As a parent, you try to stay in touch with what's going on in your kids' lives as best you can--by paying attention to what they actually choose to share with you, and also by observing their behavior. (I just realized how much that makes it sound like they're some kind of...science experiment...complete with research, and data collection, and analysis...which is actually not too far off the mark, come to think of it...) But no matter how on top of things you may think you are, there inevitably comes a moment (or, you know, a whole lot of them) when you go "Huh. I did NOT see that coming."
Eleven-year old Riley provided me with one such instance recently. I had gotten an email from his school, reminding students and parents of the upcoming Valentine's Day Dance. Now, normally these events are passively ignored--or openly scorned--by both of the boys. So I jokingly mentioned it to Riley in passing, something along the lines of "Hey, buddy, are you going to the dance, ha ha?" But his reaction was...startling...to say the least. He colored a bit, cast his glance downward, and mumbled, "Yeah...maybe..." I'm sorry, whaaaaat was that? (Alert: the Test Subject--um "son"--has just acted in a manner inconsistent with all previous information collected in his file! Further investigation is required!)
"Oh," I casually ventured (after picking my mouth up off the floor and composing my features into an expression of polite interest, rather than abject astonishment) "Are your friends going?" At which point his older brother, with a wicked grin, gleefully interjected, "Or...do you have a DATE?" (Smooth, Derek. Very subtle...) To his credit, Riley kept his cool in the face of sibling taunting, and answered carefully, "I might be going with someone." Oh. My. Goodness. Where in the H-E-C-K did this come from? Rather than start peppering him with questions (as I soooo wanted to do) I calmly continued, "Hmm...you asked someone?" "Well...she asked me," he confessed.Wooooooow. Before I had time to formulate my next line of inquisition--I mean "lighthearted chat", of course--he added, "We're going as friends."
Oh-kay. This is all just a big old pile of Breaking News to me, here at the normally up-to-date Mom Chronicles. What immediately ensued was a tense period of some pretty high-level, sensitive negotiation, let me tell ya. Basically, I got him to agree to confide more details...when his brother wasn't around to hear. In return, I had to solemnly swear NOT to write about it...until after the dance was over. Done, and done! During the next few days I tried to conduct discreet, whispered conversations to safeguard his privacy. I managed to get her name, a description, a list of classes they have in common...good stuff. But the really crucial issue--the proverbial "burning question", if you will--was this: "Do we need to go out and get her a card, or a small...I don't know...token of your affection, or something?"
After pondering this for a while, he decided against it. Then at practically the 11th hour, the whole shebang almost unraveled into a disaster, when Riley disclosed that he possibly might not be attending with the young lady after all. It seems that a mutual friend had his own romantic designs on our heroine, and wanted to ask her to the dance himself. Oh, the 6th-grade intrigue! However would they resolve this dilemma? Well, I'll tell you: she explained that she had already promised to accompany Riley, and didn't want to disappoint him. So they agreed to all hang out as pals for the time being. (Perhaps with the unspoken implication that after the dance, all bets are off? All's fair in love and war?) The only thing I can say is...how freakin' mature are these tweens? They handled it beautifully, all by themselves, with a minimum of drama and/or hurt feelings. (WHEW! Crisis averted!)
Anyway, when Riley returned from his first Middle School dance experience, he reported that he did have a nice time. If I remember correctly, he said he didn't actually, you know, "dance"...but he did spend some time talking to his--what should we call her? Not GF...I know "friend-who's-a-girl" (FWaG)--as well as his male posse. (This was considerably better than another buddy, who refused to even acknowledge the girl he'd supposedly brought, causing her to confront him in anger toward the end of the shindig. Apparently NOT the shining example of an adolescent Romeo...) The only other thing Riley deemed worth mentioning was the amount of candy he purchased (some of which he gave to the FWaG).
So I guess for an initial foray into the murky world of...school social events...and relationships (shudder)...this went as well as we could possibly have hoped. No heartbreak, lots of entertainment...now can you pleeaaaase do me a favor and just go back to the blissful state of "oblivious to the opposite sex" for a while longer? That'd be great...thanks....