A Young Man’s Fancy

On the first day of spring I walked to Noah’s school to pick him up and take him to drama class. All the kindergarten classrooms have doors that lead directly out to the playground, and at 3:05, when school lets out, parents and nannies congregate by these doors. As I pushed June’s stroller up to Senora A’s door she caught sight of me and said, “He forgot and I forgot.” That meant he was headed for the bus, which was headed for our empty house.

“I won’t be able to get home in time!” I cried, in a momentary panic.

She ran off to the cafeteria to see if she could find him while I waited under the awning with June, wondering what to do if she didn’t catch him in time. A few minutes later she was back, with Noah. I was just calming down when she said, “Noah had a rough day.” The relief I was feeling dissipated at once. Noah’s had a lot of rough days in kindergarten.

“Oh?” I said cautiously. “What happened?”

“He was hitting people.” Oh goodness, it was worse than I thought, but then she started to mime what he’d been doing and I saw she meant he’d been spinning around, not watching where he was going and crashing into people. It’s an ongoing problem he’s had since preschool and bad enough, but not as bad as maliciously attacking his classmates, at least in my book. It turns out he was also lying on the rug and refusing to get up. As she described his behavior, Senora A reached for his thumb and took it out of his mouth. He’s not allowed to suck his thumb in her classroom. I accept this rule, but I found myself thinking petulantly that we weren’t in the classroom, we were outside, so she should just leave him alone. Noah sidled over and leaned against me. I ruffled his hair, and then asked him why he was lying down. He avoided my gaze, looking to the side, up, down, anywhere but at me. “That’s what he does!” Senora A cried, exasperated. She’s right. It is what he does when he’s embarrassed and doesn’t want to answer.

“Okay, we’ll talk about this at home,” I said. Then I asked if it was the crashing into people that got him exiled from his table recently. For two weeks Noah had to sit alone, apart from his usual tablemates, Maxine, Sean and Ruby. He’d been unable to tell us why and I kept meaning to find out. Senora A said it was because he’d been talking to the other three when he was supposed to be working and that after being separated from them for awhile and returning he was doing better. Well, that’s one fewer problem, I thought.

We were both a bit downhearted on the way to drama. Noah chafes at the structure and discipline of kindergarten and I worry about him getting turned off school at a young age. He says he likes science class better than regular school because the teacher focuses on facts and not on what he’s supposed to be doing, or not doing. And he loves drama because he can do whatever he likes. The class has an improv format so that’s the point. It also helps that it’s taught by his preschool teacher, who has always had an instinctive, almost magical way with him.

While Noah was in class, I chatted with my friend and fellow drama mom Kathleen while we watched our babies crawl around the room and play. I thought about telling her what had happened at school and decided against it. Beth and I would talk about it with Noah at dinner that night, but for now I wanted to let it sit. On the way home, I didn’t bring it up with Noah. As we approached the fountain on the small college campus near our house, he was talking about something he’d done with Ruby and I asked if they’d been playing together a lot. I knew I’d been hearing her name often recently. He said yes, and I said something about how it’s nice to have a friend you play with a lot. Then, to my surprise, Noah said,” Ruby loves me.”

“Really. Did she say so?” I asked, wondering if he had inferred this or if the girl had actually declared herself.

“She said so. Ruby loves me and Maxine loves Sean. And we all love each other and we are the best pairs of friends in the class. But Maxine does something to Sean that Ruby doesn’t do to me.”

“What is it?” I asked with some trepidation. Holding hands, maybe? Surely not kissing.

“She calls him Seanny, but Ruby doesn’t call me Noey.”

This was a relief. “Do you want to be called Noey?”

“Not really.”

“Well, then it’s good she doesn’t.” I said. And that was it, at least for that conversation. I smiled inwardly thinking, even if he’s acting up in class, he still has his place in the social system. He’s popular enough to be double dating. All at once his problems at school, while still vexing, didn’t seem quite as dire. And once I relaxed a little, I noticed that the daffodils, which I’ve been seeing here and there for weeks now, were everywhere.

Interestingly, Noah hasn’t told Beth anything about Ruby and when he wants to tell me something about her if Beth is present, he whispers. He seems pleased, if a little confused, by the alliance. He obviously didn’t initiate it and he seems a little unclear on how it all came about. He will tell me things like “Ruby started liking me in January.” Noah had a year of preschool and three years of day care before kindergarten. He’s had friendships, even obsessive ones, with plenty of children, male and female. Beth and I have often jokingly called these relationships crushes, but this was the closest he’s come to actually using the language of romance.

That night as I lay with Noah for a few minutes after lights out he said, “Mommy, when you leave, instead of ‘Mommy loves you very much,’ could you say, ‘Ruby loves you very much?” Suddenly this wasn’t so cute and funny anymore. That’s my line! I thought about it for a minute and said, “Mommy loves you very much and I hear Ruby does, too.” A bit grudging perhaps, but I’ve been loving him very much for almost six years! I know someday he will love some lucky person more than me. That’s how it should be, but this is early in the game. I’m not ceding my place to the first Tom, Dick or Ruby to come down the pike.