I asked Eli recently if he liked any girls.
“I’m not telling you,” he said. “Why would I? Remember how you made fun of Oscar when he said he liked that girl?”
Yikes. I guess I better stop joking and start listening.
I want to be a resource for my boys in the impossible navigation of love. I want them to be able to talk to me honestly about what’s going on, about how they feel. I want them to feel they can run by me their deepest instincts so I might be able to help them uncover what — or whom — they really want.
But at 42, I feel just as unequipped to say anything for sure about love as I might have at 11. All I can do is share what I did — warts and all — and offer sympathetic words and non-judging constructive criticism when they mess up.
I drove Eli and friends to the middle-school dance and there was some chatter about girls. A name surfaced. A girl all the boys are talking about, one they tease and tell that so-and-so likes her, then that he doesn’t. I remember that well, when Glenn Johnson asked me to “go” with him in a note, and then I, afraid because I liked him so much, wrote “what?” and he responded, “just kidding.”
I was devastated and confused. Did he like me? I still don’t know (if you’re out there, Glenn, do tell).
I had to have a little chat with Eli about sending teasing notes, now called “texts.”
“You don’t know how your ‘jokes’ are being received by someone else, and you never want to be responsible for someone else’s pain…” I said.
Of course it struck me that never hurting anyone in love is impossible.
“Sometimes we have to hurt people because what they want isn’t what we want. Maybe we want to break up and they don’t, and we have to be true to ourselves.”
Amazingly, he didn’t burp or cover his ears. He listened.
Since then, he has started talking more. He has asked what I want for Chanukah, and has taken the time to go shopping for a present for me. He called the other day to apologize for not walking the “long” two blocks to meet me for lunch when I wanted him to.
“I’m sorry,” he said sadly, ruefully, when I picked up. “I was only thinking about myself.”
I smiled and gratefully accepted his apology.
“It happens,” I said. “At least you recognize it, and can admit it.”
Fingers crossed. Whomever he “likes” will be very lucky to have his attentions, when he’s ready. And I hope he feels he can talk to me then.
I’m working on being a better listener, a more serious one, less afraid to hear the thinly-veiled pain that love always brings along with its great pleasure.
And that’s no joke.
Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.