Sep 13 2012

What’s His Name

“I have to tell you something,” Short-pants said. “It’s about my life.”

She’d been waiting for hours for me to get home and she could hardly contain herself. I promised to give her my undivided attention – something about her life deserved at least that – if she could wait for me to set my big yellow bag down, put my keys on the shelf and take off my shoes. Her eyes remained fixed on my every move.

“Upstairs,” she said, lifting her chin upwards, towards her room.

I followed her up the narrow, curving stairway and sat beside her on the edge of her bed.

We’ve had a lot of talks these last few days; Short-pants is mindful of the gravity of her passage from primary school to collège – middle school – and she’s been expressing her enthusiasm and her trepidation in equal measure.

“There’s a boy. In my class. We hung out together a lot today,” she said. “I think he likes me.”

“What’s his name?” I asked.

She looked at me, surprised. She shrugged.

“Well,” I said, trying to let her off the hook. “I guess knowing his name isn’t so important just yet, is it?”

She went on to tell me the context of their conversations, and how he’d asked her to have lunch with him, what they’d talked about and how his friend told her later, “I think there’s some dragging going on.”

I noticed her cheekbones seemed higher, more pronounced. Her eyebrows have started to frame her gray-blue eyes in a kind of glamorous way. It’s like her body had assumed a different stance, the poise of someone who is admired. She wasn’t the same girl I sent to school that morning.

“Do you like him?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she lied.

And so it begins.

The good news is, she wanted to tell me about it, and she claimed she’d told me more details than she told her sister. The good news is, somebody seems to like her before she likes him. The good news is, she could tell that he liked her. The bad news, well, there really isn’t any bad news, except that her indifference to boys meant one less element of drama in our household. Those days are over.

After dinner, Buddy-roo asked me if we could have a moment together, too. She keeps track of the time I spend alone with each of them, always keen to keep it even. I joined her upstairs in her little garret room, where she’d been setting up the Fisher Price dollhouse, the one that used to be mine.

“You know how I’ve been in love with…” she stopped and gestured with her hands, as though she’d been in love with Voldemort and didn’t dare to utter his name out loud.

“Well, there was this other boy in school today, a new boy,” she looked at me, straight on, “and he’s cuter.”

I can’t say I’m too disturbed that her last-year’s crush might be have run its course. I’m in no hurry for her to have a steady beau. Not that she’s had a deep relationship, let alone a formal date with the one who won’t be named. Remember these childhood romances? They’re just verbal agreements, made during recreation, to be in love. At the same time, I do want to discourage her from treating these little boys as dispensable, trading an old one in for a newer, cuter model. I tried to convey this to her but her eyes glazed over in the middle of my little lecture.

“My grandmother used to tell me that boys are like buses.” I said, trying a new tack. Buddy-roo likes family stories, and this kind of an opening gets her attention. “If you miss one, another one comes along in ten minutes.”

It’s true that my grandmother used to say this to me, rather often, though it wasn’t with a condescending or man-hating tone. She meant it in a matter-of-fact way, simply, don’t get too invested because at your age there’s a lot ahead of you. She just wanted me to keep my options open.

“But when you’re getting off the bus,” I added, “you still have to be polite.”

Buddy-roo considered this without looking at me, moving the furniture around in her dollhouse.

“And this new, cuter guy,” I said, “what’s his name?”

“I don’t know,” she answered, a little embarrassed.

“Well,” I said. “I guess knowing his name isn’t so important just yet, is it?”

I ought to tread carefully here, as my mental acuity isn’t as sharp as it used to be, and I have my own challenges remembering the names of people I’ve just met. It’s easy to get distracted when meeting someone new, thinking about what you want to say rather than listening and locking in on their name. I even get my own daughters wrong, calling them by each other’s names. But when I was the same age as Short-pants and Buddy-roo, I had glue between my ears. I heard and remembered everything, especially if it had to do with a boy I had a crush on. What’s up with my girls, who both seem to be infatuated with unnamed boys?

I know better than to tease them about this. It’s a surefire way to get them to stop talking to me about their burgeoning love lives. But it takes a certain amount of self-control.

On the way to school today, Buddy-roo grabbed my sleeve and pointed out the new boy.

“Oh,” I said, “That’s whats-his-name?”

She nodded.

I didn’t say it to her, but you know what? He is cuter.


Jan 21 2012

How to Flirt

“Antoine keeps dragging me.”

This is a turn of phrase I’m accustomed to hearing from my contemporaries, reporting about a wildish night out or even just what happened waiting for me to turn up at our favorite café for an afternoon beer. I didn’t expect to hear it from Buddy-roo.

Dragging is a classic example of Franglais. In this case a French word transformed into an English verb by adding -ing. My friends often do this with French words to be funny or sarcastic. Buddy-roo simply didn’t know the equivalent word in English: flirting.

This use of dragueur comes from the French cineaste Jean-Pierre Mocky and his 1959 film, Les Dragueurs, in which an unlikely pair of men, one a serial skirt-chaser, the other more reserved and eagerly seeking a wife, go out on the town in Paris, flirting with every woman they meet. It was called The Chasers when it was released to English-speaking audiences, and if you watch even a short excerpt of the film you’ll see that the title is apt.

The original verb draguer means to dredge or trawl. It’s also used to describe the task of minesweeping. But as a result of the film, the term is more commonly used to describe the act of hitting on someone. As a noun, a dragueur (or dragueuse) is the consummate flirt.

“What about Vincent?” I asked her. Last week he was Buddy-roo’s true love. “Or Ethan?” He was last year’s heartthrob, and it’s my understanding that kisses have even been exchanged between them.

“I still love them,” she shrugged, “but now I like Antoine, too.”

This all sounded too familiar to me, in that transparent, embarrassing way that your children mirror a part of yourself or your past. When I was going through the boxes I’d left in my mother’s basement, I found several diaries from when I was Buddy-roo’s age. I sat on the dusty chair under a single light bulb, reading the pages of dribble and cringing at the recounting of the romantic details of my life at age eight: how Kenny smiled at me in the lunch line, or how Billy said he loved me but I really loved Phil. Would Timmy hold my hand at the roller-skating party? Five pages later, the names were changed but the passion was just as fierce. How fickle, the flame of young love.

How do we learn about flirting? Is it something that just comes naturally? Is it observed or inherited? Short-pants can’t be bothered to think about the boys in her school as anything but classmates, while Buddy-roo intuitively creates a hierarchy of her romantic preferences. I’ve seen her in action. If those boys are dragging Buddy-roo, there’s a good chance they’re merely answering her coquettish call.

Should I talk to my daughters about flirting, its benefits and consequences? I know a bit about the subject. I was named biggest flirt in my high school senior poll and I’ve been told I’m not so bad at barstool banter. I’m a good wingman for my single friends; I’ll start a conversation and leave it for them to finish. One English summary of Les Draagueurs describes how the two bachelors think they’ve struck gold until “it becomes apparent that these two wily lasses only want someone to pay for their drinks.” That’s a motive I understand. It could be my epitaph: She only wanted him to buy her a beer.

My mother never gave me any advice about flirting. I don’t fault her for this. It wasn’t part of the logos of her generation. But I’m wondering if some kind of guidance isn’t appropriate. What would I say? How it’s fun but you have to be careful, how it can be hurtful to someone who takes you more seriously than you intend, or you can inadvertently hint at something you don’t mean to convey and get yourself in a sticky situation. How it’s a dance, but you have to be mindful how you step. Unless drawing attention to it only hastens the 50-yard dash Buddy-roo is already making toward the world of love and lust. Arming her with a bit of information could make her wiser – or just more wicked. Either way, I think we’re flirting with disaster.