This year I decided to get crafty with the school valentines.
It's unfortunate that I'm not one of those SAHMs with a predilection for craftiness.
Nevertheless, Clare was pleased with how her valentines turned out, despite the fact that the white chocolate seized up in the double boiler and had to be rescued, the Oreo pops had no lollipop sticks and the pretzel sticks didn't work out either, and the heart stencil we made didn't produce distinct heart shapes with our red sprinkles. So we have white-chocolate dipped Oreos with red sprinkles on them. But she's happy because we had pink ribbon to tie the baggies with. And, as she said to me this morning over breakfast, even when things don't turn out like we expect, it's okay. That's a nice lesson to get out of Valentine's Day.
She also revealed over breakfast this morning that she is planning to ask J to "be mine" at school today. "What does that mean?" I asked, tying pink ribbon #20. "It means like 'be my sweetheart,'" she replied. "And what is a sweetheart?" I asked, wondering what her 6-year-old concept of sweethearts includes. "It's someone who's sweet to you," she replied.
I'm not thrilled with the way boyfriend/girlfriend talk invades cross-gender friendships, starting earlier and earlier. This isn't new--I remember a certain little boy in my kindergarten class that I liked very much and that we talked about him as my "boyfriend." Clare's had plenty of friends of both genders and it's a consistent thing that friends who are boys get talked about as boyfriends. It's something adults find amusing, I think--something about the contemplation of our children's futures and all the possibilities ahead of them yet unexplored. But this talk gets heard, and its assumptions form our children's expectations for themselves--even when they don't understand what it all means.
The simplicity of Clare's reply to me this morning makes me happy. It especially makes me happy because Clare is about as well-educated on the subject of human anatomy and sex as I was in junior high--I made the decision to indulge her curiosity as far as it took her while pregnant with Zadie, and it took her pretty far indeed. She can say the words penis and vagina as matter-of-factly as a medical doctor. She knows that a baby grows inside a uterus after a sperm and an egg join together. She knows that one way a sperm gets to the egg is that a penis fits inside a vagina. And she knows sometimes it happens with the help of technology. She knows a lot, this kid.
And yet when she asks J to "be mine" she just means "thanks for being my friend."
And so the lesson I get out of Valentine's Day this year is a reaffirmation that innocence is not lack of knowledge. Innocence is not synonymous with ignorance. Innocence is something we protect when we teach our children what they need to know. And they need to know that boys and girls have different bodies, and that those differences will someday mean something, but also that those differences won't ever mean you can't simply be friends.
Someday sweetheart will mean something else. But not today.