My son is an extraordionary human being. I know what you are thinking. Every parent says that. But I’m going to tell you what I mean. Let’s take a little journey, shall we?
I picked Zion up from his father’s house in the usual hurried pace, eager to get home and whip up a typical protein, starch, veggie combo, check homework and baths, and squeeze in a cocktail and some Nurse Jackie (that workout shit can wait until tomorrow). Zion hops into the car, full of man child swag and his general state of curious contentment. We exchange greetings and then he says to me, “Mom, I need your advice. There’s this girl I like.”
I immediately consider driving into a telephone pole.
Let me tell you a little something about Zion. He’s 8. He lives for a hot breakfast, preferably one that includes cheese eggs. He lives for battle. Dance battles, sword battles, basket shooting battles, air guitar battles, dish washing battles, bubble gun battles. Are you seeing a trend here? Now, juxtaposed with this thirst for competition is the soul of a poet. The kid is sensitive. Every feeling is experienced to the fullest. For better or worse. Never slightly embarrassed, he’s mortified. Never amused, he’s laughing uncontrollably. He’s not concerned, he’s fiercely protective. Here’s a montage to give you an idea of what I’m working with here:
So, when he mentioned that he “likes” a girl, I knew I was in for a ride. The kind that leaves you with whiplash.
Recognizing the limits of my health insurance, I decide to keep on course to our house, turn down the radio, and ask in the calmest tone possible, “What girl?”
And with a dreamy look in his root beer brown eyes, he gives me the run down of this delightful young lady. Her name, how he loves the way she flips her hair, her bright smile. I’m doing that motherly nod and glance in the rear view to ensure he knows I’m engaged. However, my blood pressure is rising. He’s 8! Shouldn’t he be making a damn mud pie or something?! I shake off my quiet panic just in time to pull up to the house. I was sad leaving the safety of the car. Now I’d have to face this little dude.
The evening continues with a series of questions because he’s decided that he has to tell her how he feels. Um, hell no you don’t! I take the stance that they can be friends, but he’s too young to be thinking about a relationship. Second grade is far too early for a girlfriend. He assures me (almost as if I’m 8, and he’s 36) that he knows he’s too young, he just wants to tell her he likes her. And, he adds, I always tell him that it’s best to express your feelings. Damn it! Foiled by the parenting boomerang. Not only do these little people listen, they use the nuggets of wisdom against you. Note to self: shut the hell up next time.
He also mentions that he’s concerned that there’s another suitor in the picture, a classmate he has never gotten along with. Boo yow, the competitive nature kicks in. His rival has mentioned that he’s held hands with Zion’s dream girl. And I quote, “Even though she might hold his hand, I KNOW she likes me, because she asked me to push her on the swings.”
He goes on to say that when she first came in to class, his chest twitched, and he got a little cold.
“Why?” I asked.
He looks at me like he’s grown tired of explaining himself. “Because she was so beautiful, Mom.”
Now I just want to give my oldest the bank account numbers, grab my wallet, some string cheese, and dart out the back door. Hell, I’ve always wanted to join the circus. Every circus needs a curvy, smiley woman with big hair, right? However, a merciful escape is in sight as I realize it’s time for me to go see one of my favorite poets at a local university (Staceyann Chin–if you don’t know, you better ask somebody). I leave Zion with his big sis, telling him to sleep on it, decide how he can be a good friend to his crush, and take his mind off of the drama by reading his wrestling magazine. He lets out a sigh, says ok, and I head out.
I return home two hours later, sublimely happy.. Staceyann is magnificent…inspiring, unapologetic, hilarious. I’ve shaken this siren’s hand, she signed my book, and gave me a fist bump. Legendary night. I’m excited to disrobe and hit the hay. I enter my house, and go straight back to my daughter’s room to see how Zion behaved. Recognizing 15 year olds specialize in one word answers, I was surprised to hear her say, “Z was fine, but he refused to go to bed until you got home. He wants you to read his letter to Aurora.”
My literary high disappeared as quickly as it came. A letter? Seriously?! My daughter smirks and returns to her iPod and homework. I want to strangle her. I want her life. No, I actually want a cocktail. I stop myself though, as I had vowed to limit my alcohol intake to the weekends to combat some weight gain. Second note to self: find a calorie free, yet naughty and tasty vice.
I head to Zion’s room, however, we meet in the kitchen. “Hey Mom,” he says, “can you proofread my letter to Aurora?” GULP.
Before you ask, yes, he said proofread. I hold words in the highest esteem, so I have trained my kids to review their work before they turn it in. Again, parenting boomerang. Its real, and its just wrong.
I can’t say anything but, “Ok, love, I’ll have a look at it.”
Z passes me a carefully prepared love letter. It’s folded in eighths, and every surface contains a message of affection and admiration. First you see a cluster of hearts below the phrase, Really Love You. Unfold it further, and you are faced with the question, Could we be better than friends?
Unfolding the page all the way, I delve into Zion’s big old bowl of love gumbo. I call it that because it is one the most fascinating combinations of devotion and ultimatums. He says he likes her because she has a great sense of humor and that she’s pretty, yet also says if she doesn’t like him back, he will be forced to leave the Wolf Club and never play with her again (don’t ask because I don’t friggin know). He wraps up with “by the way, can I have your number,” and a facetious little closing of:
“Just say these two words: girl friend.”
I conceal my panic as I look up from the letter to see his handsome little face, so proud yet self-conscious. All I can eek out is, “Wow, sweetie. You really put it all out there, huh?”
He nods, biting his bottom lip, like he just closed out the hottest hip hop show of the year. if he was someone else’s son, I might admit that
- The kid’s got some game
- He expresses himself better than most adult men
- I might enjoy opening a letter like this (minus the threats to never talk to me again). Don’t judge; it’s hard out here for a pimpstress.
I feel utterly useless and so damn ill equipped. I have taken on racism, sex, drugs, faith, but this shit? Just call me Rain Man. Calories be damned, I make myself a rum and coke and meet Zion in the living room to talk through his letter.
I know he has no business writing love letters. I know professing his love is so not what he goes to school to do. But I know my son. His brain is big, but his heart is even bigger, and I couldn’t risk crushing his little spirit in the name of prudence. I would have got popped for this kind of thing when I was 8, but he ain’t me, and I ain’t my momma. So I walked the super fine line so many parents do of breaking age old traditions, but maintaining rules and boundaries.
I affirm the letter, but tell Zion he can’t give this to Aurora as it’s inappropriate and that school is for learning and friendships, not grown up stuff like boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. Be a great friend to her, play together, be reading partners, but put this love stuff on the back burner awhile. Be a kid.
He’s sad. He sheds a few tears, but agrees to give it a try. Recognizing Zion could use a male point of view, he talks via phone to a great male friend of mine, who reinforces the importance of laying back and just being friends with Aurora. Again, Zion is discouraged, but he takes it like a champ and goes to bed.
I go to bed feeling shell shocked and exhausted. First off, I never had conversations like this with my daughter when she was eight years old. Secondly, there are no words for how friggin unprepared I felt to tackle this one. Lastly, and most importantly, WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?!!!
Well, no one could have prepared me for the morning after…