Cuddling and reading Harry Potter in bed with our daughter is one of the highlights of my evenings. Our nine year old is often talkative and revealing at bedtime, especially as we’re giggling about Ron and Hermione’s constant bickering. Little did I know these beloved characters’ mutual crush would provide fertile ground for an eye-opening, painful conversation.
After a juicy discussion of Ron and Hermione’s flirtatious antics, I playfully broached the subject of crushes, asking if my daughter had a crush on any kids in her class.
“I don’t have a crush on anyone,” she answered, avoiding my gaze.
Certain she was on the verge of opening up to me, I pressed on. “When I picked you up from school this afternoon, I thought I saw you staring at Joe, but not talking with him. Are your feelings for him similar to Hermione’s feelings for Ron?”
“No, mom, not at all,” she said. “I am nervous around him. But I’m nervous around all boys. I’m scared to talk to them, and I don’t know why.”
As tears flooded her lashes, Ava explained that she didn’t understand why she was so uncomfortable when all the other girls seemed to interact well with boys.
So much for my maternal instincts. Where I perceived an innocent first crush, my daughter was experiencing real discomfort. As I held her and brushed the hair out of her eyes, I realized I had little experience-based wisdom to impart on this topic. My own lack of male friends throughout my school years and beyond was not a formula I’d want my daughters to emulate.
The best I could offer in the moment was tell her she wasn’t alone, that I remembered being scared to talk with boys too, and was open to talking more about her fears whenever she wanted.
Sated by my response, she fell asleep in my arms, leaving me to review my own history of interacting with boys.
As one of three sisters with protective parents, I never spent much time around boys. I never made friends with them or really got to know them. For me, boys felt magical from afar; terrifying up close.
My past is littered with experiences of ignoring boys who were nice to me and wanted to be my friend in favor of longing for those who ignored me, wishing they would choose me for relationships. Although I had little actual experience interacting with boys, my obsession with them taught me lessons I don’t want to pass on to my children.
In kindergarten, my rogue classmate Devon grabbed me by the arms after school and attempted to plant a rough kiss on my cheek. I, in turn, hit him with my blue Barbie lunchbox, winning his devotion for the rest of the school year. Lesson: play hard to get, the boys will love you.
In second grade, I eagerly tried to win over Edward, a scrawny, tow-headed boy who repeatedly ignored me and my offerings of the dry Stella D’oro anise cookies my mom packed in my lunch. Lesson: Keep chasing, sooner or later you’ll win his affection. Or bring better cookies.
In fourth grade, I graduated to Donald, the tough neighborhood kid who rode his bicycle to my house and threw rotted green apples at my legs to win my affection. After several days of this mating ritual, my younger sister sprayed Donald with our garden hose, ending his infatuation. Lesson: keep your smarter, braver sister away so you can enjoy the attention.
In sixth grade, my undying devotion to Michael, the nearsighted boy who never acknowledged my existence, led me to commit the first of many fashion don’ts – octagon shaped, wire-framed glasses to match his. Lesson: do whatever it takes to make a boy notice you.
My high school and college years, with their mix of hormones and unrequited love, offered similar lessons; the more uninterested the male, the better. My motto: completely ignore me, I’ll follow you forever. Be nice to me, want to be my friend, I’ll look through you to the unavailable guy in the corner.
While my relationships with men have blossomed with time, maturity and therapy, I don’t pursue male friendships. If I’m going to model healthy interactions with the opposite sex for my kids, I need to get some male friends. Stat.
I wonder what Devon, Edward, Donald and Michael are doing these days?
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