I was driving home from dropping my son off at soccer practice. In the back seat my 11-month-old daughter, Aspen, was sleeping, and behind her was my five-year-old daughter Norah. I asked Norah about her day at school, what she learned, and then I asked her about Brett.
I could see Norah in the rearview mirror. She was still in her school uniform, a dark blue polo shirt; her short brown hair sitting just below her ears. Her eyes opened wide, like I was asking something she didn’t want me to know. Like I’d entered some secret part of her little world.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“I just ask because I found a note that read ‘I love Brett.’ I wasn’t sure who Brett was, so I thought I’d ask.”
Norah sat in silence for a while, her eyes moving side to side. And as I drove, I thought about how eager Norah was to meet a prince. When I first had my daughter, I assumed that she would, one day, go through a boy crazy stage. That at some point she would fall in love with some young man, and he would have no idea how to handle that, and suddenly it would all end awkwardly, in a stream of tears and confusion, probably during a junior high lunch period. I assumed that she would have a diary of some sort, where she would write her first name, along with the last names of the boys she liked. I’d seen this in a million movies and sitcoms, and it all seemed comical.
I didn’t think she would have a crush at age five, or age 4 (she had a crush last year, too). More like age fifteen. I didn’t really start to notice girls until I was thirteen, and even then, I was so intimidated by girls, and awkward around them, that I just looked at them from a distance.
So when I found this declaration of love for Brett, I didn’t know what to make of it. In my head, I asked a lot of questions. Did Norah really love him? Or was she just in love with the idea of being in love? Was it a thing her friends told her was cool? It all seemed strange to me, and a little scary.
“Does Brett go to school with you?” I asked, “When I helped out in your class I don’t recall meeting a Brett,” I said.
Norah shook her head.
I asked if he went to church with us, if he was a boy from the neighborhood.
Eventually she let out a long breath that seemed to say, “Fine.”
“He used to play soccer with Tristan’s friend’s brother.”
I was lost.
We chatted for a moment more, and eventually I figured out that Brett was the younger brother of one of Tristan’s teammates. I remembered the boy now. He was a short, blond, dimpled boy that Norah used to play with while Tristan practiced. Only this was during last season, and I was surprised that she still remembered him.
“Oh…” I said. “That guy. So you love him?”
Norah nodded, “He’s my boyfriend.”
At the mention of “boyfriend” I felt sick. It was an uncontrollable feeling that made me feel tired and anxious at the same time. It was some inside daddy alarm that screamed “You are too young for this. Not yet. Just be my sweet little for a little longer.” And I had a sudden urge to lock her in a tower. So much of me wants her to be my little girl forever, and every step she takes towards being a woman makes me nervous because it feels like she is taking one more step away from me.
“Do you know what having a boyfriend means?” I said.
Norah shrugged, “It means that he’s just my friend that’s a boy. I love all my friends. Even the boys.”
“So you don’t ‘love him, love him,’” I said while making air quotes with my hands. “You just love him like you love root beer?”
She furrowed her brow and said, “I don’t love root beer. I just think Brett is fun.”
I wanted to ask her more questions. I wanted to dig around a little more, find out if she really knew what love was, and if her understanding of love was the same as mine, and then I could fully understand if she really loved Brett. Part of me wanted to tell her that she didn’t know what love was yet. That she needed to stop talking to Brett.
I got lost in my own thoughts. I realized that I was overcomplicating a very simple situation. My daughter liked a boy named Brett. It may or may not be love, but I am confident that it was a simple thing. Not something that needed to get muddled up by my understanding of boys, and girls, and sex. She was five. Sometimes, as a father, I do that. I get caught up in my understanding of life. I mix her simple five years, with my much more complicated 32 years, and try to add meaning to things that don’t really need to have meaning.
We were in our driveway now.
I took a deep breath and said, “Well… Brett sounds like a nice boy.”
Norah smiled. Then she unbuckled and ran into the house.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.