Yesterday as we walked home from kindergarten, Hazel and I followed our usual routine: I ask about school, trying my darndest to eke out any and every detail I can, and she answers.
"So, what else can you tell me about today?"
"Well, I am in love with a boy in my class."
Well indeed. Hundreds of thousands of thoughts and feelings exploded inside me in reaction to this. Which is why I'm writing this post - so I can get them out, since I held them in at the moment. Had to think quick, react quick. Where did "in love" come from? She has been in church and preschool classes with boys her whole life, once even claiming to have a "boyfriend." But never, ever has "in love" come up. Really? We really have this already? I know it doesn't mean anything, but she has the language now. Did she already have it and just now decide to use it? Or did she pick it up at recess? Seems a bit coincidental this comes up 4 days into kindergarten.
"How do you know you're in love?"
"Well, I like the way he looks. He's handsome." Again, I'm bursting with thoughts. First, naturally, that looks aren't everything. But second, what does he look like? What's her taste? I'm dying of curiosity.
"What's his personality like?"
"What's personality?" OK. Now we have an entry point. Something we can talk about so I don't tell her she's too young to be in love, that I don't want her thinking or feeling that way, that it's too early and she needs to learn how to read first. Um, but how do you explain personality to a 5-year-old and why am I not prepared for this?
"Personality is how someone talks, what they're interested in, how they treat other people, what they like to do." Not bad for flying by the seat of my pants, pushing a double stroller uphill in 100% humidity.
"Well he's got a high voice (of course, he's five) and he's sooo nice and he plays with the other boys."
Turns out she has never spoken to him (an admirer!) and for awhile couldn't remember his name; it's unusual. She asked if we could invite him for a playdate and I said she needed to get to know him better and try to talk to him or play with him at school; that they should become buddies before we invite him over. I was feeling pretty good about this conversation, thought I'd handled it well, until dinner time.
Ed asked Hazel about school and she told him a few things. Then I said, "There's big news! Hazel is in love." I was not teasing, or did not mean to be, but Hazel turned pink, ducked her head, and looked at me pleadingly, shaking her head.
And that's when I realized, really realized, we are in uncharted waters. It's more than liking a boy at school. It's being insecure about it. It's having secrets. It's having a new, separate life from home.
And it's me, walking a tightrope, starting now, to be what she needs me to be, even though what that is, is in constant flux. Last night, that was someone trying to smoothly change the subject so she doesn't feel embarrassed or betrayed. (Never mind that I'm now writing a blog post about it!) Today, thank heavens, it was someone to give her a popsicle, a bath and an extra story at bedtime.
Tomorrow, I just pray I can be what tomorrow needs.