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Valentine’s Day is coming up. No, this is not a post about the material commercialization of human affection, nor is it about the unrealistic expectations of an elusive state of romance set for us by popular media, and it’s not about the inherent undefinability of the word either. It’s about a much simpler time where love was unjaded and experienced in a more pure form. This is…

Love, the Primary School Years

My kid came home the other day and told me that her bestie Ella and a boy, Clark are now “an item”. I asked her what she meant by that because she’s only 7 and sometimes repeats things she’s heard without actually knowing what they mean. “You know,” she replied, “They’re boyfriend-girlfriend.” I asked her to explain what that entailed. Impatiently, she told me, “You know, like they hold hands and walk with their arms around each other’s waists, and when Madame was reading us a story, Ella was sitting beside Clark on the ground and had her legs on top of his.”

After school the next day, my kid informed me that Ella and Clark were no longer going out. When I asked what happened, she told me that Clark had dumped Ella because his mother told him that he wasn’t allowed to have a girlfriend until he was 18 years old. Tragic.

This got me thinking of my own romantic experiences at that age. In grade 1, I remember falling for Dwayne Armstrong. He was the tallest boy in the class and very handsome. Plus, he had a name like a superhero. One day, he returned my affection and we fell in love. We sat beside each other at storytime and I let him hold my stuffed koala. That night, I went home and asked my mother to help me write him a love note. She still remembers that and the feelings of a/be-musement she had about it. The next morning, I went to school with the note folded into a tight square in my pocket. As soon as Dwayne saw me, he started running in my direction, happily calling my name. I immediately felt embarrassed and repulsed and cruelly snubbed him for the rest of the day. Later that morning, when we went to the library, I tore the note up and threw the pieces into the garbage can.

In grade 3, a new boy joined our class part way through the year. His name was Greg Poole and he was from the States, which was a huge deal. Tall and blond, he wore rugby pants and was good at drawing. He had excellent penmanship and was great at spelling and all the girls swooned over him. One day, I found a secret admirer’s note in my desk. The note talked about how special my admirer thought I was and there was a cool styled cartoon of a girl on it.  Later that week, there were more notes from the same admirer. The girls I’d shown it to told me that it was Greg for sure. We giggled and stole glances at him. He was putting up a good show at pretending he had no idea what was going on. At the end of the week, my secret admirer revealed herself to be Karen Bailey, a quiet, sullen arty girl, who used big words and spoke like a grown-up. I felt embarrassed, let down, and confused.

In grade 4, I developed a crush on Michael Senechal. He was the fastest runner in the school (next to Olga Petosa), got Excellence in every activity in the Canada Fitness Test, and was also good at math. Parent-teacher interviews were coming up and because our last names were close together, I knew that Michael’s and my parents would be scheduled to visit the teacher around the same time. That day, I’d worn this white bohemian style shirt with a V-neck that had flowers embroidered around the V. That evening, as we were getting ready to go to school, I pushed my thumb down into the fabric at the bottom of the V, tearing the fabric slightly to make my neckline plunge deeper. When we got to the classroom, I saw that Michael was there, so I went over to the bookshelf to ignore him. He came over and said hi, but I don’t think he noticed my shirt. I felt ashamed that I’d put so much energy and effort into it and he hadn’t even noticed.

In grade 5, a boy named David Chatto told me that he had something to tell me. When I asked him what, he refused to say. This became a game and for the rest of the school year, he would taunt me by saying that he was going to tell me, then he wouldn’t. David was known for being able to beat every kid in the class at math flash cards, except for me. It wasn’t that I was that good at math—he just seemed to get flustered when standing beside my desk. Finally, on the last day of school, with the encouragement of his buddy Tim, David cornered me by the long jump pit and told me that the secret that he’d been keeping the whole year was that he liked me. Then he promptly ran away, out of the schoolyard and I never saw him again because his family moved to another city. For the whole year, I’d been annoyed by the guy, then as soon as I knew I’d never see him again, I felt so wistful.

* * *

All these years later and I still remember exactly how these experiences made me feel. Ups and downs, highs and lows, nausea and embarrassment mixed with elation and flutterflies. Not a lot has changed; I still haven’t figured it out. Probably never will. But better’d keep trying just in case.

Originally posted February 9, 2013

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