A First-Grader's Toothy Tale Of Seek and Find

It was the first week of first grade, and Madeleine lost her first tooth. So many firsts at the same time deserved a special acknowledgement, which is why I got the idea of the treasure hunt. A shiny quarter wrapped in tissue paper seemed insufficient tribute to my fourth daughter's heady milestones. So while she was at school I composed the clues.

When Madeleine came home I asked her nonchalantly if she had looked under her pillow yet. In the still unfamiliar morning rush for school, she had forgotten to check and so now ran eagerly to her bed. Ten-year-old Christina followed, calling out, "I bet you'll get a quarter!"

Lifting her pillow, Madeleine found the following note, which Christina read to her: "Dear Madeleine, Surprise! Here's a gift that's just begun. Your tooth is gone, but not the fun!" And alongside the note lay a wooden, wire-bristled brush with a note attached.

"Hey! Where's the present?" she asked with a bit of worry.

"Listen," Christina insisted as I watched with silent enjoyment from the doorway. "This is a brush for hair so fine. Look now on a place that puts clothes on a line." Holding the strange brush, Madeleine looked baffled until Christina, eager to play this game, rushed out of the room. Catching her by the arm, I explained that it must be Madeleine who found the clues.

After hearing the clue once more, Madeleine ran to our small clothesline and there, beneath a clothespin, found the following: "Upon a lion's head I sit and wait for you to come. Don't take too long, for if you do, the next clue can't come to you."

As I watched her run out the front door to check the stone lion's head, which had been left behind by previous occupants, I hoped that the tape had held. I felt my excitement growing as I thought of the treasure waiting at the end.

One of the pleasures of being a mother is orchestrating the delights of a child's life in such a way that we are drawn back into our own childhood and allowed to relive the wonder of the unexpected. I had found with Madeleine that, in spite of her being the fourth daughter, she still inspired in me new opportunities to surprise and reminded me that for the adult, childhood's magic is perhaps inexhaustible.

Beaming, Madeleine came in with her new clue, which was: "Now you must look where people go, when cocoa they want to make. First they need me, and then the cocoa, of which we, too, will soon partake." This one I could see was a challenge. Christina read it again, and when the saucepan did not hold a clue she tried the cups. Still nothing. Even Christina was at a loss. I bit my tongue and told them to think.

The sisters rummaged around the kitchen looking through the spoons, the marshmallow bag, and even inside the cocoa can. Finally, I told them, "You're forgetting the main ingredient," and they both said, "Milk!" There it was, in the refrigerator. And taped to the gallon jug was a note that read: "Now think about where you'd like to be, to go up high in the air. I'm underneath that thing you use, outside now, and near a stair."

While they both ran outside to check the swing (nowhere near the stairs) I made the cocoa, which would be part of our little celebration once the treasure had been found. The deep blue of the sky, the warm day, and the exhilaration of new beginnings all seemed to fill the air as I decorated our small card table on the deck with our best china, flowery napkins, and finger bowls of M&M's.

Coming back empty-handed from the tree swing, I reminded Madeleine of the part of the clue that mentioned "stairs." She ran then to the metal jungle gym on our deck and found, underneath a rock on the ground, the clue with a picture of her favorite, longed- for doll from a catalog.

Now, I had managed to be firm in the face of my older daughters' pleas for one of these extravagant dolls. They had always settled for the store-bought replicas. But Madeleine, having always had the hand-me-down dolls of her sisters, had made me reconsider.

"Look, Mama, it's Felicity!" she cried, and I could see she had so fully entered into the excitement that she no longer associated me with the details. This seemed a fitting background role for a mother to play on the week when her youngest daughter makes the first strides toward independence. I watched her hopping with excitement and pride as Christina read the clue: "Now you see who waits for you, she is near the sky so blue. Do you remember where she went, for apples that her mother requested? Be careful! Look for help, your climbing skill will be greatly tested!"

Remembering the story we had read about the Colonial girl whom this doll was named for, Madeleine spied the ladder leaning against the house and slowly climbed it to the flat section of our roof. While holding the ladder steady, I watched Madeleine spot the white cardboard box tied with a ribbon. Without saying a word, Madeleine, who when most moved by joy lets it spread inside her, lighting her eyes and turning her mouth into a bashful grin, took hold of the box and slowly came back down. There, amid the leaves and grass, she slowly opened the box.

Christina and Madeleine held up the auburn-haired, green-eyed Colonial doll and carefully examined her features. Inside a small cloth drawstring bag I had made for her, they found small treasures that made this doll more personal and unique. There was a lacy handkerchief (from my grandmother), an arrowhead, and a minute pink beaded necklace (made from an old one of mine). From that moment, Felicity became, in Madeleine's eyes, a member of the family.

Once I made room for Felicity at our small table and the cocoa had been poured, the celebration could begin. Of course, I could never live up to this spectacle again, but somehow I didn't think that really mattered. This once we had gone all out.

In the glow of our festivity I toasted my young daughter and saw her smile her gap-toothed smile.

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