It was a day that will live in infamy. Something I wasn’t expecting or prepared for. Something that sends chills up my spine and sends my mind into a tailspin: The day my son told me he had a girlfriend. When I heard those words come out of his mouth, I couldn’t believe it. He is EIGHT. He has literally never shown an interest in girls in his entire LIFE. If it’s not Minecraft or Pokemon, it may as well be invisible. He’s not interested. And yet, as he’s washing his hands one afternoon after school, he mentions it in passing. Almost nonchalantly. “Oh, yeah. I have a girlfriend now.” What…
I stopped in my tracks. “Really?” I say, trying not to sound shocked. I was trying to mirror his nonchalant demeanor and appear merely mildly curious, but I think my voice broke a little. I knew if I sounded shocked or made a big deal out of it, he would bail on the conversation and I would jeopardize the trust we’ve built that allows him to open up to me about stuff like this.
“Yeah.” He responds, finishing up drying his hands. I ask what her name is. He says ‘Susie.’ [Obviously her name isn’t Susie, do you think I’m a monster? Just be glad I didn’t pull a Biz Markie and call her “Blah blah blah” a la the smash hit and instant classic ‘Just a Friend’.] I say “Cool. What do you like about her?” He says “I don’t know. I like spending time with her I guess.” I pressed him a bit. “Well why do you like spending time with her? Is she nice? Is she funny? Is she smart?” (I purposely left out ‘pretty’ because I refuse to let that be one of the most important things to consider when choosing a love interest.) He answered simply “Yeah.” Wow. Either he doesn’t know diddly squat about this girl or he was starting to clam up. I knew I had to choose my next words carefully or I could blow the whole thing.
“What do you mean when you say ‘girlfriend?’ What happens when you have one?” I asked tentatively. I wanted to gauge what a relationship meant to someone his age, and how he looks at it specifically. I needed to know what we were getting into. How much does he know?
“Well, it means we just hang out together a lot,” he said. Ah, perfect. That’s what I was hoping he would say. I had recently given him some of the basics of the birds and the bees, and I wanted to know if any of that information was supplemented by friends or people at school. It wasn’t. Yessssss.
“So…does Susie know that she’s your girlfriend? What I mean is, did you ask her if she wanted to be your girlfriend? Or did she ask you?” To me, THIS is one of the most important questions you can ask at this stage of their life. I don’t want to ever imply that he can take ownership of a person just because he likes them. Consent is ignored far too often, and it begins before children are too young to even know what it means. It is an important foundation, and it needs to be at forefront of every relationship so that both parties feel respected and in control of their own boundaries.
“Yes, she said she wants to be my girlfriend,” He responds. Okay. That’s a relief.
He was starting to lose interest in the conversation, so I knew I had to wrap it up in a way that would leave the door open for future conversations. “Well, that’s awesome! It’s so nice to find people who share the same interests as you and are fun to be around.” He nodded and went off to play.
I felt pretty good about that initial conversation. Even though I was screaming on the inside about the incredulity of my sweet, tiny, adorable newborn baby having a girlfriend, I think I stayed pretty collected, so I gave myself a pat on the back. It’s so rare that I do that. It’s rare for many parents, I think, because we are basically told every day that we’re shitty and doing something that will screw our kids up up for life. But not this time! I was proud of myself.
But that didn’t last long.
A few days later, after I volunteered to come to his Field Day at school, things got a little crazy. When we were coming home, he told me who his girlfriend was and what she looked like, because I didn’t think to ask him while we were there. I was surprised to learn it was a girl who just so happened to be hanging around us for most of the day. She was right under my nose, and I was completely oblivious. Maybe it was because they didn’t say a single word to each other all day. They were in the same vicinity the entire time, but didn’t interact even once! I’m still not sure if it was because I was there, or if kids are just really that weird in second grade. Probably both. I would like to say I wasn’t that weird in second grade, but honestly, I think I was worse.
Yep, I was definitely weirder. What’s up with that shirt?
My mind was reeling and so I asked him to come hang out with me while I folded laundry so we could talk about the day and how he thought it went. We happened back around to his girlfriend, and then, he gets this huge grin on his face and says “Well, we’re getting married on Friday.” I froze. “WHAT?!” I said. I couldn’t help myself. “Yeah, we are,” he says. “But it’s just practice married, we aren’t going to get married for real until we’re 12 and she comes back from North Carolina.” WTF. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Wow. This is….sudden. I was not expecting this. Also I’m pretty sure it’s illegal for two 12 year-olds to marry. So you may want to wait a few more years before you tie the knot for real.” He said “Oh…yeah. Well we just want to wait until she gets back from North Carolina, and then get married that same day.” He grins again and looks away. Aw, fuck.
My brain is stuck in a loop of OMG. First of all, what does he mean by ‘coming back from North Carolina?’ Is she moving there? Is she planning a vacation four years in advance? Does she think she needs to go ‘find herself’ somewhere across the country before she settles down with my son? All questions that I still don’t have the answers to.
Then I really blew it.
I said “Why do you need to get married? Why do you need to have a girlfriend right now? WHO CARES ABOUT GIRLS?!?!?!”
Aw, fuck. I done did it now. Cue Adam Sandler. I deserve it.
Danny’s eyes got really wide and he said, “You would literally say that about your own group?” Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no. What did I just say? Why did I say that? I started to backpedal.
“That’s not what I meant! I didn’t mean that girls aren’t important. I love girls. Girls are amazing! All of them!” (Not the show on HBO. The real thing, I mean. I don’t care for the show.) “I just mean, why do you care about having a girlfriend in second grade? There are so many other cool things to do and explore, it seems really young to be thinking about getting married!”
I knew I messed that all up. My response was inappropriate. It sucked. I had to recover somehow so I just apologized for overreacting. Sometimes you just need to suck it up and sincerely apologize for being such a douche to your kids. It’s important for them to see that even as an adult you can acknowledge when you make a mistake and want to make it right. And it worked! His grin returned, so I moved on and asked him more about the wedding and Susie in general. Turns out, she has had a boyfriend before, one of Danny’s very close friends, in fact, and they broke up. He actually said “broke up.” Wtf. Anyway, apparently her ex-boyfriend said that he liked her, but didn’t really mean it and had no interest in getting practice married, so she moved on. Good for her. Kick any man to the curb who isn’t ready to commit when you are ready to commit. Trying to force it or giving him an ultimatum will just make him resent you, and pretending like you’re fine with staying casual when you really aren’t will just eat you up inside and make you unhappy. F that noise. Respect, Susie. Respect.
Then I asked him more about the ceremony. He said his friends aren’t going because they think weddings are boring and stupid. Typical. Get your shit together, groomsmen, and just be there for your friend, ffs. He also said that Susie’s best friend is planning it, and is making and handing out formal invitations. Wow! He overheard them talking, and she said “This is going to be epic!” Oh man. It sounds like Susie chose the right person for her maid of honor/wedding planner. Such enthusiasm! I told him that I think it’s going to be great, but that his grandparents would probably be disappointed that they weren’t invited. And also that I hope he chooses his brother as his best man when he finally DOES get married for real.
Well, the day came and he woke up bright and early. He got dressed in a pair of track pants and a button down collared shirt. WOW! I would show you the picture I took, but I have a feeling that I am already going to incur his wrath later on when he finds out I’ve been putting all his business on blast in the form of a blog since he was a baby. We will cross that bridge when we get to it. He asked me to gel his hair, which he never does, so I could tell this was an important day to him. I kissed him and wished him well and he was off to what is easily a very big day in a young man’s life: The day you get practice married.
When he came home I asked him how it went. He said that Susie’s best friend was also the officiant, and that they hugged. It was just the three of them in attendance. It sounded like a very elegant, intimate affair. They didn’t kiss, they just hugged. And then they went their separate ways. I asked him how married life is. He shrugged.
In short, I wish I knew how to handle the whole situation. I mean, I think I did okay, but I really wasn’t expecting this from him for quite some time, and it completely overwhelmed me. I am still overwhelmed. Once your kid starts thinking about romantic feelings and forming real relationships, everything changes. Now I feel like I really need to give him the entire birds and the bees spiel, AND a whole talk about romantic relationships. I just feel this huge pressure mounting. These are his formative years and now that he’s thinking about girls, I can’t help but feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. Having boys means I am responsible for teaching them how to interact with and treat women. With rape culture so prevalent in our society and women still being treated as second class citizens, it is my responsibility to change the thought patterns that have created this shitty situation we’re in and raise the next generation of men. I want him to know the struggles that women have faced and be mindful of that. I want him to be respectful and kind and understand that the world doesn’t revolve around him and his own wants and needs. I want him to understand that he doesn’t have to buy into the toxic masculinity that tells men they need to be tough and aggressive to be considered a man. I want him to be true to himself while also being true to others and forming strong, healthy relationships with men and women alike. There is just so god damn much to teach him about love and relationships, about gender and society, about injustice and oppression, and I didn’t think I would need to start so soon.
But oh, well. I have somehow managed to figure out this parenting thing for the most part. At least up until this point. I guess I can only take it one day at a time and hope they don’t end up in prison, or worse, expelled.