There's a gauzy haze over the memory of my pulling petals from a tiny white sundial shaped flower at the stream near our house. Fourth grader yearnings, I think. "He loves me, he loves me not...."
Please let the last petal be love. Or at least like. And let him be Chad, who leads the class in a rendition of Devo's "Whip It" every afternoon. And not Kevin, who saves a seat for me on the bus everyday, but is in the wrong reading group. My diary entries play out like a snagged record:
Chad was at school today. Chad stood in line behind me on the way to specials today. We had P.E. today. I hate P.E. Mrs. Sites is so mean and anceint [sic]. Chad wore a plaid shirt today.
Chad never did like me and he barely acknowledged my presence in his homeroom class. Except for the one time I managed to sneak in a cup of sugar mixed with a Kool-Aid pack to dump on a paper towel for our cluster of desks to dip fingers in and suck on like inverted Pixy Sticks. Jello was better, but all we had at home was instant pudding mix.
These days, I've got another guy I'm eying, and he too, responds real well to sugar. But he also shows me some sugar. And I'm addicted.
He reaches for me in pale blue pajamas from the lower bunk on the rare day when I need to wake him up to get ready for preschool. He pops out his thumb to give me a smile.
After just making it to the potty and abiding my instruction to "Wash hands!," he hugs my leg before running to get dressed. I see his little bare bottom whiz down the hall and make the sharp right turn into his bedroom.
While buckling him into his car seat, I get two little hands cupping my cheeks. I can feel each miniature finger pressing into my skin. My face and the brain beyond, yield, like salt dough, hoping to capture the essence of him, my busy, hugging, three year old boy. The gesture stamps my soul in a way that makes me want to trace over the impression again and again. He loves me, he loves me, he loves me.
Later, when he's home from preschool, there's a rim of red around his eyes and salty trails down his face from a not yet forgotten wrong. T's grandparents are visiting and there was a kerfuffle in the car over sandwiches. When a piece of his sandwich was torn off for the baby without his prior consent, T lost it. My husband tells me they had to stop the car during the two minute drive home to address the screaming.
T wants to tell me about it. He wants me to help him eat the rest of his sandwich. And sit with him in the bathroom when he stops mid meal for a potty break. I don't always do this kind of thing, rarely actually. But today, I bring my own sandwich into the bathroom and sit on the edge of the tub to finish it. It helps, I think.
T's too tired for the next activity, but he wants to be there because it's the Halloween party at music class and that's what three year olds do. Dress up and sing. So T finishes his sandwich and puts on a Spider Man costume that will still be too long when he's fifteen. So I cut off six inches from each leg and arm, while he's wearing it, and help him with his coat.
When my husband, mother in law and I come in at the end of class for parent time, T is done. He wants my lap and his thumb (admittedly, not necessarily in that order). Turns out, food allergies made coordinating the snacks for partying too difficult, so the end of class party, beyond the costume wearing, is canceled. T appears to lose hope when the promise of candy is yanked.
So he looks to me, for that respite between the rest of the world and his bed. I hold him while we sit out the last song and then guide him back into the car seat where I'm gifted with kisses on my forehead.
Right now, there is no space for "love me nots." T loves me and he shows it, so I don't ever go wandering in the woods for daisies. I suspect, however, that sullen days may lie ahead, a decade or so from now, or even less, when establishing the bright lines of his identity will require T to pull away from me. I suspect then too - and least on lonely afternoons - I'll return to the uncertainty of fourth grade love and the wishful assurances of petal pulling. But at least then I'll know I'm working with the right guy and that I've got the sequence right.