Today, as the smoke clears from the Boston Marathon bomb blasts, I still find myself at a loss for words on the tragedy itself. It’s hard to ignore, but it also hard to address. How long after 9-11 did we start to laugh again? Humor is a release for so much, but when a tragedy is so fresh in our minds, it feels inappropriate.
So it is with that thought that I’d like to share a dialogue I had with my 8 year old boy last Fall on the subject of girls, friends, and girlfriends. There’s a certain honesty, certainty(!) and innocence to his queries and statements on the matter. My wife and I try to protect his innocence which is just so refreshingly pure. This is a little guy who will come home with 10 straws he lifted from a restaurant and spend hours playing with whatever device he can make out of it. One day, only expensive electronic devices will hold his attention like that, but for now, there is still a little time left to enjoy the simplicity of his young mind.
My wife’s been out of town for work the past couple of days and I’ve been a single parent to my 8 year old son (a 3rd Grader) who crawled into bed this morning to wake me and immediately ask how old I was when I had my first girlfriend. Loud breaking sounds are only slightly less ideal as the first thing I hear upon waking.
I’m not one of those people who wakes up quickly in the mornings like he and his mother do, so my voice is pretty gravelly and my brain in a fog as I try to answer.
“Um, what?,” I muster.
“How old were you when you had a girlfriend?”
“Um, well it wasn’t really a girlfriend because–
“Yeah, I know, right? It’s confusing because you have girls that are friends, but not ‘girlfriends,’” and he makes the rabbit ears gesture with his fingers lying down in bed with me starting at the ceiling. He caught us doing that once and now loves making the rabbit ears whenever possible. Of course we made the terrible mistake of teaching him sarcasm as a form of humor, so both the gesture and form are sorely overused these days.
“No,..I mean yes, that’s true, but they weren’t just friends,” I corrected. He rarely forgets a tale we tell, and I think I may have mentioned last year about having a girlfriend for a very short time in 4th grade.
“They? You mean ‘she’, right?” More rabbit ears around “she.”
“Well, yes, but no. I, um…”
I feel like I need to interject something here.
If my wife were having this conversation with him, she would be carefully considering each word down to the articles and conjunctions she would use. Her side of the family grew up with this odd tradition of actually thinking prior to speaking. I know, right? I mean, how weird is that? They grew up in Europe, so maybe that had something to do with it. My side of the family is more like the majority of the citizens in our fair country and we do our thinking long after the words have fallen from our lips and clattered onto the floor. Otherwise, you forget what you’re going to say, right? Exactly. So at this moment I was occupied more with the fog in my brain and the frog in my throat than actually considering carefully what I was going to say next.
“…there were two. I didn’t really understand the whole girlfriend thing and somehow, on the same day, after being completely ignored by all of the girls in 4th grade, TWO of them wanted to go steady. That’s what they called it, ‘going steady.’ So I said yes to both, borrowed some jewelry from my Mom, and gave one pin to each of them the next day at school.”
“Pops, even I know you can’t have 2 girlfriends at the same time.”
“Well, like I said, I was really unclear on the concept. So after a whole day of having 2 girlfriends, I went home and talked to my Mom about. She asked me how I’d feel if one of them had another boyfriend and suddenly, I got it. It made sense. I knew what I had to do.”
“Were you pretty slow as a kid?,” he asked.
“Regarding girls, yes. So the next day, I went back to school and asked the second girl I’d asked (Delilah) for the pin back. It was awkward, because I had only given it to her the day before, and she was conspicuously wearing it over her heart on her sweater when I found her in the library.”
“Awk-ward,” he said in this sing-song way that all 3rd graders in his school are currently stuck on
“Yes, to say the least. I think I made it worse by trying to explain it all logically and expounding on the fact that I didn’t really understand the concept of going steady and what it meant.”
“Yes, we covered that. Know what happened next?”
“I went to find girlfriend number one (Mary Alice) and tell her what an awful mistake I’d made and apologize. I thought she’d be really happy that I’d ended things with Delilah the moment I’d realized the error of my ways.”
“When I found her, she had TWO pins on!”
“Bubba Sterling. She was now going steady with Bubba Sterling as well. Apparently, my polygamous ways were all over the school and everyone had advised her to get a second boyfriend as well.”
My boy started laughing while I just sighed.
“I know, right? It seems really funny now, but I remember feeling even more confused than ever. I didn’t know what to do, so I just asked for my pin back and walked away. The day before, I was a boy with 2 girlfriends and today I had none. I’m not sure if it was because of that confusing experience, but I didn’t have another girlfriend until my Jr. year in High School, when I was 16.”
“Wow, that’s a long time, Pops! I think I’ll pass on the whole girlfriend thing and just have friends that are girls.”
“You’re a wiser 3rd Grader than I was.”
“Yes, I am, but seriously, Pops. TWO girlfriends at the same time? Everybody knows you don’t do that.”
And then he kissed me and slid out of bed towards a bowl of granola and yoghurt that awaited him downstairs.
“Well, that went ‘well,’” I said aloud to myself while using the rabbit ears gesture…