By Rachel Pieh Jones
A mother poses the question: how should elementary kids respond to love notes?
In second grade a boy gave my daughter an iridescent plastic orange ring. In the last three weeks of third grade she scored three loves notes from boys and a gift of a plastic egg with two rare marbles inside. This year, fourth grade, she has already received multiple love notes including ones surreptitiously passed in the middle of class and one accompanied by the longest loom band necklace she has ever seen.
She gleefully jumps into the car for the drive home and says, “You won’t believe what happened to me today,” and then dissolves into giggles and hands me the notes or shows me the gifts.
The notes are written in French, in the over-sized scrawl of third or fourth grade boys. They say things like:
Je t’aime. I love you.
Tu est jolie. You are pretty.
Je suis le garcon avec les lunettes rouges. I am the boy with the red glasses.
Je suis amoreux de toi. I am in love with you.
Apparently French really is the language of love, as a friend on Twitter reminded me.
The notes have instructions for where to meet during recess and pencil-sketched drawings of stick figure boys wearing red glasses or of lopsided hearts.
“Oh la la,” I say. “What do you think about these letters?”
Lucy laughs. “I don’t care,” she says. “I don’t love the boys, I don’t even know them. But I like the marbles.” She said she was ‘totally keeping the loom band necklace.’
How exactly should an elementary school kid handle receiving these kinds of love notes?
Lucy says there are two options.
- You say: “Oh, thank you,” in a dull voice that drops in pitch at the end. You walk away.
- You say: “Oh, thanks,” in a sing-song voice while swaying and shifting your weight from one foot to the other. You don’t walk away.
She performs the walk away option, which is what I want her to do for quite a few more years.
According to her older sister, now fourteen, there is a third option for how to deal with love notes from boys in elementary school.
- You rip them up and scatter the pieces on the ground, maybe stomp on the scraps and laugh.
This would be the more heartless option but it also sends a clear message to other would-be authors of love notes and is how she handled it when, in elementary school, an especially persistent boy peppered her with love notes.
Lucy’s brother, also fourteen, says he has no fourth option to offer as advice. He never got a love letter, never sent a love letter, and plans to keep it that way indefinitely. No time for girls, good riddance.
And I’m stuck. What do I encourage Lucy to do? Should she return the gifts? Accept them? Stomp on the letters? Ignore the boys? Our family doesn’t go for early relationships, even of the elementary school I-ignore-you-because-I-like-you variety.
The boys aren’t harassing her, she isn’t bothered by the attention. She ignores them, mostly too concentrated on winning a rare marble or running as fast as she can while paying touche-touche (tag). If a boy thinks she is pretty or smart or athletic or funny or kind or creative and wants to draw her a picture of himself with a heart over his head, she’ll take it and keep right on running or shooting her marble.
In the end, I say more power to her. I tell her: Say thank you for the compliment but there is no reciprocal obligation. Press on with doing what you love and with being who you are. No matter what the world says, no matter if boys write you love notes or don’t write you love notes, mom is here. There is a heart sketched in the sky over my head and I’m here, loving you.
This image of mom with an imaginary heart over her head might be like the worst thing ever for my older kids, but for a fourth-grader? Knowing that she is loved by mom is even better than a loom necklace a yard long. Knowing mom loves her above every other fourth grader is even better than a fancy French love note. I’d like to keep it that way for years to come. So Lucy, here’s the most important love note of all your elementary school years:
I am the American mom with the curly blond hair. Meet me at the yellow pole after school for your ride home. Je t’aime forever and no matter what,
Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband Tom Jones (not the singer, though he thinks life might be more interesting as a musical) and three children. Raised in the Christian west, she used to say ‘you betcha,’ and ate Jell-O salads. Now she lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas.