That first blush

Just before 7:30pm, on a Friday night two Decembers ago, Jack and I convinced Tom to let us adopt Nutmeg. I will never forget the amazed expression on J's face when I said, "We did it! Get your shoes on, and let's go get that cat!" 

Not only was it way past bedtime, and not only were we both stunned that T agreed to house yet another living creature, but it was also such a wonderfully unorthodox way for J and me to spend a Friday night that we buzzed on a giddy high the whole way to PetSmart. 

One of the tactics we employed to sway Tom's opinion was Jack's saying, with dreamy eyes and in a slightly dramatic, clutching-pearls way, "Dad, Nutmeg is my soulmate. We need to have him."

Although that was largely untrue then, J and I love the Nut so dearly and deeply now, that in retrospect, his claim seems totally honest and reasonable. 

More recently, one of Jack's girl friends, X, adopted a gray tabby named Sugar. She loves Sugar in the borderline-obsessive way we love Nutmeg, and she and J bond over their cat-adoration on a regular basis. J went to her house for an after-school play date a couple weeks ago, ostensibly to meet Sugar and share photos of Nutmeg, and later regaled me with the grand time they'd had.

"Sugar doesn't really like boys, but X and I still had a lot of fun!"

"What did y'all do, honey?"

"Well, we mostly just fought."

"What?? Were you mad or just playing?"

"Just playing. We just threw things at each other. That kind of fighting..." And he smiled.

I'd noticed, as this conversation progressed, the slightest tinge of red creeping into Jack's cheeks. By the end, his porcelain skin was positively aglow, and although he couldn't have articulated why, I certainly could. And I smiled.

"It begins," I told Tom that night over dinner. 

"Oh Em, I don't know. He's only in third grade."

"Yes, but even if he's completely unaware of romance or crushes or the ways people interact when they flirt, it is still a nascent dawn of a new era." And I smiled again.

I wish you could have seen the upward curve at each corner of his mouth as Jack relayed this story to me. I wish I could more accurately describe just how innocent and sweet he looked and sounded when describing the way he and X "fought." I wish I had a photograph of him in that moment so that the image of my little boy feeling something new and exciting would never fade in the way that memories are wont to; the pencil-eraser-smudging over time of what was once sharp and crystal clear.

Jack has always had such a delightfully clueless aura about him. He was never remotely vexed about his passion for all things pink as it didn't occur to him that anyone would care (and of course, they shouldn't have). He wore his pink shirts and slept in his pink and white sheets and rode his magenta bike with its white seat and streamers and butterfly decals with all the unadulterated confidence in the world.

He has never expressed an inkling of concern about not much liking or being terribly good at most sports, and he didn't notice that (until he shot up like a beanstalk in second grade) he was one of the shortest boys in the grade. Even burgeoning social dynamics and divides haven't much phased him. It took a bully to get his attention to those sorts of challenges, and even then, his primary reaction was simply one of sadness: "Why would anyone act like this?" 

Oliver is much more attuned to societal dynamics, norms and expectations, and although his awareness arguably means he's more prepared for the realities of the world, it still makes me sad for him because he doesn't experience childhood with the same blissful ignorance as has Jack.

In that regard, I can only describe Jack as angelic, an attribute that made witnessing that first blush especially dear. With the knowledge of what's to come, I basked in the utter innocence of his experience. Perhaps he's not even thought about it since. But I have. And it still makes me smile.