On Friday, we had one of my older son’s friends for dinner. As we sat around the table stuffing pizza into our mouths, the talk turned toward the school dance at the end of September. I was only half paying attention, worried about pepperoni grease staining the rug and reminding my kids not to talk with food in their mouth, when I heard something unexpected.
“Ryan asked Lexi and Jack asked Anne-Sophie and Alex asked Ava and Jason asked Angelina and Diego asked Paula and…”
I sat frozen, a piece of greasy pizza half-way to my mouth, listening as my almost-not-quite-ten year old told me he was thinking about asking a girl to the dance. Not the girl I assumed he had a crush on, but a very sweet, very smart girl in his class. Extra bonus, I like her mom.
Somewhere between last week and this, my son decided to ask a girl to the dance. My son, who on a Tuesday wants a new stuffed animal and on a Thursday, a laptop; the one who on a Wednesday is still happy to play in the playground and on a Friday is sullen and bored. My son, sitting across from me with pizza grease on his chin, flicking his skater boy hair out of his eyes. My son, who has been the blissfully unaware object of affection of several young girls. My son…….was thinking about asking a girl to the dance.
I had blinked, and now apparently, I’d missed it.
“Can I e-mail her?” he said, in between mouthfuls of crust.
“No go, bud. There are some things you have to do in person,” I said. “And this is one of them.”
Then, because I live for moments like this, those human experience moments I force on my sons because they are boys and will most likely never willingly ask me to share them, I launched into the story of the first time a boy told me he liked me.
We were sitting in the elementary auditorium watching The Rescuers. While Bernard and Miss Bianca were busy trying to come up with a plan to rescue Penny, I was listening to Johnny D* tell me there was someone in our neighborhood that he liked.
My heart flipped a bit. “Is it Denise?” I said, because all the boys liked Denise. He shook his head. “Tracy?” Again, a shake of the head. “Kim? Cheryl? Kristen?” I did a mental lap around the neighborhood in my head, naming all the girls I could think of. Each one got a negative shake of the head. At last, I was out of names. “Then who is it?” I asked with the breathlessness of a ten-year-old girl whose crush might just maybe be about to say her name. Just when I was about to get to the best part of the story, the part when Johnny D said my name, my son looked at me over his pizza and said, “Idiot.”
“Hey! He wasn’t an idiot,” I said.
“Not him,” my son said, “you! I can’t believe you didn’t name yourself!”
That’s when I knew. Even though he was thinking about asking a girl, it wasn’t because he had the butterflies for her, it was because he’s testing the water.
At my son’s school, this seems to be the thing in 5th grade. Last year is was all about looking up dirty words in the dictionary. 5th grade seems to be about boys and girls asking each other to the disco. A few of them are putting the tip of their pinky toe in the chilly waters of romance, testing to see if they can stand the cold. Some of them will be wading in soon, breaking the waves and starting to body surf. But for most of them, this will be a one time thing before they retreat back to shore and play on the sand for a little while longer.
I don’t think my son has romantic feelings for this or any girl. He says she is nice, that she is funny, which is all that should matter to him at this point. Yet over the weekend he was in a state. What should he say, when should he ask. I told him he didn’t have to ask anyone, that he didn’t even have to go. I told him if his friends were egging him on he didn’t need to listen to them. I told him there was plenty of time in his life to do this stuff, to ask out girls. I told him that I knew some of his other friends were going solo. He assured me he knew what he wanted to do.
On Monday morning he asked me when the right time to talk to her would be. I told him I always find these things easier to do sooner rather than later. He nodded solemnly. I wished him luck.
“Well, what did she say?” I held my breath.
“She kind of said she didn’t know.”
Still, he didn’t seem too cut up by the whole thing.
I am still trying to gauge how far he has stuck his foot in the water. My spidey-mom sense isn’t picking up any signs of butterflies, any crush clues or swoon signals. Last night at dinner we had a conversation about how there were going to be times when he likes someone who doesn’t like him back and times when someone likes him that he doesn’t feel the same way about. We talked about how it is important to respect the other person, how it is never ok to treat a girl differently just because she is a girl.
Later, as he was doing homework, he got an email (an e-mail!) with a response. Her answer was yes.
On his way to school today he said to me, “I’m glad I asked her and that she said yes because now I can go back to thinking about Pokemen and Minecraft without worrying about it.”
Maybe this won’t be his Johnny D story. Maybe this won’t be the story he remembers, the one he tells his children when they are sitting around the table eating pizza. The one he writes about. That’s ok. For now, I’m happy to see him pull his toe out of the water. Happy to see him run back to the shoreline. He’s got a few more sand castles to build before he starts breaking any real waves. Or hearts.
**not his real name, sillies. He may read this, you know ;-).