This is a hard blog to post, not only because the subject matter is difficult for me to talk about, but it's a subject I was hoping to avoid for another, oh, say, twenty years or so!
My daughter and I were driving back home from her school one afternoon last week. She and I were the only two in the car -- my little one decided she was too bushed to join us and plopped herself down for a nap, so my mom came upstairs to keep an eye on her while I picked up my oldest daughter. R. must have felt it was the perfect opportunity to talk to me about something, because after the average line of questioning was finished (How was school? Did you do anything fun? What did you do in class today? Did you make any new friends?), she turned to me, and tentatively asked, "Mom, would you be upset with me if I told you I had a crush on a boy?"
It was all I could do to keep myself from slamming on the brakes, smashing my head against the steering wheel, and shrieking out, "NOOOOOOOOOO!!! Not my baby!!! You can't have my baby!!!!!"
But, you'll be proud and relieved to know I remained calm. And my forehead remained in tact.
I thought very carefully for a moment, before answering her. Give her too much information, and she'll feel overwhelmed. Give her not enough, and she won't be prepared to know what's probably going to happen next.
I couldn't look at her. To see her face would have been too much. My adorable, 9-and-three-quarters girl. My BABY girl. Instead, I kept my eyes on the road as I began to speak. I asked her who the boy was that she liked, and was completely relieved when she said the name of a boy that I just adore. He's a sweet kid, and his parents are good people, too. That's always a help. Not that I was making wedding plans, or anything! :)
Then, as matter-of-factly as I could, I said, "Of course I'm not upset with you, lovey. J. is a sweet boy, and I can understand the reasons why you might have a fondness for him. But, you need to know that you're going to have LOTS of crushes in your lifetime. Some may be meaningful, and some may be in passing, but they're all a part of teaching you how to deal with true love, when it comes along."
The question that came out of her mouth at that point was one of the most touching things I've heard in a long time; "You mean like the kind of love that you and Daddy have?" It was such a lovely testament, to know that my kids can plainly see just how my husband and I feel about each other, even after all these years.
"Yes, sweetie," I said, now fighting back the tears, "just like your Dad and me. You have to understand that giving your whole heart to someone is like giving them a very precious gift. And, they have to PROVE to you that they've earned that gift. It's not something you want to give away lightly, because if you do, you're going to get terribly hurt. You're going to get hurt anyway....that's unfortunately part of falling in love with the wrong person sometimes. But, my only hope for you is that when you're REALLY ready to give your heart away completely, that you find a man just like your father. Someone you can trust, someone who's your very best friend, and someone who can love you with all their heart, too. Until then, you do your very best to keep your heart protected."
She listened very intensely, wanting to seemingly grasp every single subtle nuance of what I was saying; to absorb it into her system, and to adjust it so that it fit, somehow, into that tiny, girl-like body of hers. At least that's what I hoped she was doing.
I know this marks the very beginning of my daughter's growing up years, and I know I have to let it happen, even though I'm certain of the pain and the heartache she's inevidably going to suffer through as a result. As much as I'd love to protect her and keep her from feeling that sort of emotion, it's as certain as the world rotating on its axis. To everything there is season. Turn, turn, turn.
But, as we got out of the car, and she ran to the garage, grabbed her bike, plopped her helmet haphazardly on her head, and began to ride away, I hoped that particular rite of passage would take its sweet old time.