Crushing Third Graders

1-27-2006 021 

“I can’t sit with Zach, Daddy,” Kennedy says matter-of-factly.

I just agreed to take Zach across town to the Little League game at his mother’s request, so she could run an errand. He is on the same team as Aaron and all of them (Aaron, Kennedy, and Zach) are in the same third grade class. Having just finished our own early morning errand, the kids and I had stopped for a quick lunch at Quiznos before the game. Zach and Aaron immediately grabbed one of the tiny Quiznos tables. Zach’s parents sat at another table and Kennedy and I shared our own.

Leaning in conspiratorially, Kennedy whispers, “Zach loves me.”

“Really,” I say, raising my eyebrows.

“I know because he can’t eat.”

I glance over at Zach. He lazily spoons soup into his mouth. His sandwich lays open on the table in front of him, the meat and cheese picked from a soggy bun with vegetables. Aaron followed Zach’s lead, eating just the tuna from his bun. I wasn’t crazy about watching Aaron eat his lunch that way, but I wasn’t upset enough to make a stand. He was at least eating better than Kennedy, who rarely eats anything heavier than crackers and soup, and always takes a lifetime.

“That could be love,” I say. “Eat a little more soup.”

“You know how else I know?” Kennedy asks. “He’s eating soup, just like me.”

“Maybe that is love,” I say.

“Or,” I pause to sip my soda. “Maybe he just likes soup.”

“Chicken noodle,” she says, as if this were proof of an iron clad argument.

“You never know,” I say.

I watch her sip a few more spoonfuls of soup, then nibble a cracker.

“You know how else I know,” Kennedy says.

“Tell me.”

“Sometimes, when I stand with my feet like this.” Kennedy pigeon toes her feet under the table. “If Zach sees me, then he stands just like that, too.”

“Wow,” I say.

“He does.”

“Well, we can get Aaron to sit in the middle.” I say.

“Oh, no!” Kennedy says with mild alarm. “We don’t have to do that. I’m just telling you.”

“I see,” I say, mildly amused. Zach may very well have a crush on my daughter. But I don’t think Kennedy is as smitten with him as she is with herself. She is just starting to realize her power to affect other people.

And not just boys either.

Earlier this year she had a major fight with her best friend, a cute little girl named Ally, who Kennedy has been hanging out with since kindergarten. Since the fight, Ally has refused to speak with Kennedy. This has been going on for weeks now. My wife told me that Kennedy awoke recently and said she had a dream that Ally was speaking to her again. Kennedy sounded so hopeful and optimistic, it was hard for me not to feel angry with Ally.

Cute as Ally is, I wanted to crush her. But as a responsible adult, you just can’t go around crushing third graders.

Instead I have watched Kennedy work her way through the loneliness and loss. She has invited new girls over for play dates. I have heard reports of how Kennedy has stood up for herself on the playground with Ally and some of the other girls. So it is very satisfying to watch her now, as she flexes her muscles with Zach. She is basking in her new found powers.

But it’s also a little scary to me. Why? Because you can’t go around crushing the children that hurt your daughter.

“Zach loves me.” Kennedy says, a smug little smile on her face. “I know it.”

 At least, not until the eighth or ninth grade.


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