I was five years old, standing at the top of my staircase in a fluorescent purple, over-sized t-shirt and stirrup leggings. My hair was crimped and in a high side-pony. As I walked down the stairs, I felt like any princess in a movie, descending to meet Prince Charming and ride away to a ball in a magical carriage. My Prince Charming was a kindergarten classmate named Shawn. Our carriage was his mother’s mini-van. And our ball was Pizza Hut and a movie. I believe, the movie was Fievel Goes West.
Yup, when I was a little girl, my mother let me go on a “date.” I felt like the coolest, most awesome kindergartner to ever set foot in Mrs. Klee’s class. I told my mom that Shawn was my boyfriend and that we were going to get married one day. His mom let him buy me a super cheap, toy store necklace that I wore for months. We felt so wonderfully grown-up.
And how did my parents feel about the whole thing? Well, according to them, it was beyond hysterical. They didn’t encourage these children in love, but they didn’t immediately try to shut it down either. (I somehow remember feeling like they disapproved. My mother says I’m making it up to seem more romantic.) They rolled their eyes and chuckled when I wasn’t paying attention, letting my young romance flame out, as they tend to. A couple months later, I was holding hands under the table with Kasey. Then I decided to take a break from boys completely. I was so very mature.
A few months ago, I learned that my daughter, Brenna, had become the “class girlfriend.” She had a faithful group of little boys who fought over who got to sit next to her during reading time or push her in a swing on the playground. When I first heard about all of the kiddie romance going on, I was more than a little freaked out!
Then, I talked to my mom about my own childhood crushes and relationships. I talked to my daughter about making sure that we’re nice to everyone and that we still keep our hands to ourselves. And honestly, I took a few deep breaths and realized that overreacting about the situation was pretty useless. The more I thought about it, the more my own mother’s tactics made sense. (Why is that always the case?) Step back. Let my little girl have her make-believe.
So when a phone call came from the mother of a little boy on my daughter’s bus, a boy who had recently been stealing his mother’s diamond rings to give to my darling girl, I decided that the best course of action was to play it cool. Obviously, Brenna couldn’t accept jewelry from her classmates. There’s no telling which mom would be missing a tennis bracelet because my daughter smiled and held hands with a kid on the playground. We talked about how jewelry was expensive and we couldn’t accept expensive gifts at school.
But when our little lovebirds wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day together, this mom and I decided to let our kids have their fun. They might not see Fievel Goes West, but my daughter would be allowed to go see a movie with her kindergarten boyfriend. They couldn’t exchange jewelry, but they made Valentines. The little boy even got my daughter a stuffed fox holding a heart. Foxes happen to be my daughter’s very favorite animal. The fact that this little boy knew this and went to the trouble of finding a fox, specifically, is cute beyond words.
As much as it might make adults uncomfortable, kids have been falling in love, pretending to get married, and sneaking kisses on the playground since time before time. As much as we worry about sexualization and growing up too soon, this type of playing isn’t a modern phenomenon. It’s as classic as classic can be. It’s two little kids just pretending to be grown-ups.
Like most “adult” activities or feelings that kids try to emulate, I’ve begun to see that the less important it is to me, the less important it is to my daughter. When she wanted to wear make-up so she could be like mommy, I let her try it out. I didn’t immediately shut the idea down. I didn’t make a big deal about it. And now, my daughter sees make-up as something fun and silly, not as a serious issue to be considered.
My hope is that her little elementary-age romances will follow the same path. Forbidding them makes the boyfriend-girlfriend talk a big deal. Making a huge fuss over them teaches my daughter that these things are important. But childhood romance doesn’t need to be as grave and serious as adult romance. We can let it be just another fun and silly thing.
This weekend, my daughter will carefully pick out her clothes. She’ll probably wear her favorite red cowboy boots. They have a heel, which is super grown-up. Then she’ll climb into our SUV and head to a movie with a little boy that she claims to be getting married to. She and her date will sit in the row in front of their mothers, sharing popcorn and feeling oh so cool. After some pizza, they’ll hug goodbye.
And the world will keep turning. Brenna will still be a 5-year-old little girl, curling up with a stuffed fox and a baby blanket that night. Months from now, she and her little suitor will break up. She might even hold hands under the table with another little boy at school. But none of that will be all that important. Then, decades from now, I’ll get to tease my daughter about all of her young love in front the man or woman she finally decides to settle down with, just like my mom did.