At age seven, I had no idea why I wanted Sherry Green's attention, but I liked being next to her in the line for chocolate milk. We'd smile at each other while sharpening our pencils. We'd pick each other for the same kickball team. One day, we actually had a conversation, in the middle of the playground at our elementary school. Shyly, I kicked the tar that filled the asphalt cracks as we talked about our favorite TV shows. Then, her friend Melanie showed up and Sherry started wailing on me with her little leather purse. "Stop talking to me, Gregory Keer! Get away from me!" In shock, I took a couple more whacks before I ran for my life. To this day, I do not know what happened. Sherry tried to approach me several times, but I wasn't interested in more random abuse.
Twenty years later, I got over my confusion with women long enough to marry Wendy. I still have my moments of cluelessness around her, but it's nothing compared to what's in store for my sons. Benjamin (6) and Jacob (2 1/2) have their own -- though very different -- issues with the opposite sex. Benjamin has a couple of girl friends, but, for the most part, he has bought into that "girls are aliens" theory.
The other night, we learned that he had spent time in the "uncooperative chair" and we asked him what he did to try the patience of his kindergarten teacher, Mrs Renetzky.
"I was a little too wiggly," Benjamin said with a smile and a wiggle.
"What do you mean, 'wiggly'?" my wife asked.
"All the boys have a problem being wiggly," Benjamin replied. "We just can't help ourselves."
"Do any of the girls spend time in the uncooperative chair?" my wife inquired like a maternal Diane Sawyer.
"Not really. The girls always talk, though. The boys are quiet when the teacher is talking. We're just wiggly," he explained. Fascinated by my Benjamin's budding interest in gender studies, I queried him about other things he might have noticed. "What do you guys like to play when you're on the yard?"
"We dig tunnels in the sand and go on missions. Sometimes we play basketball," he said.
"Do you ever play with the girls?" I wondered.
"Not really. They play with Barbies," he said.
"Do you think any of the girls are pretty," I asked.
My son shook his head like I was crazy, "Forget about it."
Currently, Benjamin isn't close to having a crush. But last year, one girl would sit at storytime with her arm around him -- and his arm around her! -- like they were cuddling on a couch. They even "married" each other in a pretend ceremony held in their pre-K classroom.
Later in the year, Benjamin had a playdate with a pair of adorable twins. Benjamin endured their competitive declarations of "I'm gonna marry Benjamin! No, I'm gonna marry Benjamin." He got so fed up, he announced, "I'm already married!"
Of course, the marriage didn't last and, during the summer at camp, Benjamin participated in another round of mock weddings by marrying himself (we have the certificate to prove it).
Now, my younger son is a different story. It appears that girls, especially older ones, love his devilish smile, which somehow outweighs his penchant for putting sand in their hair.
Earlier this year, Wendy and Jacob were at a playground where two preschool girls, Sydney and Emma, invited Jacob into the playhouse with him. Inside, they began bickering.
"He's mine," Sydney said, taking Jacob's hand.
"No, I want him," Emma said, pulling him to sit in the corner.
All the while, Jacob laughed like a mini-Austin Powers, obviously delighting in the attention. Not that Jacob doesn't reciprocate. Whenever we visit Sydney's house, Jacob follows her around, saying "Sydneee" like a European womanizer. He's also pretty attached to Emma, as he proved at a breakfast we had with her family the other week. All the kids sat at their own table, keeping their manners admirably until Jacob's fondness for Emma got out of hand. The kid was draped all over her, hugging her face and nearly sitting in her plate of $2.99 French toast. "If he gets any closer to my daughter, we're going to have to discuss a primp," her father cracked.
So far, the only legal union in our household involves Wendy and I. She's also the one woman who holds the key to my sons' hearts. Clearly, they've made a wise choice. Despite my inability to read her meanings on certain occasions (all my fault, of course), I'm thrilled that this woman with the huge smile shares the secrets of her soul only with me.
In this month of Mother's Day, I wish for my sons the kind of girl Daddy has. For my wife, I promise the eternal love of a husband who's just happy you haven't hit him with a handbag.