Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Jukebox of Our Sweeter Past

“Upside down
Boy, you turn me
Inside out
And round and round…”

—Diana Ross, Upside Down

And just like that, I had my first kiss. Plus,
built-in bully protection.

Before that though, walking home from pre-first (the grade between kindergarten and first grade back in my younger days) was like walking home along the wrong side of the tracks. Tracks that represented the only way I was allowed to walk home from school. The bully's name was Ronnie, and he threw rocks and dirt clods at me from atop his fence as I ran past.

This was a different time of course, the time of unregulated free range kids. My sister and I both were walking home and/or riding bikes home from school since we were six years old. The Mama did too growing up. For my sister and I early on, home to school and back was about a mile round trip.

I used to think I was in kindergarten when this all went down, but I was actually six when this happened, and that put me in pre-first. My mom thought me too young and shy and frail in kindergarten (which I was, being very shy and riddled with allergies and asthma), so instead of holding me back another year, she had pre-first as an option for me.

Every day the terror of walking home led to the flying of lethal objects. Ronnie didn't aim directly at me, otherwise I would've been taken out early on, but his point was to bully and scare me, which he did.

Until Judy. Judy who was sweet and cute (at least cute in the way a six year old thinks about it) and actually asked me if we could walk home together (her family lived three doors down from mine). I was thrilled of course, but worried about Ronnie, unsure if he had bullied her as well to date, or would start because of me.

Then it happened. Right there on the corner before the Ronnie gauntlet homeward one day. I asked her to kiss me.

Correction. I begged her to kiss me. I don't remember why exactly, but maybe it would've been protection of some kind.

She frowned, then smiled and said, "Okay."

We kissed. I remember it vividly, like an old favorite pop song, lyrically sweet and upbeat without the adult complexity in the rearview or periphery. After that, with her by my side, Ronnie had a invisibly imposed restraining order placed on him -- the rock throwing stopped. He even stopped calling me names. Of course I clung to her like dryer lint.

But now I'm a dad of two young girls, the oldest of whom is in first grade. Beatrice now has her own first grade admirer, a classmate of hers who is young and shy like I was. He's also very clingy and possessive, indicative of the male immaturity gene that activates full force throughout most of youth and early adulthood (and sometimes beyond). And she towers over him, like most girls do early on in the growing years. Beatrice likes this attention, but again, this isn't adolescence. It's the simpler side of childhood. Thank you Lord.

They are only seven years old, mind you. They are friends and this friendship is reciprocal. Together they have a lots of fun with imaginative play including the "becoming a dog" formula in the living years of science article.

But then there's this: he recently kissed her on the playground. Multiple kids witnessed it and immediately told the playground monitor and then their teacher.

The first kiss is innocent enough, but because the Mama and I have lived all of this before in our youth, we do worry about what happens next, year after year. So we did have renewed boundary talks with Bea and her teacher, focusing on the Kidpower strategies (the global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, of which the Mama is an instructor for). This means empowering both our girls to develop the awareness of when something's not comfortable and then literally creating a figurative fence and/or wall and saying aloud:

"Stop! I do not want to play this game."

Because no means no. It's not oversimplifying either; it's a critical empowerment practice for all girls and boys. Putting safety first among many other strategies is the very embodiment of Kidpower’s core principle:

The safety and healthy self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.

Amen. Thankfully we're still in the sweet and innocent years with the girls, and while we're still vigilant and teaching them these safety skills, we recognize that growing up will happen.

Bea's classmate admirer just had a bowling birthday party. It warmed my heart to watch both Bea and Bryce be kids with him and all the other kids. These are the years when the Mama and I get to again experience the silly jokes, the friendly rough-housing, the spinning in chairs, the chasing, the laughter, the high-fives and quick hugs, all the innocence and more.

There once was a little boy who bowled backward between his legs to impress a little girl, and the little girl saw and liked and clapped, and then matched him in kind; all these new childhood memories a jukebox of our sweeter past.

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