As a kid, I was such an arts n’ crafts nerd, I thought that emphasizing the ‘n’ in ‘arts n’ crafts’ made it sound way cooler than it already was. Spirograph was my gateway drug into rug hooking kits (6 inch square rugs, mind you).
Craving a harder high, rock tumbling fed my Irish Catholic/German Jew propensity to martyr myself by turning dirty rocks for hours in a hamster wheel strength ‘gemstone polisher’.
My ecstasy wood-burning kits, which smelled like what I hoped “Little House on the Prairie” might smell like.
While wood-burning kits also ignited a lifelong pyromania, my 8 year old OCD was simultaneously triggered and soothed by scrimshaw. Hours of solitary bliss passed in scratching predesignated patterns of romantic seafaring imagery – speared whales, anchors, doubloons, mermaids, onto plastic replicas of whale teeth.
I made a scrimshaw fake whale tooth necklace on a fake leather cord and gave it to my 3rd grade best friend, Vivian Thumser, who laughed in my face, crushing my spirit. I must have cried all the way home from school because my mother never forgave Viviam Thumser.
Fast forward a century to now: Grace is 5 and experiencing her first major crush. He’s older (7), with Taylor Swift-ish blond hair, massive brown eyes and… he’s French. So, not only do I get it, I applaud Grace for having excellent taste in hopeless crushes.
Of course like most first crushes, Mishka comes with baggage. Having left another school under murky circumstances, Mischka is 7 and stuck with a bunch of 5 year olds in pre-K. Not only is Mischka an older man of mystery, but his mid-school year appearance upset the already well established pecking order of kids who have played and learned together for years in Grace’s Echo Park Montessori Preschool.
While the kids are curious about Mischka’s Frenchiness, he likes to impress the youngsters with his advanced degree in all things American – his Michael Jackson moonwalk, his rock n’ roll guitar chops and his Karate Kid postures.
While cooking dinner, Grace asked me to spell out words while she wrote them out in fat, determined block letters on a blank white page. For hours Grace decorated the page with hearts and anchors, donkeys and firetrucks. The next morning she tearfully found fault with her calligraphy and wrote the entire letter over again on another piece of paper.
Then she decorated that piece of paper with hearts, birds, cows and turtles. Then she folded the letter up and carefully, painstakingly wrapped it inside the rejected, first draft letter from the night before.
Before going to bed I look at the letter. “Dear Mischka. You are the best karate chopper. Love me, Grace.”
Getting ready to drive to school, Grace buckles the letter into it’s own seatbelt.
Since I regularly drive Grace to school and lead her class in ten minutes of yoga most mornings, we walk into school together, Grace staring only at her letter.
Seeing Mischka across the crowded beehive of buzzing kids, Grace gasps and grabs me, shoving the letter into my hands as if she were Peter Lorre and I was Rick and she was forcing the stolen letters of transport on me.
GRACE: I can’t! You give it to him, Momma!
Suddenly thrust into wingman position for my five year old daughter, I sadly recall Vivian Thumser’s rejection of my hand made love object as I approach Mischka. I squat before him, to let him know he might be the oldest and biggest kid in the class but there are still people bigger and older than him.
ME: Hi, Mischka. Grace asked me to give this to you. She worked very hard on it. She really admires you. Since she is just 5, can you be careful with her feelings?
Mischka smiles knowingly as I press the letter, soggy from Grace’s sweaty palms, into his bony cool long French fingers.
I smile fiercely back at him silently hoping Mischka understands he won’t just hurt Grace but incur my wrath if he doesn’t play this just right.
Later on that evening I extra casually bring up Mischka to Grace.
ME: So… did Mischka thank you for your letter?
Grace was furiously coloring inside the lines, so she didn’t bother looking up to see how extra casually I was acting.
GRACE: Yes, he thanked me.
ME: That was it?
GRACE: He said thanks for being his best fan.
Silently boiling, Grace beamed and resumed coloring. She’s happy being a fan because she doesn’t realize it’s a lower designation than a friend. And I won’t tell her. Yet.
But I won’t be encouraging her to make Mischka anything any time soon. I will NOT play wingman to someone unworthy of my daughter’s adoration. She’s got much better friends who deserve the scrimshaw of her love.