I have to admit to being taken by surprise. I had not anticipated being the father of a boy who is absolutely slap-happy in love. But here I am, trying to counsel my son Anton in the ways and wiles of humankind's most delicate dance.
Anton, by the way, is 6.
Perhaps this is why I am having trouble finding my footing on this issue. I can't be sure what a kid so young is actually feeling. At first I thought that it would blow over like yesterday's favorite toy, but my son's sentimental trajectory has not wavered in the year-long course of his affection for a little girl, Diana of the limpid blue eyes, who lives about a mile and a half from our home.
Whether he is shopping in the dollar store for trinkets to present to her, or laboring away on a greeting card with his crayons, Anton is nothing if not constant. At one point he confided in me that he was going to marry Diana; but when I told him that it cost money to get married, he picked up the phone, called the unwitting maid, and sadly told her, "Diana, we can't get married. We need a dollar."
Ah, if only it were that simple.
Like any ongoing relationship, this one has had its valleys as well as its hills. On one occasion, Anton became teary when he saw Diana at the playground with two other children. To demonstrate his distress, he got her attention and then turned heel and stormed away, constantly looking over his shoulder to see if Diana would follow. When she didn't, he returned and scolded her. She scolded him back. The result: a two-day silence, after which they returned to being as thick as glue, the playground social machinations long forgotten.
Truth to tell, I have never seen two children play so cooperatively and respectfully together. They share, they chat, they compromise. They are like two little stars that orbit one another out of a need for common gravity and collective warmth. I don't recall ever having to intercede to counsel kindness or break up an argument.
Of course, Anton has sometimes wanted to play with Diana at times that were inconvenient for me. This precipitated a singular event not long ago.
It was December, shortly before Christmas. The Maine winter was already well under way. I recall that late afternoon, which might just as well have been late evening because of the darkness. Anton and I had just pulled into the driveway when a light snow began to blow, the temperature lingering just below freezing. As we began to get out of the car Anton announced, "I want to go to Diana's house."
It had been a long day, and I was looking forward to a quiet evening at home, so I communicated this to my son as best I could. But his loving nature is rivaled only by his obstinacy, so he persisted. "Then I'll go myself," he said.
Now came my mistake. I decided to call his bluff. "It's a long walk," I told him, which he took as license to fly. I watched as he ran off down the street, without his coat, his arms flailing and his feet barely touching the ground. Once he gets to the corner, I thought, he'll feel the cold and the distance and turn around.
It didn't happen.
He turned the corner and left my sight. I took off after him but he had too much of a lead, borne as he was on the wings of ardor, so I could not catch up. I immediately called Diana's family on my cellphone and told them to watch for Anton, although I was convinced he would never be able to cover the mile and a half in the dark and cold.
I ran back to the house and got into my truck, intending to overtake him as quickly as possible. But after five minutes of driving I couldn't spot him. I called other people I knew along the route of his transit, in case he should use one of their homes as a way station.
I drove back and forth along the stretch of road between our home and Diana's, never imagining that Anton could have gone more than a quarter mile in the short time that had elapsed. I finally saw him. He was skipping - skipping! - along, absolutely radiant, like a fledgling that had hopped out of the nest and discovered that it had wings.
Anton had run almost a mile. I decided not to upend him right away, but rather to follow slowly on the opposite side of the street. And then he stopped. At a street corner. Apparently unsure of the direction he needed to take at this juncture. But in stopping he also allowed the cold to seep in.
I pulled over, got out, and went over to him. He looked up at me and tears began to well up in his eyes. "Are you mad at me?" he asked.
How could I be? Yes, Anton had run off, which was a dangerous and worrisome thing to do; but hadn't I given him tacit approval? Beyond this, who could quarrel with his sentiment? He had done it for love.
Bending down, I threw my coat around him and asked, "So where do you want to go now?"
"Home," was all he said.
"How about pizza first?"
His eyes lit up. "I love pizza!"
Clearly, love is a many-splendored thing, not to mention versatile.