Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Young love

The first time Josh met Sami, he hit her in the head with a hockey stick. They were two.

It started innocently enough. Sami and her mom, Tess, had come to our house to check out our playgroup, which I happened to be hosting that week. Josh had just received a small hockey set for his birthday, which included plastic hockey sticks, foam pucks, and a goal made of PVC pipes and lightweight netting. It turns out Sami’s parents are also big hockey fans, so initially I think they felt comfortable in our home. An hour later when Josh picked up his favorite white stick and knocked Sami upside the head with it for no apparent reason, no one felt comfortable. Despite my profuse apologies, I was certain we would never see them again. And I have to admit I was disappointed because I really liked them.

Much to my surprise, Sami and Tess did decide to join our playgroup. And Tess confided in me a few months later that Sami had been talking about Josh quite a bit between our weekly visits. Josh had also been talking about Sami. With her long blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes, and heart of gold, we thought he had impeccable taste. And we enjoyed watching them become true buddies.

At another friend’s birthday party the next winter, Josh greeted Sami when she arrived, took her hand in his, and didn’t let go for the entire evening. From the arcade to the gym and back to the party room, Josh and Sami stuck together like glue. As the mother of the boy, I nervously asked Sami’s dad, Bill, how he felt about his daughter holding hands with Josh. He and Tess laughed and said that Josh was already parent-approved. But I think if Josh had tried to kiss her, Bill would have kicked his butt.

During the presidential inauguration last January, Sami watched in awe as the president and first lady danced at the ball. She turned to Tess and announced that when she grew up, she was going to marry Josh because he had golden hair like hers, and someday he would become president, and they would dance together at the inaugural ball. Tess later broke the news to me that Josh would evidently need to become president of the United States to make her daughter happy. I jokingly told Josh the story and asked if he wanted to be president someday and marry Sami. He tilted his head and thought for a moment. Then he said that was fine with him, but he was also going to be a professional hockey player.

Sami also started sneaking into Josh’s conversations about the future. One afternoon I took Josh to a local park. Three junior-high-school girls in tight jeans and bare-midriff tanks were sitting on a nearby bench swearing and talking to boys on their cell phones as I tried to push my preschooler on the swing. I gave them a few evil glares, but they continued indignantly, and I finally gathered Josh up and left. In the car on the way home, I tried to use the experience as a teaching moment. I began explaining that those were not nice girls, and I advised him that when he grows up and is ready to find a girl to marry he should find a nice one. Josh thought about this advice for a moment and then said, “You mean someone like Sami!”

Last spring, Josh helped us paint my home office yellow one Saturday afternoon. That evening as we walked to the Sharks game with his grandpa, Josh looked up and said, “When I grow up, I want to paint my office yellow, too.” I told him that was a great idea but he better check with his wife first. Grandpa then looked over at me and asked what Josh had just said. Before I could answer, Josh said, “I told Mommy that I want to paint my office yellow when I grow up, and she said that I better check with Sami first.”

When Josh and Sami were together, their spontaneous hand-holding continued. No matter where they were—at the park or the pumpkin patch or in someone’s backyard—one would inevitably reach over and take the other’s hand. It was instinctive and seamless. It seemed as natural to them as brushing their hair out of their eyes or bracing for a fall. And it was incredibly sweet watching them bobbing along together, completely connected in a serene and genuine way. While they were obviously entirely too young to plan for, let alone understand, the lifetime commitment of marriage, they were undeniably kindred spirits.

A few weeks ago, Josh and Sami were the only two kids who could attend playgroup one week, so we decided to take them on a special all-day adventure to a local amusement park. Tess had an extra car seat, so she drove all of us, which was a special treat for Josh, who is always begging for someone to sit next to him in the backseat. Sami and Josh spent much of the day running from ride to ride hand-in-hand. And we all had a great time.

On the way home, Josh shouted, “Mom!” from the back seat.

“Yes? I said as I turned around.

“No, not you,” and then he repeated, “Mom!”

Tess looked over at me and laughed, “Yes Josh?” she said.

“Can I put my Twisted Fruit wrapper on the floor?”

“Yes,” she answered as I turned to her and joked, “OK, now it’s official!”

Then I turned to the kids and told them what a great day I’d had. They agreed. Offhandedly I said something about how when they are all grown up, Tess and I will have to take their kids on a special adventure together, too. As I said it, I wasn’t thinking about their agreement. I honestly meant that when our own children were grown, perhaps we could take our grandchildren on special adventures. But after I’d said it, I realized that it sounded like I was talking about the children Josh and Sami would have together.

Tess turned to me and whispered, “Sami says she doesn’t want to have kids.” I smiled and remembered that she had been lamenting that a few weeks earlier, and I had completely forgotten. We both braced for Sami to suddenly set the record straight. But it wasn’t Sami’s voice we heard.

“How do you get pregnant?” Josh asked innocently and all too clearly from the back seat. Tess and I immediately broke into giggles. And I was stuck. I couldn’t possibly explain the birds and the bees to him in front of another child whose parents may have different views about what and when you explain such things. Yet I didn’t want to ignore Josh’s obviously important question.

As I grappled with how to appropriately respond, I heard Sami ask Josh, “What’s pregnant?” which only made us laugh harder.

“When you have a baby in your tummy,” Josh answered very matter-of-factly.

“Oh, I’m not going to have a baby in my tummy.” Sami said, and Tess nodded quietly, knowing that was coming.

It was quiet for a moment while Tess and I tried to stop silently giggling in the front seat. I could almost hear the wheels turning in Josh’s head as Sami’s declaration hung in the air. I could see him silently doing the math. If he was going to marry Sami and Sami did not want to have a baby in her tummy, did that mean he would never have children?

“But I want kids,” Josh finally said as if he were insisting it was now his turn to play the one toy trumpet or jump on the one-person trampoline.

“I don’t want kids,” Sami reiterated confidently as she nonchalantly flipped through a picture book.

The street lights illuminated Josh intermittently in the back seat as he considered his position. He then turned to her and said a bit louder and more pleadingly, “But I want kids!”

“I don’t,” Sami swiftly replied. “I’ve already decided. And I’m going to marry you.”

Josh tilted his head slightly and paused. “How do you know?” he asked.

“Because I just know,” Sami replied. “When we’re older, I’m going to find you and marry you.”

Josh seemed to accept this as plausible, but he realized he was still stuck with the same problem. “But I want kids.” Josh reminded her.

Sami was quiet for a moment. Then she turned and looked Josh straight in the eye. “Kids are a lot of work,” she said. “Are you sure you still want them?”

And in the blink of an eye, our four-year-olds were suddenly twenty-four year olds navigating one of life’s bigger issues. Each had a different point of view. And neither was willing to concede. As Tess and I silently stifled waves of hysterical laughter and wiped away tears, our kids reached an impasse they knew they could not possibly resolve.

So they wrapped it up the only way they knew how, “Can I read that book now?” Josh asked as he pointed to the picture book on Sami’s lap.

“Sure,” she said as she handed it to him.


And though none of us verbally acknowledged it, we were all pretty sure the wedding was off.

In the last couple of weeks, Josh has started to explore other options. He started a new preschool class at the end of August, and within the first week he came home talking about his new friend. When I asked what his friend's name was, he said he didn’t know, but she was a girl and she had long black hair and when he looked at her she smiled at him. I promised to help him find out her name, and when he pointed her out to me last week, I saw that she is indeed a beautiful girl with a beautiful smile.

It turns out Sami began to explore other options as well. One day last weekend, she offhandedly said to her mom, “If I do have a kid, I want to name her Princess.”

Last Saturday, Tess invited us to dinner because Eric was out of town. As we sat outside on a warm September evening, eating great barbeque and drinking our own versions of grape juice, Bill said, “Yesterday, Sami had a revelation.”

“What kind of revelation?” I asked.

Sami immediately sat up in her chair and turned to Josh. “I’d like to have one kid. If I want to have one kid, will you marry me, Josh?”

Josh sat back in his chair and seemed to consider this offer. “I don’t know,” he replied.

The table was quiet. I could see Sami’s face fall. She had clearly made a major compromise to her life plan, and it hadn’t garnered nearly the response she’s expected.

Then Josh straightened up in his chair and upped the ante. “I want two kids.”

Bill, Tess, and I could barely contain our giggles.

“Two kids are too much work,” Sami countered, clearly defining how much she was willing to concede.

“Are you still going to be a vet when you grow up?” Tess asked Sami.

“Yes,” Sami replied.

“Well, if you are a vet, maybe you can hire a nanny to help the kids.”

Sami immediately brightened. “OK Josh, we can have two kids, and I will be a vet and have a nanny to help so it won’t be so much work!” she proudly announced.

Josh shrugged noncommittally and took another bite of his macaroni and cheese. The subject evaporated along with the last moments of summer.

On the way to the zoo the next morning, my mom asked Josh how dinner at Sami’s was. He told her about Sami’s revelation and recounted the conversation at dinner. He betrayed no inclinations about this new development. And I wasn’t going to ask.

But as we talked, I suddenly remembered the original bargain the two lovebirds had struck, so I asked Josh, “Are you still planning to be the president someday?”

Josh considered this for a moment and shook his head. “I don’t want to be president.”

“I see,” I replied, knowing that meant he had moved on from the Sami plan. In any love story, it’s better to know earlier rather than later whether things are going to work out. And I’m not sure it gets much earlier than four.

It was silent for a few moments. The Josh declared, “After I’m done playing hockey, I want to be a vet with Sami.”

And just like that, the wedding was back on.

We each have our own love story. Many of us have more than one. Some are short bursts of incredible emotion that quickly flourish and then fizzle. Others are slow-building bonds that blossom and strengthen and deepen over time. Some people find the love of their life in childhood. Other people search high and low for a cohort to share eternity with. No matter how it comes to us or how long it lasts, each love story is unique. And whether Josh and Sami’s story ends as kindergarten begins or perseveres through their formative years and beyond, only time will tell. But their age does not make their connection any less real. And if they somehow defy all the odds and make it to the alter, this story will make one unbelievable wedding toast.
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