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Falling Hard in Preschool

There are few things 5-year-old boys have less interest in than 5-year-old girls. This, of course, will eventually change. But in a 5-year-old boy's eyes, the only real use for 5-year-old girls is ... nothing.

So you can imagine my surprise when my very own 5-year-old boy came home and announced that he had a girlfriend, "Claire is my girlfriend," he reported. "She was the 'Friday Helper' and now she's my girlfriend." Clearly impressed by the power of being that week's "Friday Helper," my kid decided to share a bit of Claire's thunder by making it—and her—his own.

The only problem was that my kid forgot to tell Claire that she was his girlfriend. He just all of a sudden started to show an interest in playing with her all the time. Instead of finding it flattering, little Claire found my kid's newfound affection terrifying. She "felt smothered" and "just needed a little space." She wasn’t interested in sitting next to my kid at snack time, nor did she really want to be the girl ninja when my son and his friends invited her into one of their games. Claire was uncomfortable with the attention, and, as it turns out, also with my son.

My son will need to learn the important life lessons that come with heartache and failure, but I just wish he didn't have to—and that I didn't have to feel it along with him.

In response, my son was encouraged to play with other friends. A polite preschool teacher way of saying, "You're freaking the crap out of this little girl." By week's end, Claire had moved on to greener pastures in the form of the next week's "Friday Helper," a snot-nosed kid named Aidan who would, in just a few days, tell Claire he felt smothered and needed his space.

My kid seemed to bounce back, but I can't. The breakup hit me hard, and I can't help but take it personally. I started to look at Claire differently, occasionally referring to her (in my head) as "Screw-You Claire." I grimaced when I saw her—or her mom—knowing she was the source of so much pain. My pain. She's not just my son's first crush, she's the first to crush my kid. Unfortunately, she won't be the last.

MORE: Dealing With Your Tween's Breakup

I think one of the hardest things about being a parent isn't watching your kids struggle; it's knowing the outcome and the pain of struggle long before they do. Every time one of our kids comes home with a new love, a new best friend, a new passion; we know that eventually there will be an end to the new love or a new, new best friend. At the time, our kids don't know. But we do, because we've been through it.

My kid may or may not get that he's just been rejected. For all I know, he just thinks Claire is sitting somewhere else at lunch, but he hasn't really thought it through. But I have, and I know he's being rejected. And eventually, as he gets older, he's going to know he's been rejected. He'll feel the crush of an unreciprocated crush, and he'll be sad.

And that's what crushes me.

I remember the first person to reject me (Darin Ketwig, who, instead of liking me, liked Jenna Bordelan because she had boobs). In hindsight, Darin Ketwig was a short kid who dressed in Garanimals. But at the time, he was the cat's meow. And the cat's meow had no interest in me. Over and over, my mom could say, "It's not personal. I think you’re super!" But it couldn’t mask the rejection, which was completely personal.

My son's going to have many more Claires in his future who "just aren't into him." I will want to choke each one of them with my own hands for not thinking he's super. Of course, my son will need to learn the important life lessons that come with heartache and failure, but I just wish he didn't have to—and that I didn't have to feel it along with him.

It's a few days later. My kid gets in the car and proclaims that he played with a little girl today named Aurora. "Is Aurora your new girlfriend?" I ask, thrilled to see him bouncing back. "What's a girlfriend?" he asks, totally clueless to being dumped just weeks before. "A girlfriend is just a friend who's a girl," I tell him, happy to put off the future. "Why would I play with a girl?" he says, "I like action. Girls like fairies. I want to play action."

I want to correct him. Not all girls like fairies and not all boys like action, but I don't. His first crush was too much for me. I'm happy to keep him, and me, heartbreak free for just a little while longer.

MORE: Helping Your Adult Child Deal With Breakup

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