Emilia is in love.
“Mommy, can I make a present for Josh? Because I love him.”
– “You LOVE Josh?”
“Yes. But it’s not love like getting-married love. And it’s not kissing-love. It’s FRIEND-love.”
– “Oh, good. Wait… what do you know about kissing?”
“That it makes your cheeks go red.”
“But I don’t kiss Josh.”
“You only kiss the person that you find who is your one special person and that’s the only person you kiss and then you get married. I’m not going to marry Josh.”
“But I love him anyway. Can I give him a present?”
She’s filled a gift bag, left over from Christmas, with cast-off bits of her artwork and stray stickers and ribbons and buttons and various what-nots that she has gathered and deemed precious. She comes to me with a drawing that she had presented to me as a Christmas gift and asks if she can take it back. “I think that Josh would like it more, Mommy. I can make you another one.”
I say yes – how many such drawings can a mother have, anyway? – and she adds the drawing – which was purportedly of me, but will now, I’m guessing, be explained as a drawing of the Tooth Fairy or the Eyeglasses Queen or some such to forestall any weirdness around giving pictures of one’s mother to the object of one’s affection – to the bag. She then attaches a used iTunes gift card to the bag with an expanse of red ribbon. “That’s so he’ll he know it’s his,” she says. “Because that’s him.” She points to the dancing, iPodded shadow figure on one side.
“Really?” I ask.
“No,” she says. “I’m just pretending.”
Emilia and Josh, by Emilia. Emilia is, inexplicably, the one with the long dark pigtails. Josh is the one that looks like a reconstructed Toady. Let’s not analyze that.
“Josh isn’t old enough to know what an iTunes card is, is he?” my husband asks, addressing no-one in particular. “Or will he just think that I-T-U-N-E-S spells ‘I Love You’ and overlook the fact that the purchase code is scratched off?”
Emilia rolls her eyes, and I wonder what it is that I’m more discomfited by: the fact that she is four years old and already rolling her eyes at us, or the fact that she is four years old and in love?
It’s the latter. By a mile, it’s the latter.
First love is adorable, of course. But she’s four. That she’s savvy enough to understand that her affection for Josh is not the same as the affection shared between me and her father is heartening, but still: love. Love is awesome, but it also, inevitably, involves pain, and I am just not ready for that.
That’s right: me. I am not ready for that.
Emilia is already learning that it can hurt to love someone in any capacity. She tells me that there are some days when Josh doesn’t play with her the most, and that sometimes Josh would rather be with the boys than with her. “It makes me nervous, Mommy,” she tells me, “because I want to play with him and I don’t like how it feels when he doesn’t want to play with me.” She tells me this, and my heart goes OOF.
I tell her the usual things, give the usual advice – you have lots of friends, sweetie, lots of people to play with, don’t let Josh’s choices hurt you, just worry about having fun and not who’s playing with whom – but I know that it doesn’t make the feelings go away and I know that I shouldn’t want those feelings to go away for her. I know that this is all a part of the terrible, awesome beauty of loving friends and family and whomever else our heart finds itself drawn to. I know that we can’t experience the bliss of love without having some experience of the pain; I know that the joy of being close to a beloved only becomes more clearer when we feel the ache of being apart. I know that we all have to learn that love is both light and dark, I know that we are all immeasurably enriched by learning that love is both light and dark, even in its best incarnations (and I know that the time will come for teaching that too much dark signals an absence of love, but that is another story that I cannot yet even bear to contemplate), but she is four. Four.
She’s still just a baby. She’s my baby, which, yes, she will be forever, but for now she is still very much my wee darling baby girl, and she still needs my care and protection. And I want to protect her heart for as long as I can.
So, Josh: WATCH YOURSELF.
When was your first love? When did your *kids* first fall in “love”? What are you going to do when they do? OH GOD it just gets so much HARDER from here on out, doesn’t it?
(Also, THE GIFT – the iTunes-card-adorned catch-all Grab Bag Of Love that Emilia has put together for Josh – what do I do with that? She really wants to bring it to school for him, to present to him in the schoolyard, and I, every morning, move it discreetly out of view so that she doesn’t remember to ask to bring it, because, I don’t know. Because it just seems risky, a public, gift-enhanced declaration of love? Because the bag is gloriously strange and I don’t know that the strangeness that I think is so awesome will be so appreciated by a four year old boy – and all their classmates? Because I want to protect? Am I right to do this? Or should I just let her let freaky love-flag fly, in all of its wonderfully bizarre glory?)
Today is National Delurking Day, which, because I’m Canadian, I hereby declare it International Delurking Day. Comport yourselves accordingly.
I’ve been asked whether I might peg any donations I’m making to help efforts in Haiti to the number of comments that I get today. I won’t be doing that, for banal reasons that I’ve explained here. I’ll just be donating as much as I possibly can. You should, too. Canadians might consider the Canadian Red Cross or Unicef Canada or – one of my very favorite charities - Save The Children. Americans, you have lots of options, too, but the Red Cross is a good place to put dollars. And Compassion International (and Compassion Canada) does wonderful work, and has banners and buttons to help promote donating for Haiti. Or, just put your money and/or efforts wherever you think they’ll be put to best use. It’s the helping that matters, not the how.
But you should still comment. Just because it makes everyone feel good