The first signs came when I spotted my eight-year-old, comb in hand, staring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He raked his hair slowly across his forehead, leaned in and smiled. I tried to duck before he spotted me. Too late.
“What’s up there, buddy?”
A shy grin in my direction. “Mommy, do you think I could borrow a little gel? You know, for my hair?”
I tried to act casual, not wanting to embarrass him in his first show of interest in his appearance. This is a kid who would happily wear the same T-shirt everyday, shuns jeans in favor of pull-on sweats or anything “comfortable.” He loves dragons, Legos, Nerf guns, Superheroes — the usual. A boy’s boy. And did I mention he’s eight?
“Sure, honey. Here you go.” I squirted a curl of gel into his palm and offered to help apply it. “But just on the front, ok?” Another shy grin.
Although I was surprised, I suspected I knew the reason behind this new found interest in his appearance.
He had a crush, big time.
He’d been talking a lot about a certain girl, the daughter of friends and the only other American in his class. Weeks earlier, he had been deeply disturbed (or so it seemed at the time) by other kids teasing that he and M. were “amoureux.”
Now, it appeared, things had changed. He was ready to declare the true nature of his feelings.
He pulled a folded paper from his pocket and opened it slowly. It bore a series of hearts — nestled one inside the other. Their two names were written in swirling script with a few flowers and more hearts. It was the cutest thing I’d ever seen.
“Moira and I are amoreux,” he said, without a hint of irony and only a touch of shyness. He didn’t just like her or have a crush (terms that would have felt familiar from my own pre-tween days.) This was “love,” pure and simple. He would present her with his handmade declaration that day and see if she felt the same…
As it turned out — and to my great relief — she did. In the weeks since, they have exchanged sweet notes and little tokens of affection that he keeps in a special box by his bed. Mostly, they laugh and chase each other around like the two innocent kids they are. My son has started asking about “what girls like?” (good breath, nice manners, show genuine interest in her) and how he should act if another boy tries to “steal her away.” (play it cool, girls respond to confidence…)
And so my boy is “in love.” And for this, I blame France. Because to be “in love” in France is to experience life at its very fullest. Amour (and its various material incarnations) is everywhere in Paris: In the boxes of chocolate sold on every block, the ubiquitous florists peddling romantic bouquets wrapped specially “pour offrir,” the public embraces in every imaginable spot, the “locks of love” that decorate its bridges.
Paris is synonymous with the idea of love. And that, of course, is why we love Paris.
And so it seems that eight-year-olds are not immune. My son has fallen under the city’s romantic spell. Sooner than I might have thought? Absolutely. But at any age, is there anything better?