The boy looked up at me with sheepish hope. His voice was so low I could hardly hear. I asked him to repeat the words again.
“Mom, will you tell MaryJane Smithdoe that I want her to look at my painting.”
Hands jammed in his pockets, lips wrapped over his teeth, he shifted from one foot to the other as he looked down at the floor.
I still didn't really understand.
He was four at the time, and in preschool, and in absolute awe of one girl in particular. A raven-haired beauty whose interest included pigtails, sparkly shoes and playing Grocery Store with friends.
I knew he was smitten. When he said her name he seemed to sing it, elongating it with a few extra syllables.
She, of course, didn't know he existed. Because she was four, too.
Despite my apprehension, and being the dutiful mother that I am, I walked over to the girl and told her that my son was hoping she would be so kind as to look at a painting he made at the easel. (I successfully stopped myself from using the word etching.)
She agreed and followed me to the art room of the preschool.
As he stood some distance away, concealed behind a doorframe, she giggled at the sight of a smiling sun dripping its yellow tempera rays onto a wobbly tricolor rainbow. And then she skipped away without another word.
I held my breath. What was he expecting?
He … was ... ecstatic! She had looked at his painting. She had smiled. And he never had to speak to her at all.
I was a little less ecstatic. Not only did I feel the need to worry that my son might grow up to be a stalker, I had already proven to be an enabler.
It's harmless, right?
Probably even hereditary.
It wasn't too long ago … during the awkward 90s … that I thought dating in my mind would be the best way to have a relationship.
I would pick someone, call him my “boyfriend,” and then never tell the person we were “going out.”
It really was perfect. There was no awkwardness, no arguments, and no worries about what to wear to a romantic dinner … because there would be no romantic dinners.
But that's beside the point.
The point was that when I decided we were through as an imaginary couple, the relationship just ended. No bad feelings.
Oh, how very Lars Lindstrom of me, right?
Which leads me to my budding adolescent. Who, it turns out, has independently found my secret to dating at the ripe old age of 10.
Wait! Back up the truck! Dating? At 10?
I didn't believe it either, so I asked around. Turns out there is a thriving and intricate web of elementary school love connections that work like MatchDotCom without the DotCom.
My fifth-grader explained it to me, with the proviso that I never divulge names.
Turns out, students at this age spend an inordinate amount of their free time trying to establish would-be infatuations.
“If A likes B and C likes D, but A likes D and F is jealous, you might have a mess on your hands she explains. It could lead to d-r-a-m-a.”
The more I dug, the more I understood that “going out” in the eyes of fifth graders is as far away from the common understanding of the term “dating” as humanly possible.
“It works like this: Since everyone is talking about who likes whom, if you tell people who you really like it can get awkward. Dating, let's face it, is awkward. Anyway, they find out who likes you and you decided if you like them too and then you are going out.”
I know …
The explanation doesn't really clear things up.
“So … What do you do when you 'go out'?”
Well … do you hold hands? Do you pass notes?”
“Nope. Not at all. In fact, we just stop talking to each other altogether. It's really easier that way for everyone.”
It all makes perfect sense to me. After all, half of the fluid sloshing around in her DNA pool is mine.