Is there any moment of greater anticipation than the moment prior to discovering a secret admirer? Not for a fifth grade girl.
I returned to my classroom after a recess break. I lifted my desktop to retrieve my Math book, and there, on top of my notebook, was a note. The author had taped a pearl necklace into the shape of a heart on a piece of paper. He admitted to liking me, and questioned if I would return his longing. He signed it “From: ???”
I quickly looked around the room to see who might be watching me, hoping his gaze would give away his identity. But I didn’t notice anyone looking my direction. I studied the handwriting to see if I recognized the script. It was messy, almost illegible, and completely foreign.
The rest of the day was spent daydreaming about who my suitor might be. My own secret crush sat in the seat right next to mine. He had blond curls and blue eyes. One of my friends had confided in me that he thought I was cute. Could it be him? Perhaps he would ask me to go with him (archaic speak for be his girlfriend, in case there are any people younger than thirty years old reading this. Or is that still what it’s called? I have no idea.)
I recognized the necklace. Our school had set up a Santa’s workshop so kids could buy gifts for their family members. That probably sounds contrary to separation of church and state, but I grew up in a very small town where it was assumed that everyone celebrated Christmas, and if you didn’t, you were probably a Communist. Back to my point- I had seen the necklace at the store. It was the most expensive item there- $12.
$12 to most of my classmates would have been a sizable chunk of money, but to me, it was exorbitant. I lived in a house with four brothers and a sister. My mother stayed home with us, and my father worked as a machinist. I probably had never been trusted to hold $12, let alone spend it. Who was this rich Casanova that was trying to woo me with expensive jewelry and promises of like liking me? I had to know!
At lunch, I proudly clasped the necklace around my throat, hoping if Mr. Right saw me wearing it, he might come out of hiding. No luck. It would not be until after school that my suitor would make his presence known.
I was leaning on the playground fence, waiting for a friend, when John approached me. John as tall, gangly and awkward. He moved as if he had no control over his limbs. His back seemed to permanently arch from self conscious slouching. When he spoke, it was almost inaudible. He never had the correct answers when called upon in class, and almost seemed to not understand the teacher’s questions. He was the bottom rung of the fifth grade social ladder. I doubt I had ever spoken to him before, outside of classroom exercises. I was filled with dread as he walked my direction.
“Did you like the necklace?”
I do not remember what I said. I recall feeling horrified that my secret admirer was not the curly haired golden boy, but instead the clumsy misfit. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but being courted by a social outsider made me feel as if I was the outcast.
I assume I said something to rebuke his advances, because I don’t remember talking to him ever again.
No happy ending, no gentle letdown. Just me being a preteen bitch.
Looking back on that scenario, I reflect on the confidence he had to muster to take a chance on such a proclamation. He wasn’t some cocky kid who flirted with all the girls in pink hightops. I’m pretty sure he had never engaged in a game of “catch ‘em kiss ‘em.” It probably took a lot of guts for him to write that note. I very well may have been the first girl he admitted to having a crush on.
I could have politely thanked him. Told him I didn’t think of him that way, but maybe we could hang out at recess sometime. Maybe it could have been one of those sitcom happy endings where all he needed was a friend to draw him out of his shell. We could have all grown to get to know John and invite him to be one of the gang.
Nope. Instead of being an outcast, he just became invisible. Did I graduate high school with him? Did he move to another town? I have no idea. It’s like he ceased to exist after that moment, at least in my mind.
I remember wearing the necklace though. Didn’t give it back, didn’t hide it in a drawer. Wore it frequently because I liked it. It didn’t even occur to me that he might see it and be reminded of his feelings that went unreturned.
So why am I writing about this? This was a memory long forgotten, and when it came back into my mind, the moment was prime.
You see, Liam spends every school day with a mean girl. I won’t say he has a crush, because he is a bit young for that. But every day after class, a group of moms and kids stay to play on the playground equipment. The group consists of children who have all known each other since birth- and Liam. He’s the new boy, trying to fit in.
The moms all bring snacks for the kids to share. The first day, I was not privy to this ritual. Liam did not have a snack of his own, and the other boys and girls would not share. The next few days, I brought the wrong snacks. Liam offered the grapes and apples so nicely, only to be told grapes were gross with an upturned nose. This past week, I landed on the right snack- salty miniature rice cakes.
Liam proudly shared them with the other kids, and I thought he might finally be accepted into their collective. But when the rice cakes were gone, the walls went back up. Kellen, my youngest, went up to the mean girl and said “cracker?” She snatched up her grahams and responded “No! These are mine! Get away from here!”
Liam got very upset. He said “Kellen is hungry. Give him a cracker.” I tried to stay back and let him handle it, while in my own mind I’m thinking yeah! Give him a cracker!
She of course refused. But it is not just the snacks. In games of tag, Liam is always deemed the horrible monster chasing the other kids, or some variation on an untouchable. She taunts him and the other children by bringing toys and not letting the other kids touch them, responding in that sing-songy voice “It’s miiiiiine.”
I have been fortunate to be part of a mom’s group that is very active with our children. We let the kids play, but we also do our best to ensure the kids are sharing and playing together, that no one is excluded. These new moms are hands off. Their motto is “you have to work it out.” I understand that, but their kids aren’t the ones being dubbed the monster on a daily basis.
I am conflicted as to what to do. I am the new kid in this scenario too. I assume it doesn’t bother Liam too much because he always wants to stay and play. But inside my heart is breaking a little- watching this girl confidently belittle the boy I love, and knowing I used to be her.