When I was in middle school, the student council would sell carnation-grams on Valentine’s Day. Some popular girl or boy would saunter into your classroom with a bouquet-worth of carnations, and call off names right in front of everyone. This was it. The big show. Would you get a carnation? Would it just be from a friend or would it be from a boy? Would it be from the boy?
In my case, in seventh grade, the boy was Todd B. He was amazing. His hair was feathered. He wore Izod shirts with the collars up. He and his sidekick best friend (who I learned in my 20s was also in love with him) were smart and funny. He looked a bit like a frog and for some reason that worked for me. And did I mention his hair was feathered. Just like mine. Todd had asked me to dance at the last school dance. I’d enjoyed my first slow dance ever to “Open Arms” by a little band called Journey. To this day, when that song comes on, I am taken back in time. I remember the wonder of being close to him, the crunch of my clogs consistently hammering his sneakered feet. It was just one dance. But to me it was forever.
So that Valentine’s Day I received a carnation. I was intensely relieved to not be one of those girls who got none. And when I opened the note I found the best news yet. It was from a Secret Admirer. Yup. You know who that was. Todd. It had to be Todd.
I floated. I preened. I put extra blue eyeshadow and green mascara on at lunch, not caring that there was no way I was getting that crap off my face before my mother picked me up. Let her bust me. I was loved. My Jordache bag burned with the note inside it, just like my heart burned for Todd.
And then, just like that, it was over. I saw my best friend, gasped out the news. She smiled and said, “Silly that was from me. I thought we were making sure we both got one. Secret Admirer! Wasn’t that funny?” Um, no. I felt as disappointed as the day I found out the “surprise” waiting for me at the airport after my nerve-wracking first flight was in fact my aunt and uncle at baggage claim, not the puppy I’d been begging for. I was heartbroken. And I still remember that heartbreak to this day.
So, why the hell did I just send my third-grade son Danny a Pencilgram from a secret admirer?
OK, in my defense, it’s actually from his six-year-old sister Annie, who insists she is going to marry him some day. It didn’t take anything to convince her to do it. Apparently Annie and her best friend think he is quite a looker. The weirdness of that aside, I think he will figure it is from her and be OK with it. I don’t think he is into girls yet. Although tonight when Annie told him she knew someone who had a crush on him, he all of a sudden seemed a bit interested. (Of course, she then said—as he guessed—that it was her. The girl loves love.)
So why did I do it? It was just a reflex, like sticking your hand out when you stop sharp even though you don’t have a kid big enough to sit in the front seat. I just couldn’t bear the thought of him not getting a Pencilgram from anyone. (Note that Annie and her best friend, following in the wise footsteps of all womankind before them, had already covered their bases by sending them to each other.)
He told me one of his friends was sending two Pencilgrams to two different girls, both of which had the message “Be Mine”. You have to admire a third grader who already covers his bases. I asked Danny if he wanted to send any to his friends or, asked in a very nonchalant manner, any girls. He barely looked up from his third plate of pasta and said, nah, he would stick with Valentines. Frankly he seemed uninterested in the whole thing. So of course I assumed he must be lying.
When Danny first started kindergarten I worried for him. I offered him tips on how to make friends, what to do. Finally he said to me, “Mommy, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m not shy like you.”
He was right of course. He isn’t shy. He is a worrier like me, but he has different worries. He probably honestly could care less if he gets a Pencilgram or not. Sometimes the hardest thing about being a parent is not letting your own shit cloud your perception of your kids. You want so bad to keep your children safe, to make their lives more perfect than yours ever was, that you throw caution to the wind and set roadblocks up wherever there might be potential danger. The problem, of course, is that your children have their own roads to follow, and they aren’t yours.