Big Night Out
I teach high-school English, and sometimes in class we chat about parent-child relationships. I tell my students that when my girls are old enough to date, I'll call or text them every 15 minutes. But the kids shake their heads at me. "Mr. Hynes," they warn, "you know that will only make them rebel. You have to trust them." They're right, of course, but it's a father's instinct to worry about his daughters' well-being.
For now, I just have to deal with Jimmy, whom I'm fairly confident I can handle. While Chelsea professes her love for him, I think she's merely parroting what she's heard Ariel and Belle say about their fairy-tale beaux. Soon enough, she'll graduate from the preschool-romance stage. But as much as Jimmy signifies that my day of reckoning is coming (and far sooner than I'd like), I'll miss what he and Chelsea have right now.
The two of them communicate without even talking, two kids who have forged a special partnership through a critical stage of growth and development. They've helped each other learn to socialize, play fair, and look out for a friend as you would a family member. And the way they hug shows none of the normal awkwardness of kids this age. It's truly something to see.
So yes, Chelsea did go to the movies with Jimmy for his birthday celebration. My wife, Amy, came along, as did Jimmy's mom. From what I'm told, Jimmy neither inched his arm around Chelsea's shoulder nor tried to whisper sweet nothings into her ear (although they did share a soda during the film).
Afterward, I joined them at a hibachi steakhouse for dinner. They told me about the dragons they'd seen on the screen and the Swedish Fish they'd stuffed into their mouth. Chelsea and Jimmy gobbled up their kids' meals at the restaurant, posed for some crazy-face pictures, and asked their mommies to take them to the bathroom.
As we paid the bill and stood up to leave, I noticed that Jimmy was looking a little bit weary. Prince Charming needed a lift. So for the first (and probably last) time in my life, I offered to carry my daughter's boyfriend to the car after his date.
Jimmy told his mom that it had been his best birthday ever. Chelsea couldn't stop smiling. The kids said their goodbyes, then crawled into their respective booster seats for the short drive home. For now, all was right in the world of boyfriends. No father fears, no three-point plans. Just one priceless friendship.
Originally published in the November 2011 issue of Parents magazine.