So Abby, my ten year old, and I were doing word-masters last night. Word Masters. Like tell me a synonym for scythe, and what’s the definition of hindrance. There’s a long list of typed words with definitions, and at the bottom of the page, written in faint pencil, a tiny heart. And the letters X & A in the heart. (Actually, it was a letter other than X)
Wait a minute.
“Abby, what’s this?” I point at the heart.
She ignores me. “Do the next word.” She says.
“Who’s X?” I ask her.
“No one. Do another word.”
But the corners of her mouth crinkle upwards and she looks at the ceiling, suppressing something.
Hello? Abby is ten years old, a little gymnast with calloused hands who regularly points out that she can climb higher and faster up the ropes without using her legs than any of the boys in her class can even if they use their feet to hold on. In fact, so far I haven’t heard boys mentioned in anything other than a competitive, sort of one down position. Of course, I’m the product of an intensely co-educational Vassar education, so X could also be a girl.
Wait, I must be wrong about this. Abby is only ten. And not interested, right?
“Who’s X?” I ask again. And now she opens her bright blue eyes wide in what I’ve noticed is her “I’m cute, change the topic” look – which must work with me sometimes because she’s trying it now. Only I don’t change expressions.
“It’s okay to fall in love, Abby. Who’s X?”
I expect her to tell me she was just doodling – it’s a joke – I was just making shapes -- but instead she chews a lip and says,
“He’s in another class.”
How do you know him?
He was in her class last year. He plays during recess with Zeke, a boy who sits near her.
“What do you like about him?” I ask.
“He’s cute. He plays football. I dunno, I don’t get to spend much time with him,” she says. But the smile is effervescent. She is literally aglow.
She’s in fourth grade. Freud wrote about a latency period, when all psychosexual energy stops and gathers for the coming flood of puberty. So much for that. I’m tempted to blow this off completely – she’s just a little kid, but there’s something about that tiny heart on the page and the way she rocks in her chair that tells me – she really feels something. And who am I to doubt its intensity? This is real. It may be raw and less informed – but is the fuel behind her passion any less intense than mine ever was? I’m not so sure. Shakespeare had kids just a few years older killing themselves over love in Romeo and Juliet – who’s to say when it starts?
So I rub her back and say, “Good for you kid. Falling in love is good.” And she smiles in relief.
There’s a lot more I want to say...
But instead I say, “Okay, define hindrance...”