I watch as my ten-year-old hovers over a tiny toad sunning himself by the lake. Mesmerized, she leans closer and then, covering him with her hand, scoops him up.
She kneels on the blanket where I am sitting and I can see the excitement on her face when she asks if she can keep him as a pet. I try to convince her that he is better left by the lake – it is his home and he knows how to look after himself. The expression on her face tells me she is not happy with what I have said.
She continues to hold him in her hand and I explain that she should not keep him for too long…he needs to be free. I go on to tell of another little girl, who, many years ago, also liked to catch toads, and on more than one occasion, after she had held them too long, they would often die. She looks at me for a long moment before speaking and says, “I’m going to name him Todd,” and then sits by the water, still clutching him in her hand.
Several minutes later, I notice a sad look come over her face as I watch her stroke the toad’s back with her finger. He lays motionless in the palm of her hand. We place him beneath a tree, close to the water, and she covers him with a few blades of grass.
“Mommy,” she says, “Were you the little girl you told me about that liked to catch toads?”
Yes, I tell her, I was, and I go on to explain that her grandfather, whom she never had the pleasure of knowing, had told me the very same thing when I was a little girl.
“And did you listen?” She asks.
Pulling her into my arms, I smile as I answer, “I did exactly what you did – I had to find out for myself.”
Soon after, we are laughing and playing in the lake, and I watch as she and her big sister swim off by themselves. I cannot help but smile as I watch them – or when I think of the man who taught me the very same lesson more than forty years ago. There are those things that we can teach…yet there are others that have to be learned.