Today's topic: "What's the best question a kid has ever asked you?"
Oh, this one is easy. And the way I know it's easy is that I tell this story all the time, so it obviously made quite an impression.
When I was 25, I met a guy through my sister--she worked with him and I spent a day volunteering at her work. He called the next day to ask me out and our relationship was sort of fast-tracked because I was leaving soon for a summer teaching job in Utah. He was only five years older than me, but he was divorced from a youthful military marriage and had a son, age 5.
On our third date, he said it was his regular afternoon with his son and that I was going to meet him. I felt pretty anxious about this, for lots of reasons. It seemed awfully big and soon to be meeting someone's kid (and these kinds of boundary issues did end up being a problem.) Also, as I've discussed in previous posts, I was pretty skeeved out by kids and had no idea how to act or what to say around them.
Daniel quashed my anxieties pretty quickly. After they picked me up, I rode in the back of the car with this little tow-headed cutie who smiled sweetly but didn't say much. What won me over is he reached out and gently petted my arm as we drove, stroking me with two fingers the way children are taught to pet rabbits. I was pretty charmed by this and stopped being nervous.
And then when we arrived at the beach, he automatically reached for my hand before we crossed the street. Now that I'm a mother, I know that little kids whose parents have put a monstrous fear of cars in their heads do this automatically to any adult-type person within arm's reach, but at the time, it seemed a gesture of trust and I fell for it immediately.
We trudged through the sand down to the water, and I followed Dan when he started climbing the rocks. My new boyfriend was standing below us in the waves, and for a few minutes, Dan and I were alone, our conversation drowned out by the surf.
He was a child who knew his mind. He spoke clearly and unhesitatingly on all occasions, and almost always, I was amazed at his maturity and insight. But I didn't know any of that then; I'd just met him 30 minutes before.
He climbed onto a rock across from me as I held his hand and said: "So you're a teenager?"
"No, I'm not a teenager." I said. And then, inexplicably, "I'm a fully-grown adult."
"Is that as big as you get?"
I laughed so loudly that Dan's dad came dashing up the rocks to see what happened. Dan was still watching me with his big, round eyes under a fringe of almost-white hair, waiting for an answer.
Now I know that kids ask stuff like this all the time, and they do so because they'd genuinely like some information to add to the stash they've begun squirreling away. I still love it, but that day, I was completely amazed by it. Dan cut through all the formality, the expectations, the ordinariness of a getting-to-know-you conversation, right to the stuff he most wanted to know.
I fell in love with him right then and there. Driving home from the beach later, my new boyfriend asked "So what did you think of Dan?"
"So far I like him more than I like you," I said. And he laughed with delight, as a father should. The fact that it was true and stayed true is probably why we went out as long as we did.