Friday, November 14, 2003

Love, Actually

No, not the holiday movie starring Hugh Grant, which looks to be one of those feel-good pictures serving up stereotypes of upper-class English sensibility for consumption in the American market (maybe British people actually watch that stuff too, I wouldn't know). My husband couldn't be dragged to such a picture. However, being American to the core, I have a weakness for entertainment, even unencumbered by standards of good taste or authenticity. Naturally, I'll be going to see it with my girlfriends.

This had to do with one of the more unusual assignments of my writing career. My four-year old daughter had drawn a picture that she wished to offer as a birthday card, to one of the boys at her school. The picture appeared to be a flower with a sort of detached heart-shaped petal. However, I've learned not go there when it comes to interpreting childrens' art. One's protestations of "What a lovely goldfish bowl" are likely to be silenced by "Actually, it's Jupiter." At any rate, these are the words she dictated to me

Dear Justin "His Surname"
Happy Birthday to you.
"Her Name" Fleury
The Artist

The first thing that intrigued me was the naming issue: the fact that this wasn't just any Justin, it was Justin with a certain surname. Presumably, names go through waves of popularity and you want to make sure you are addressing the right Justin. Then there was her name. She has a Spanish name, but not a very common one. If you lived in Spain or South America it might have been the sort of name your grandmother or great aunt had. It's not as though she needed to worry about confusion, living in the US with a retro Spanish first name and French last name. But that's not the way a four year old would think. I think it must have had to do with establishing her unique identity, as given to her by others (her name), and as defined by herself (the Artist).

I had absentmindedly signed the "love" in the closing. Big mistake. When I read it back to her, she pitched a fit. "No you can't use that word. That wasn't the word I wanted." So I crayoned over it and wrote "from" in front. Well, children can be pretty perverse because then she decided "love" was what she did want to say, but this was beginning to look messy on the card. Adults like to think of childhood as a simpler time, but apparently semantics are very important to four year olds.

The first time I heard my daughter talking about this boy was in the context of "Justin is chasing the girls. Justin shouldn't be chasing the girls. Justin is now five, shouldn't he know better than to be chasing girls?" I explained that it takes boys a little longer to mature, which she accepted rather matter of factly. But the fact was that this Justin fellow had figured out how to get himself noticed. He had made it into the pantheon of boys that interest my daughter, featuring her "best boy," her "backup boy," "the boy from her new school", "the boy from Sunday School"...and "his brother!" Yes, my daughter has reconciled herself to religion now that she is picking up boys in Sunday School--how my husband smirked at that one.

It would also appear that life is, at the same time, simpler and more complicated at four. Or, maybe it's just more literal. Recently, my daughter told the babysitter "I've just been falling in love so much these days." The sitter, a little amazed, asked "Well, how have you been doing that?" to which, my daugther replied "Well, you know, first you fall...and then--you're in love." The sitter observed "Well, you must have a lot of bruises, then?" to which my daughter replied very matter-of-factly "Surprisingly, no."

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