Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Lowdown on Crushes

School’s well underway and there are new boys or girls in your child’s class, and/or members of their grade who heretofore were invisible, yet somewhere between June and September they emerged from their ugly duckling stage and will be whispered about in small groups as looking “so hot.”

I cringe when I hear the adjective “hot” come out of a 12 or 13-year-old’s mouth to portray another 12 or 13-year-old. I don’t remember hearing that depiction of a handsome boy or a beautiful girl until somewhere in my 20’s, yet even then the word was mostly employed when speaking about porn stars. Yeah, yeah, it’s a new millennium and all of that. But really – that description coming from a middle or high schooler’s mouth?!

Adolescent crushes will begin forming, people, as sure as yellow buses appearing ‘round the bend and new textbooks cracking open. You may even overhear your sweet little daughter referred to as “hot” while passing a pod of boys on Elm Street after school. The crushes will last for days or weeks, or maybe just until lunch period. Your son or daughter will blush or stammer or stutter and shyly tell you about the cute person, hoping for your discretion.

I recall Blake and Kenny’s first crushes with fondness even though they remember my reaction quite differently. Kenny’s was with an adorable girl who was in his third grade class; her name was Stacey. She was tiny and perky and a ballet dancer with long brownish-blond hair who would giggle whenever she was near Kenny. He would alternate between ignoring her and chasing her around the playground trying to kiss her.

Because I was then publishing County Kids, I thought it would be nice to put her on the cover for our annual dance issue. Wouldn’t Kenny be thrilled? He could frame the cover and pine over her in the privacy of his own home. When her mother accepted the offer I was pleased and Kenny was perplexed. To him, it seemed a public admission of his crush. No sooner had the issue hit the stands than he announced that he “hated” her. I had crushed the crush and he’s never let me forget it.

“Don’t ever do to Janet and Jack what you did to me with Stacey!,” he screamed at me at age 15 apropos of nothing. Blake echoed his brother’s thoughts, as one year after the Stacy incident I had put Blake, his buddy and the object of his affection on the cover of County Kids. Needless to say, neither son confides in me the existence of a romantic relationship lest now I start planning a wedding and imagining what my grandchild might look like.

Crushes are fun (although unrequited ones aren’t as gleeful), they’re innocent and they produce the kind of butterflies that make one’s heart soar. Even adults can develop crushes; I have a number of female friends who have admitted harmless crushes on tennis instructors, or the cute father they see in the school hallway or on the football field, or the handsome New Canaan police officer. Even my male friends will cop to the occasional attraction towards the adorable wife of a friend of theirs. As long as the crushes don’t progress to something more adulterous, it seems okay.

Your child’s object of fascination may reciprocate the affection and become a boyfriend or girlfriend which is another rite of passage entirely. (Don’t worry neophytes of this phenomenon, all it means is that they instant message one another and perhaps hang out downtown on Friday afternoons.)

So gear up. Along with fresh pencils and pens, your child may acquire the pre-teen or teenage crush. It’s your job not to squash their foray into “love.” Today’s hot crush is tomorrow’s in-law.

I may not like the word “hot,” but no matter what you call it, crushes are cool.

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