"Mommy! Mommy! Guess what I found!"
She was gently cupping something in her dirt-ground hands. And I was afraid.
I hope whatever it is it hasn't been dead long, I say to myself with complete disregard for the child who stood before me beaming. I was remembering a first grader from long ago, in the salad days before I was a parent, who lead a parade of preschoolers up a dusty hill carrying a flattened squirrel as a flag.
It took a long time after witnessing that macabre cavalcade before I thought I was up to the job of parenting.
"I can't guess," I tell her hoping to return to pulling weeds from my garden of ...well, more weeds.
"Try. It's not fun unless you guess."
"OK, let me think. ... It's not the neighbor's cat ..."
"MOM! The neighbor doesn't HAVE a cat!"
"Yeah ... that's why I've ruled that out. Smart, right?"
She squints in playful exasperation. "Really? OK ... I'll give you a hint: It starts with an E. What's your guess?"
"I dunno .. an earthworm."
Her mouth twists into the unmistakable expression deflated surprise. "Oh-how-soon-ye-adult-types-cop-out-of-this-very-fun-game-of-guessing."
I take another stab at an answer. "Is it a earworm?"
"An earworm?" She exclaims. “That's gross.”
"Oh, it most certainly is. ... I've had one all day from that ‘Kidz Bop’ CD you've been playing in your room."
We could play at this game all day if I had the patience of a saint. But I barely have the patience of a three-year-old and she knows it.
"So you give up then?"
"I give up."
Her hands open like a flower and inside is a tiny porcelain elephant.
She gives it to me so I can see it better. The elephant is a watery blue color, about an inch tall. It's striking a circus pose, standing with its truck tucked under and its legs evenly placed on a circular dais.
"I found it buried in the garden."
"Wow. That's amazing," I said trying to channel my own seven-year-old self as I handed her back the treasure. "You've found yourself a mystery for sure."
She looked it over more carefully, and read the letters she found embossed on the base. "'WADE, ENG'. ... What do you think that means?"
I slip my phone out of my pocket and start up the search engine. "I'm not sure, but we can find out."
I type the words into the machine and slowly it takes me to a well-known tea company. The figures, made in England, are modern and still given out as premiums with the purchase of tea. I start to tell her about their origins, but she holds up her hand and begs me to stop reading.
She likes her mysteries with fewer facts.
"I need to do more investigation. I have to search for clues," she says running into the house. "Where's my notebook?"
I slip my answers-at-hand back into my pocket and continue my halfhearted attempts at pulling weeds. I wonder if I can find some more of that tea.