February 12, 2016
By Ekta R. Garg
The Valentine season has brought love right to our dining table. But it’s not necessarily solicited, and it’s certainly not reciprocated.
“K. has a crush on me,” Seven declared in the middle of the week.
“Oh, really?” I replied, keeping my tone neutral. I knew I had to tread carefully on a matter like this with my younger child. I wanted to take my cue from her on how to proceed.
“Yeah, and I don’t like it.”
Welcome to the trials and tribulations of love in the second grade. But the longer I listened to my child’s story, the more it sounded familiar to me. Because these aren’t the trials and tribulations of just the second grade. Sometimes they can transcend to the seventh grade too.
But more on that as we move along.
“Why don’t you like it?” I asked.
“I just don’t want anyone to have a crush on me,” she said. “I feel like telling a teacher.”
I didn’t know what to say. I certainly didn’t want to disappoint Seven right away with the reality that in this particular case, a teacher either wouldn’t intervene or wouldn’t be able to find a solution to satisfy her. So I stayed away from that point for the moment.
I had no idea how Seven would feel if I shared her dilemma with her father, so I decided to wait to share it until after the kids when to bed. Before dinner on Wednesday night, though, Seven beat me to it. She sat with the rest of the family at the table waiting for their meal and made the same declaration.
“K. has a crush on me.”
“Oooh,” her father said in a teasing, but gentle, tone.
They wandered into the kitchen and watched as I finished prepping dinner.
“I don’t like it,” she repeated for him.
“Why not?” he asked.
“I just don’t think I’m the kind of girl who people have a crush on,” she responded sagely, although frustration touched her voice too.
Her words rang through my head like an echo. I’ve said the same thing about myself in hindsight in describing my years in middle and high school. I attended a small private school and had the same classmates for the bulk of my years from elementary school until graduation. My classmates and I functioned more like honorary brothers and sisters; while a few of them did date within the class and outside of it, those dating equations never included me. I was the girl they came to for help with homework or when they needed a friend to listen. My classmates often ended up at our house after school when we needed to plan a variety of class functions.
While the core unit of classmates stayed the same, however, we did have a few kids drift through our class and school and then out again. Seven’s expression of thought made me think of one of those kids. This boy didn’t graduate with my class, but I remembered him in situations like these for good reason.
“I’m too sensitive,” Seven went on, “and I don’t like stuff like this.”
“Really?” her father asked.
“Yeah. And I’m at the bottom of K.’s list,” she added.
“His list?” we asked.
“Yeah, his list of all the girls in the class. I’m the last one on the list.”
“Does that bother you?” Nine asked.
“No,” Seven said right away. She reiterated that she didn’t like the fact that K. had a crush on her.
“You should consider it a compliment,” Nine said.
“Well, I don’t,” Seven said.
Most girls, at almost any age, would like the romantic attentions of someone, but when I heard about K.’s list I knew right away how Seven felt. Again, I’ve found myself on a list too. Like my daughter, the list didn’t flatter me either.
When my classmates and I were in the seventh grade, a new boy joined our class after the school year had already started. Rumors rippled across the small pond where we attended school about why the boy hadn’t joined at the start of the year. None of the rocks of gossip we tossed floated, but we had fun skipping them anyway.
One thing about this boy held true: from the moment he joined our class, he did what he could to catch the attention of the girls. We never found out whether he had an actual list, but it certainly felt that way. He started with the prettiest, most outgoing girls, and asked them out one by one. By the time he got to me, it was almost Valentine’s Day.
Our teacher had excused herself for a few minutes; I don’t remember what took her out of the classroom or how long she was gone. Certainly it was long enough for this boy to come down the aisle to my desk, get down on one knee, and ask me to be his girlfriend. He didn’t make any effort to keep his voice low or private, and his “proposal” stirred up the cauldron of adolescent talk.
I don’t remember the verbal response I gave; I do remember turning away from him in embarrassment. No one had every spoken to me like that before. I truly didn’t know how to answer his flamboyant request. I did know, however, that I didn’t like him, and I had no interest in being his “girl.” So I basically just ignored him for the rest of the day, for sure, and the rest of the year. Within days of my nonverbal rejection, he moved on to someone else.
Yesterday as we drove to school, the discussion of K.’s crush continued.
“Mamma, I know you say I should take it as a compliment that K. has a crush on me, but it makes me uncomfortable,” she said.
“Well, I can understand that,” I said. Oh, boy, could I. “But as long as he doesn’t force you to do or say anything you don’t want, as long as he keeps his feelings to himself, it’s okay for him to feel that way.”
“I feel like I should tell a teacher,” she said, reiterating her method for handling the whole situation, her confidence in her teachers resolute and absolute.
“You could do that if you wanted,” I said, wanting to spare the teachers any awkward encounters, “but as long as K. isn’t doing anything wrong, they really can’t do anything about it.”
“Just ignore him,” Nine said.
Huh. Go figure. I guess one of the desirable responses still holds true no matter what generation you’re in.
Seven remained dubious on the entire situation, but I think she also knew deep down that she really couldn’t do much about it. (K. hasn’t even expressed his affection for Seven directly to her face; as often happens in these cases, he told another classmate who told Seven.) Matters of the heart, as she’s learning and will learn in greater detail in the coming years, don’t get solved by simply telling a teacher. Sometimes they don’t even get solved by ignoring the one offering the affections. But they do come up, and in some ways I think it’s quite sweet that someone has thought of my daughter as worthy of love.
Even if it’s in the second grade.