“Dad, I’m having lady problems.”
My ears immediately perked up. That’s not the kind of small talk I normally hear from my 12 year old son Gabriel, so I sat up from my standard couch slouch, and listened.
“At school today Courtney told me that Maribel wants to know if I’ll dance with her at the school dance.”
“Okay,” I answered. “So: what’s the problem?”
“Well, dad, there are four other girls at school who told me their friends want to dance with me.” He smiled as he said this, intuiting that this was definitely a first class problem to have, but he was genuinely perplexed by it.
“I don’t think I’m going to go to the dance,” he told me.
“Why not?” I asked, trying not to jump to my feet and slap thirteen kinds of sense into him.
“I don’t wanna hurt anyone’s feelings.”
Okay: of course every parent is biased, but I’m sorry, it’s comments like that which leave me in no doubt as to why five different girls want to dance with Gabriel. He’s a sweet, sensitive kid.
His radar for the feelings of others is exquisitely tuned. He’s polite and kind, and, well, handsome and tall.
Don’t believe me? I wish I could put him in a middle school police line up and have 12 year old girls who have never met him pick out who they’d like to hold hands with, maybe even dance with.
Am I biased? Sure I am. Am I right? You bet.
I could hold back no longer. This would be one of the few glorious chances – and there aren’t many of them – where one of my sons would approach me openly for relationship advice, and I could actually put to good use all my own missteps.
“Gabriel, have any of these girls asked you to be their steady boyfriend?” He conceded they hadn’t. “Then you don’t have to dance with just one of them. You can dance with one girl to one song, maybe another girl to another song. None of them has asked you to be with just them. None of them have even asked you directly to dance.”
He was listening.
“At school dances you guys dance in groups, right?”
“And not everyone dances every dance. It’s casual, right? Friends dance with each other.”
“Are these girls your friends, or do you really like one of them?”
“Well, there’s one I kind of like, but not really. We’re more friends.”
“There you go.”
He then admitted to me the second reason for his trepidation: he was worried about his dancing skills.
Yes! Again I could put my past misery to good use!
I immediately demonstrated my own lack of dancing skill by dancing right in front of him, in our den. I glued my feet to the floor and flung my hips and arms about wildly.
Gabriel blushed in embarrassment for me – which, if you’ve seen me dance – is the appropriate reaction to have.
“Gabriel, there’s no wrong way to do it. If you even try, that’s what will make the girls happy. Trust me, it’s not about how good you can dance or not.”
But there’s lousy dancing and then there’s lousy dancing, so I did give him a little more advice.
“For tall people like us, don’t try getting tricky with your feet. Just hold them together and let your hips and arms do the work.”
This I believe. If you don’t have rhythm and/or your center of gravity is too high, then trying to glide around with your feet is just going to make you look like a spastic monkey.
Just keep a tight footprint and wiggle the hips a little. It’s enough.
He nodded, and seemed satisfied with all my advice. I was elated. He would go to the dance, have fun, be the envy of his friends, and be the secret crush of at least five girls. He would have the 7th grade I never did!
Several days later I got an email from his soccer coach: he was hosting informal soccer and pizza at his house from 6 – 7:30. I asked Gabriel if he wanted to go. He said yes.
When I got back from dropping him off, my wife told me that two of Gabriel’s friends had shown up at the door, wearing button up shirts, asking if he was still going to the dance with them.
What?!? I was devastated! I had forgotten all about it. But how could he?! I couldn’t believe he chickened out. How could he – after my courageous “dancing” display – do this to me?
How could he pass up the opportunity to have five girls chasing after him?
On the drive home from the coach’s house, I asked him why he had changed his mind about going.
“It didn’t sound like fun to me,” he said, a slightly defensive twinge in his voice. “They play terrible music and the only kind of dancing they do is freaking.”
“So you really didn’t want to go and dance with those girls?” I asked.
“I had fun here tonight, dad.” He told me about the creek in the coach’s backyard, and the two frogs they had seen, and how Ethan, the coach’s son, told him that there were deer in the front yard every morning.
2 frogs or 5 girls? And he chose the frogs!? Uggh!?!!
I said nothing more about the dance.
I’m torn. I love his innocence. I do.
And yet, I remember what it felt like to be twelve (or 13, or 14, or 15), how nervous and scared and attracted I was to girls, and how I wish I could go back in time and have a do-over. I could barely talk to them back then. I thought every little superficial defect – a pimple, a cheap brand of jeans – would make me a pariah in their eyes. But that’s not what kept them away. It’s that I felt uncomfortable in my own skin, and I projected that as an uptight aloofness which apparently did a very effective job of masking my real longing.
If I knew then what I know now…..
…better to regret chances taken than chances not taken…
But that’s my baggage.
I’m sure those frogs were really cute, and there’s always the spring dance, right?