Not Led by the Lead


     Initially, when I heard of the toy recall, I picked up my son, Malachy’s, very favorite Thomas the Tank Engine track set from the living room floor where it had become a staple. I had every intention of throwing it away — really. But after recalling how much joy this lead-soaked pile of wood brought to him, what I ended up doing was hiding it on the top shelf of his closet. A few weeks later, I thought to myself, the media-hyped bulletin would turn out to be unfounded or even created by a rival toy company, and I could bring the beloved train back to our hardwood floor.


   Several weeks into the recall, however, Malachy peered up in his closet and saw the not-so hidden box, and I let him play with it — rationalizing that at age 4, he had well passed the oral stage of chewing on everything in sight. Then, I began to consider other hazards he was consistently exposed to on any given day. Merely breathing in New York City poses its own health risks.

   When I was a child, my toys were certainly not tested for lead, and neither was I. My friends and I all ate red meat, drank whole milk, and I’m fairly certain that my grammar school had loads of lead paint — and I survived (although it may explain my inferior math skills!).

   Don’t get me wrong; I do worry about the overwhelming vulnerability that comes with parenting — hormones in milk and meat, Internet predators, abductors, pedophiles, terrorism, war. I teach my kids to take proper precautions: look both ways when crossing the street, don’t talk to strangers, take your vitamins. But go crazy over toys? I’m not won over on the issue. My son has undergone every required medical test, including lead screening, and has never registered above normal levels, despite playing with so-called unsafe toys since infancy — even chewing on a few in his toddler years.

   And while I want my kids to take appropriate safety measures in life, I don’t want them to become paranoid or obsessed with potential dangers. Life is a risk, and only when we can balance risk, pleasure, and responsibility can we attain the shrewdness needed to cope with modern life.

   So is it really so bad that I allow Malachy to take pleasure in his childhood by innocently running his Thomas train back and forth along the windowsill, busily humming a tune, before bigger issues become forefront in his world? I say no. And while I’m being completely honest, I must confess that I have yet to rule out the new Thomas set he just placed on his Christmas list.


     What's your opinion on the toy controversy? Contact the author at


                                                 Read more about the toy recalls:

                                 Poison Me Elmo? What Parents Can Do About Toxic Toys