Of Mice and Boys

May 23rd, 2011

“Mama, look what I found!”

It’s often the first thing the Small Boy says when he comes home at lunch-time, holding out a hand to share whatever treasure he found on the way home from Kindergarten that day. Usually it’s a rock that struck him as special; it’s all white, or it’s got a stripe through it, or it glitters a bit in the sun. Sometimes he’ll bring home a flower that he picked from the side of the road that runs between his Uncle J’s fields; the poppies are coming up and the other day he gave me his first poppy. Rarely, it’s a snail shell. He’s got a big glass vase for his special stones and snail shells and the occasional feather, his treasure chest.

So today, when he came home for lunch, calling out for somebody ┬áto open the door, saying “Mama, look what I found!” I was expecting a rock. I was not expecting him to stick out his hand and show me the dead mouse he’d been carrying for the past quarter mile.

“Oh! Okay, you need to put that down. You can’t be holding that.”

“I just want to make it a grave.”

“Okay. Okay. Just put it down, we can make it a grave but now you need to go wash your hands with soap and water and when you’re done,” I add, taking a pump of anti-bacterial hand gel down off the counter, “you need a spritz of ┬áthis. There can be a lot of germs on dead things, just go wash your hands.”

“I’m sorry, Mama, I just wanted to give it a grave.” In his other hand, he’s carrying a flower he picked to put on the grave site.

“It’s okay. It’s okay, we’ll make it a grave. You didn’t know about the germs. Now you do. And I love that you want to give it a grave. Go wash up now.”

I leave the mouse on our doorstep, cover it with a box weighed down with a pair of R’s shoes so that one of the farm cats doesn’t snatch it before we can dig it a grave. I wish I could go back, take away my startled and slightly disgusted first reaction, give him the time to tell me about the grave so that the first thing I say can be “Oh, that’s sweet. Sure we can dig it a grave. You should probably go wash your hands, though. There can be a lot of germs on dead things.”

Later we go into the woods and find a hollowed out tree stump, more mausoleum than grave. We put in a bed of leaves, then the mouse with the flower, then cover it with ferns. Over the ferns the boys put more wildflowers and then a lattice of branches to prevent dogs from sniffing around.

“Sorry you died, little mouse,” we say, “but it’s pretty here, you’ll like it.”

Then the boys run off down the trail holding hands, dead mouse forgotten as, for little boys, it should be.