On Valentine’s Day, Mikey came up to the car with one hand behind his back holding a surprise I thought was for me. When he pulled out a carnation with a flourish, I made all the appropriate squeals of delight. Mikey’s music teacher, a man my age, smiled at my gushing. “Is that for me, Mikey? I love it!”
I all but threw myself a ticker tape parade for having raised such a thoughtful son.
“No way, mom. This is for me from Emma.”
I all but dug myself a shallow grave, waved goodbye to Mikey’s music teacher, who was now laughing, and asked my black-hearted son to use that damn carnation as a marker.
Emma. I should have known.
Humiliation aside, I had to chuckle. I know Emma’s mom bought the entire class carnations through the school fundraiser, but Mikey and Emma have such a love/hate relationship that I imagine years from now I’ll mention the same carnation to Mikey and he’ll either grimace or moon over the lovely Emma.
The first I heard of Emma was last year in kindergarten. A name said in passing, a small figure pointed out in the class picture. The second time was at church. Her mom is courteous, calm, and nice. She’s my complete opposite! I liked her immediately. The third time came earlier this year, after Mikey hopped into the car with a prize from the 20-ticket goody box at school. After weeks of effort, I had finally convinced Mikey to save his good behavior tickets for the 20-ticket box instead of immediately going for the 10-ticket box. He was thrilled with his prize (a Mutant Ninja Turtle) but I was confused. He only had 14 good-boy tickets, and I knew he didn’t earn 6 more in one day. The answer came soon enough.
“Mom, Emma is so kind. She gave me 6 of her good-girl tickets so I would have enough to go to the 20-ticket box.”
I told Mikey that, yes, what Emma did was very “kind” (?!), but that he should have let her keep the tickets. He looked at me like I had grown a third eye and sprouted horns. I sighed and told him to at least make a Thank You card. He did and, using his best handwriting, said she was “so nice” and “thank you” and “I love you.” I said maybe he didn’t need to put in the “I love you” part. He disagreed. I let it go and hoped Emma’s parents were easy going. And thus began the love portion of the relationship.
“Mikey and Emma are like a married couple,” his teacher told me a week later. “Emma helps him to his seat after recess and they talk constantly during class.”
“They are a nightmare!” said his math teacher. “They won’t stop talking to each other. I’m going to have to separate them.”
But, like all married couples, there were differences. Emma is the easy-going youngest child. Mikey is the rule-driven oldest child.
“Mom. Every time Emma writes her name on the good-girl board she does it in cursive. I think it’s because she’s Italian.”
“Well, I’m Italian, Mikey.”
“Yeah, and you write everything in cursive! I told her she can’t do that. I can’t read cursive and besides, we aren’t allowed to write in cursive. That’s 2nd grade, mom, and we are not in 2nd grade. We are 1st graders.”
“I see. And what did Emma say?”
“She said, ‘Mikey, I mind my business, why don’t you mind yours?’ I can’t believe it, mom. What do you think about what she said to me?”
“I think Emma is Italian.”
Before long, the relationship was on the rocks. I know I shouldn’t encourage the antagonism, but Mikey is so passionate about Emma’s flagrant disregard for rules that only exist in his mind that I can’t help but needle him a little bit.
“So, Mikey. Did you talk to Emma today?”
“Yes, of course. Because she won’t be quiet! Today, mom, all day long she was telling me what to do.”
“Oh, yeah? Like what?”
“Well, we were working on the letter E and we had to do three rows and she was telling me that I wasn’t writing my Es fast enough. She was done totally before me and said I was being slow on purpose, but I was just taking my time!”
“And what did you say to her?”
“I didn’t say anything! I looked at the ceiling and said inside my head, I am really getting tired of this.”
I made no effort to contain my laughter. The way he rolled his eyes, the cock of his head, the heartfelt “I am really getting tired of this” were adorable. Also, it’s a look the Mister makes all the time. Now I know what he’s thinking.
Last week, the end came. The teachers could no longer handle the Mikey + Emma Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf highs and lows. Emma moved to the front of the class. In her seat now sits a boy who, according to Mikey, “Is bossy, but I don’t care, mom. He’s a boy!”
For Mikey, this was a marked improvement in seating arrangements. “I was surrounded by girls before, mom, and they are just too weird for me.”
He won’t always feel that way.