My first crush was on a freckled boy named CW. He had wavy brown hair and dressed up like Charlie Brown for Halloween. I chased him around the playground. He and his friend ran away from me. After a year and a half of chasing however, he kissed my hand during circle time.
Naturally, I feigned disgust. As I dramatically wiped my hand on the carpet, CW laughed as his friend said, “You’re just wiping it in. That means you loooooove him.”
“Yeah,” confirmed CW.
I probably did. As much as a first grader can love, anyway.
We moved after that year and I never saw CW again, although I do have a picture of him at the only birthday party I ever had. I think it was my mom’s way of softening the blow—a party right before we moved.
Second grade was a tough year for me. I was the new girl and awkward. My teacher that year, Ms. Busic cast me as the lead in the school play: Bambi. She told my mom, when she looked at me, she saw Bambi. While I did have brown hair and big brown eyes, I think it was the awkwardness and timidity that resonated. Like a fawn, I was trying to learn how to walk in my new world. And, like a fawn, I found myself fumbling.
My cast-mate Thumper, was a little boy named Tim. Tim was also quiet. I liked him. He was shy like me.
In third grade, Ben had my heart. A pretty blond girl named Melanie and I fought over him. One day he’d like her, the next me. It went on that way for some time. Looking back it could have only been weeks. Time is different when you’re a kid. Weeks feel like months, and months feel like an eternity.
By the time fourth grade rolled around, Ben had moved away and I had moved on.
That year, our elementary school underwent renovations. The school was relocated to a set of trailers behind the middle school. We had no playground to play on, just a large slab of blacktop. If you picture an internment camp, you’re not too far off. It was rather pathetic.
Against this sad and lonely backdrop, I developed a secret crush on a boy in class. All my crushes—save for my first, in which I chased him around yelling his name—were fairly secret. One morning, to impress this boy, I asked my mother to curl my hair. I had the limpest, straightest hair you ever did see. It was the 80s and big curly hair equaled beauty.
My mom obliged. She was very sweet to do it. Not being much of a girly-girl herself, she did what she could. I looked in the mirror and approved.
I boarded the bus and the looks began. I got off the bus and trekked across the blacktop to the trailer. I walked in, took off my coat and went to my desk. And then, the laughing started.
It grew louder. Kids were pointing at me, telling me I looked ridiculous. They laughed behind covered mouths. In that moment, time stood still.
I ran and hid in the coats. When the teacher came in, she saw me crying, heard the laughter and asked what happened. A few of the girls came over and told her.
The teacher gave me a hug, stood me up and put her arm around me. Then she addressed the class.
“I have never been so disappointed. How could you possibly treat another student like that? Each one of you get up and grab a dictionary. Now.”
She went up to the blackboard and started writing words: friendship, kindness, compassion…
“You will look up each of these words and write the definition. And then you will apologize.”
She was an incredible teacher. My most favorite ever.
While my early crushes ended painfully, I learned something from my each one:
CW: perseverance eventually pays off
Tim: there’s power in a quiet friendship
Ben: never play second fiddle
Chris: don’t hide yourself, be brave even when they laugh at you
My daughter is 10 now. And I watch her. She’s quiet like I was. Sensitive too. There’s so much going on in her head; things she doesn’t want to share.
A couple weeks ago, she ran into a boy from her class at the grocery store. Normally, she delivers a cheery, “Hi!” when she sees someone from school while we’re out. This time however, I watched her body language change.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Just a kid from my class.”
“Huh.” After a pause I whispered, “Do you know his name?”
“Well, why don’t you go say hi?” I said in my most nonchalant voice.
There’s a funny thing that happens in the grocery aisles, for about 5 aisles or so, you run into the same person, whether you want to or not. They’re going up. You’re walking down. It becomes awkward. Do you keep saying hi? Do you pretend not to notice? We ran into this boy a few more times. Each time both my daughter and the boy looked away.
After a pause, she said, “I just can’t say hi. I feel strange.”
“Like a fluttery feeling?”
“That’s normal. It’s okay.”
We passed this boy and his dad one last time. There were shy glances. I couldn’t take it.
“Hi there! I think our kids are in class together.”
“Hi,” my daughter waved.
“Hi,” the boy waved back.
I’m not sure what lessons my daughter will learn from her early crushes. I just hope I have the presence of mind to let her learn them.