Monday, September 14, 2009

Kiddie Crushes

My First Crush
In first grade, I had a huge crush on a boy with the initials N. B. He had brown hair, bowl-cut style, long lashes over dark eyes. He was nice, not loud like many of the other boys. I remember a little kiss, but not sure if I'm inventing that—some small, innocent kid connection happened below an overhang on the playground where I was hula hooping with some other girls. At home, I took a tiny notepad my mother gave me and wrote a story in it in pencil about how we would be married. I didn't think again about marriage until twenty more years went by. I don't know whatever happened to N. B., and I haven't tried to find him. If I did discover his adult self on social media, I wouldn't contact him; it would be too weird, there's nothing to say. I don't know if he liked me, too, or what "liking" a boy or girl would even mean to a first-grader in the 1970s, but still, I remember him as my very first crush. Fondly.

First Crush on My Son
Things happen younger with each generation, it seems. While reading was the first-grade curriculum in my Chicago school, now it's taught in kindergarten. While first grade was also the time of my first crush, girls now apparently develop mini crushes in pre-K. I remember and want to preserve the memory of the first time I knew a girl had a crush on my son. She was a sweet girl, quiet—this mostly because of language issues, though: she was from Japan and this one school year was her first (maybe only) one in the United States. I'll call her Y. She had a difficult year, cried often when her mother dropped her off, but I suspect she was all right during classroom hours, particularly given the competence of the teacher. For a reason known only to her, Y. became attached to my son. Maybe he'd made a gesture of welcoming her into the class. Around this time, he had been reading the book Yoko, which is also about a girl (well, a cat character who is depicted like a girl) who comes from Japan to attend a kindergarten where other kids make fun of her lunch selections. My son loved this book, and he talked often about the sushi in her bento box, so maybe he was primed to be kind to Y. I don't think she followed him, probably didn't even try to interact directly (or not much). But she did draw him pictures and put them in his "mailbox" right outside the classroom. This is how I knew she liked him. He liked her, too, but in typical boy fashion, had no concept of her "liking" having any special quality to it. Her drawings were some of the sweetest I've seen—and definitely the best among the turning-five set. She'd left stick figures behind, and she drew bodies wearing smart clothes. She drew herself with a ponytail at the side of her head, wearing a dress; she drew my son next to her, and he was always wearing a T-shirt with a number on the front of it. In fact, he did always wear a shirt like that—he loved "number shirts," because they made it easy for him to pretend he was a professional player on some sports team. I was amazed that she observed this about him and thought to put it in her pictures. There was no mistaking who the two drawn people were! And there, floating in the sky between them, a heart. They only had that one year of school together, and I don't know where the family is now: they may have moved back to Japan. I wonder if Y will remember—as my own crush stayed with me, thirty years later—what she felt for my son. She may or may not, but I will always remember her, also fondly, because she's the first one who saw in my son something worth expressing on paper from her own observant soul.

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