorite places on earth because it is filled inside and outside, top to bottom, with every possible free toy a sick or dying kid could dream of.  Was he ever pissed when we got to Houston and he discovered that we were staying at a Hyatt without a toy room.

I let him pack a small backpack full of his toys and books, with the caveat that he had to wheel his own bag around the airport. He happily agreed. I looked in his bag a couple of times to make sure he had a good mix of stuff for the plane ride and hotel but otherwise didn’t think too much of it and, running late and flustered the morning of the trip, didn’t really have a chance to examine his bag too closely. Until we got to security at the airport. I reached into his bag and found two books, three Hot Wheels cars, two small trucks, and fifteen rocks in various sizes. What the hell?

I turned to him, incredulous. “Did you really bring all your rocks?” I asked.

“Pssh. No, of course not, daddy,” he said, looking at me like I was an idiot. “I wanted to bring all my rock collection but I only brought a couple of ones that I liked.”

I placed his bag on the belt.  There was already a line behind us, and I feverishly got out my two laptops, his DVD player, my Kindle, his two small lunch coolers packed with bottles and vials of medicines, an oxygen sensor, our shoes, all the usual things TSA yells about, while trying to keep Nate’s fingers out of the conveyor belt.  I sense, more than actually hear, the sighs of exasperation behind us.

“Bag check!” I hear the screener call out.

Great.  I know what’s coming next.

“Is this yours sir?” the angry-looking man asks holding up Nate’s rolling Spiderman bag.  I nod.  ”We have to run it through again,” he says.

They put the bag back through, and a consultation occurs behind the scrreening monitor.  The man walks back with the bag.

“We have to take everything out and run it through the scanner one at a time,” he says.

He gets a few trays, and puts some cars and books on one of the trays.  Then the first rock comes out of the bag, a nice large, jagged white one, fist sized.  He looks at me and I shrug.

“It’s his rock collection,” I say, pointing at Nate and hopefully diffusing any sense of danger the TSA guys have.

The man continues to pull out rocks, putting most in the large tray and some in the small trays that usually hold keys and wallets.  I don’t even need to turn around to know the people behind me are pissed.  We’ve been here over five minutes, and we’re only halfway through the rock collection.  I know, from previous travels, that we still have to get the medicine bottles hand-inspected, and I have to repack all the other stuff.  It’s going to be a while.  Nate is pretty oblivious, pulling against me while I clutch him and whisper, “Don’t move, don’t touch anything, don’t do anything, just stand here.”

They ended up taking a couple of the larger, more dangerous looking rocks and letting us keep the rest.  Ten steps after the security checkpoint, Nate decided that his bag was too heavy for him to wheel around anymore.  I stack it on top of mine, glad to be be flying two thousand miles and back with a backpack filled with random, irregular rocks. That should be fun to wheel around Texas for five days.  It almost made me wish that he had brought his toenail collection instead.