Sometimes, when I wish I was young again, I think back to middle
school and the feeling goes away. My body may be drooping, my bills may
be piling up, my husband may be driving me bananas, but I will
never again experience the clumsy fustercluck of 6th-grade "love" (which
negates every banana).
My daughter, Jillian, however, is deep in the quagmire. Although technology has changed the game from calling a boy's house and
pretending you were a foreign tourist in an effort to get more information about who he liked in class (Is that not something all Belgium tourists would like to know?), the chaos is the same.
Yesterday, she came home with a serious concern: "Mom, my life
As this would be her fourth ruined life in one year, my
give-a-crapper was barely registering. "Why?" I asked, paying more attention to the
tomato I was mangling with a dull knife.
"Brian likes me."
"He's this guy in my class who has been really nice to me!" she
"Wow, that sounds awful," I sympathized, wiping tomato seeds off
"Today he came up to our lunch table and said he has a crush on
me. In front of everyone!"
She shrugged. "You can't help having a crush on someone, you know?"
OK, I admitted to myself, that is a little bizarre and
uncomfortable, and my give-a-crapper was sitting up a little.
"Why would he do that?" I asked.
"Mom," she elucidated slowly, annoyed at my idiocy, "that's just
how you date."
"But you haven't dated at all! Have you gone anywhere? No. Have
you had any serious conversations? No. Have you kissed? No ... I hope."
"I know, but if you like someone, you claim them in the
cafeteria. If that person says 'yes,' then you are boyfriend and girlfriend."
"You claim them?" I asked incredulously. "Like a goat or
something?" My give-a-crapper was now on "high" and my tomato was in agony.
"Brian claimed me," she wailed.
"Jillian, you can't be claimed. You're a person and this is 2015
in a free country. What did you say?"
"I said "uuuuuh..."
"So you didn't say yes!" I shouted. "You're still a free woman."
"I don't know, I don't know!" she shouted.
"Do you like Brian?" I asked.
"He's nice to me, but I'm just too young to date!" she said.
I didn't know what to say. Should I congratulate her on refusing, because she's too young? Or admonish her for not being revolted that she's just been claimed? Should I tell her that she, technically, did not agree to the transfer of property and it would not stand up in a court
of law? Did she have anything in writing? A receipt, maybe?
I tried a different approach. "So if you didn't do or say anything,
why is your life ruined?"
"Because it's so embarrassing. I want to be home-schooled."
Oh please, God, no, I thought, thinking of my ability to
multiply fractions, which was zero-over-zero times zero-over-zero.
"But this happened to you. You didn't do anything."
"I know, but everyone is teasing me."
"And are they teasing him?"
"Not really," she said.
"WHY NOT?" I demanded. This was blatant sexism. Who was in
charge of the cafeteria, the Taliban?
"Well, aren't you mad at him?" I
"No," she said.
She shrugged. "You can't help having a crush on someone, you
That was diabolical. I used those very same words when she told
me she hated herself for having a crush on a "jock who is kind of a
jerk." Now she was flinging them back at me, in defense of a man who had
She was still my little girl, but my days were numbered. Was she listening? Not listening? Did my opinion even matter?
"Yes, but you can choose whether to act on it." I said. "How do
other kids handle this auction business?"
"Well, Mark offered Elizabeth a year's supply of Pringles if she
would be his girlfriend."
"What?" I cried. "He tried to buy her with potato chips? Where
was he planning to get all of these Pringles?" I demanded, thinking of
the cost of Pringles, only slightly realizing that this was beside the
"He said he'd steal them from home."
"Oh, that's great, just great," I said, banging my knife down on
the red splotch of blood on the counter that now looked like it should be
surrounded with yellow tape. "What did she say?"
"She said, 'Well, I do love Pringles, but I have a reputation to uphold.'"
"Good for her," I shouted. "You should never allow yourself to
be sold for Pringles. He should have tried Skittles," I joked, waving my
"What? Mom, seriously," she said, backing away. "Remember your
"Did everyone tease her?"
"No, she's 'pop-u-lar,'" she said, doing the imaginary hair-flip
she reserves for the word "pop-u-lar."
"Madison and Jason are boyfriend and girlfriend," she announced.
"Oh?" I said. "What did she sell herself for?"
"Nothing. They just decided they have a crush on each other."
"How romantic ... wait. You told me Jason has a crush on you."
"He does," she said, exasperated, "but he also has a crush on
Kaitlyn, Haley, Blake and Riley. I think I'm third or fourth."
"Where's Madison?" I asked.
"Maybe second. He likes Kaitlyn best, but she said she wasn't
ready to be serious."
"What does serious even mean in the 6th grade, Jillian? Does
he let her cut in line on the way to art? Does he agree not to throw
balls at her during P.E.?"
"Well, they went to her house and asked if they could date."
"Whoa," I exclaimed, impressed by their gumption. "Asking her
father's permission like the old days, huh? What happened?"
"Madison's mom dragged her into the house, said she couldn't
date until 7th grade and shut the door on him."
Excellent. Mom handled that business like a boss.
In 7th grade, you'll all be in a new school with kids from
five other schools, and they won't even remember each other. In
fact, that's probably what her mom is banking on," I added too
quickly, realizing with horror the classified info I had just divulged. Fortunately, she wasn't listening to me. Sometimes that works in
"So now Jason just eats at our lunch table with Madison. They
said they won't let their parents break them up."
"Oh, are they going to drink poison like Romeo and Juliet?" I
"You know, Shakespeare, they all die at the ... hold on a
minute. Jason sits at the same table with you, Madison, Kaitlyn, Haley, Blake and Riley?"
"Yes, but he's Madison's boyfriend."
"NO," I shrieked. "HE'S A PLAYER! YOU CAN SEE THAT, RIGHT?"
She threw her palms up in defense and backed away even more.
"OK, OK," I said, simmering down. "I really think this Brian
thing is going to blow over. You're just the shiny new thing to the class right
now. Pretty soon, someone else will do something wacko and they'll all latch
"So you don't care that my life is ruined?"
Fortunately, because my mothering skills weren't cutting it,
Mother Nature took the wheel. She unleashed three days of
school-closing snow down upon the children of the land.
Jillian bounced home from her first day back as if nothing had
"How was your day?" I asked casually, as if I hadn't been
impatiently waiting for her report.
"Fine," she said. "Can I have a cookie?"
"You can have a cookie after you tell me about your reputation,"
"What? Oh. Everyone forgot about that. Have you seen my blue
"I told you," I said triumphantly, waiting for my validation. "I
told you everyone would forget."
"I already knew that would happen."
"Oh," I said. Of course she did
"Honey," I said. "It's really great that you know everything,
but middle school is just nuts. You've got hormones shooting every which way. Nothing makes any sense, and it probably won't
for a little while."
"Here it is," she said, extricating a ratty notebook out of a
backpack that looked and smelled like a city dumpster.
Over the next few weeks, her deepest emotions were stirred only
by her math homework.
And then one day, while driving her to her music lesson, she
said, "What do you think of Brian?"
"Who?" I said.
"BRIAN," she said, rolling her eyes. "Geez, mom."
"Oh, right. I've never met him."
She growled, clearly peeved with me.
"Why?" I asked, "Do you like him?"
"I don¹t know," she said. "Maybe. But don't get mad. I know I can't date until 7th grade."
"I never said you could date in the 7th grade," I yelled,
braking a little too hard.
"He gave me a pencil today," she said.
Oh, so that's his currency, I thought.
"But I only like him in the middle," she continued. "Like, I
like him as a friend, but I wouldn't want to kiss him."
"You can have a cookie after you tell me about your reputation," I said.
"Jillian," I said earnestly, "if he has a crush on you, nothing
feels worse than being liked back in the middle." So just let him be
and stop taking his pencils."
"Actually, the thought of kissing any boy in my class kind of
grosses me out," she mused to herself, silently counting on her fingers.
I sighed. She was still my little girl, but my days were
numbered. Was she listening? Not listening? Did my opinion even matter? Was I
getting through? Did she even know I was in the car?
The next few years are going to be a wild ride. There is nothing to do but get in her car and hold on while she tries to drive at 13, ignoring my pleas to slow down and obey traffic laws, while she
snorts at me with derision.
But I had to stay with her. I had to guide her without letting
her think that I was guiding her. I had glimmers of hope. The very
fact that she could fling my own words back at me was proof that some
things were seeping in.
Remember that teen driving movie "Red Asphalt?" It's really for