I never thought it would come to this. I thought my daughter’s crush was cute. She likes a boy. She wants to marry him. How sweet that is in her four-and-a-half-year-old world. That’s why I was so shocked and sad about what happened last week.
We went to a birthday party. When she got the invitation, my daughter was beside herself! “Aiden! We’re going to Aiden’s party!” She loved Aiden. Aiden was the kid I heard about every day in the car after preschool, as in, “I didn’t get to marry Aiden today.” Apparently Aiden isn’t the marrying kind, but that was ok with her, she still had a shot with his brother, Liam, who she’d fallen for first anyway.
She met Liam last summer at camp, but he went on to first grade, leaving Aiden to function as my daughter’s object of affection. She still gets giddy at the mention of his name.
So it was no surprise that when we got the party invitation, my daughter was all over it. She chose Aiden’s gift and card. Everything had to be perfect for him. On the day of the party, she wanted to wear her red party dress. I shot the dress down because it was going to be more of a running around playing party. She picked out another dress and she was ok with it.
When we got to the party, we walked in, holding hands, and my daughter took in the kids playing ping pong and foosball and bumper pool and she spotted Aiden at the back of the room. She dragged me to a bench against the wall. “Let’s sit over here,” she said, hanging on my arm.
“Honey, look at all this stuff to play with. Don’t you want to play?”
“Let’s just sit here,” she said, still clutching my arm.
Her girlfriends came over. “Hi! Wanna come play?”
“No. I’m just gonna stay it here right now,” she said.
“We’re going upstairs.”
So we sat. And watched the kids play. I managed to get her to take her coat off, but that was it. “Sweetie,” I said, “You were so excited about this party. Don’t you want to play?”
“No,” she said.
“Aiden’s over there.”
“You go to school with Aiden every day. What’s the big deal?”
“I wanna go upstairs. Come with me.” Hallelujah.
So we went upstairs to the gymnasium. The kids were kicking soccer balls and playing basketball. And there was Liam, kicking a ball around with his dad. My daughter grabbed my arm harder. “Liam!” she stage-whispered.
“Yeah, why don’t you go kick a soccer ball. Your friends are out there,” I said. Her girlfriends were out in the gym, kicking a ball, in Liam’s immediate vicinity.
“I need different shoes,” she said, looking down at her rain boots.
“Sweetie, those are the shoes that you picked. You can play in those. It’s just kicking a ball,” I said.
“Let’s go back downstairs!” she said urgently.
I sighed. “Okay.”
So we went back downstairs, and on our way, Liam passed by, about a foot from her. She dragged me to our previous bench. This was getting ridiculous.
I leaned down to her, “Honey, don’t you want to play something? You were so excited about this party. Don’t you want to have fun, now that we’re here?”
“I’m too scared!” she said.
“Why are you scared?”
“Because of Liam,” she said.
“Well, you don’t have to be around him to play. This is a big place.”
“I’m too scared,” she said.
Sigh. We sat there for a while. I watched the clock. We’d been wallflowers for half an hour already. This was ridiculous.
“Honey, we came for the party. If we can’t be part of the party, then we might as well go home,” I said.
“Well, then, do something, Sweetie.” Just then her friends came by again.
“I’m going upstairs,” she said. Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah. I got up and chatted with the moms.
Two minutes later she came back downstairs, grabbed my arm, and hung on it. “Let’s go sit down,” she said.
“What happened, Sweetie?”
“Liam’s up there.”
“Yes he is,” I said.
“I’m too scared,” she said.
“Okay, well, if we can’t be part of the party, we should go home,” I said.
“I want to go home,” she said.
“Okay,” I said. I looked for the hostess and told her, got Rose’s goody bag, and we left.
As exasperating the situation was for me, I knew my daughter was hurting, so I decided not to go straight home. In the car, I said, “Honey, you don’t have to be scared of boys. I know that sometimes talking to them may seem scary, but they’re not as great as you imagine they are. They’re just like you.” I said.
The thing was, I knew exactly how she felt, and I felt kind of responsible for her feeling it. I was always afraid to talk to boys. I used to build them up in my head until they became gods, and a mere mortal like me could never approach such an exalted being. Can that be hereditary? I wondered. Did I pass on a gene that will make every romantic foray in her life an infinitely painful silent obsession?
I had to find some way to nip this in the bud. “And Honey,” I said, “You’ve got to talk to boys you like. That’s how you find out whether they like you. And if they do, great. But if they don’t, you don’t want to waste your time on them. You want to find one who really does like you. I had to talk to a lot of boys who didn’t like me before I talked to Daddy.”
She was silent. “You talk to boys at school. You talk to Aiden at school. You CAN talk to boys. I know it,” I said. “They’re not as great as you think they are. You spend all this time thinking about them and you imagine that they’re so great, and they’re not.”
“Yes, they are!” she said.
“Honey, they’re just like you,” I said. “They’r not so scary.”
She was silent again. We arrived at our destination. I gave it a rest.
The next day was Monday. After I picked her up from school, I thought we should attack this topic from a different angle. “You know what I was thinking, Honey?”
“I was thinking about how lucky Liam would be if you talked to him in the first place. You’re way out of his league. He can only hope to talk to a girl as good as you.”
“No he can’t!”
“Honey, he’s not as great as you think he is. He’s a good guy, but he’s not anywhere near as good as you.”
“Yes, he is!”
“Honey, if I were Liam, I would be amazed that a girl as great as you would even look at me, much less talk to me,” I said.
“No you wouldn’t!”
I gave up. I tried. I tried to counteract what must be an innate incompetence in dealing with the opposite sex. I was terrified/obsessed with my crushes from age seven, to, I don’t know, seventeen? Matters of the heart were always unsuccessful and always very painful for me.
I don’t want her to grow up like that. I can’t stand to watch it. She’s so competent and assertive in every other area of her life – so unlike me – that I want her to be that way with boys too. As her mother, I don’t want her to be THAT successful with boys, especially once she hits puberty, but I don’t want her to endure the pain I endured growing up. Fortunately, I’ve got a lot of time to work on this. The question is, what do I do?