*Author’s note: I share this tender, intimate story that is really my son Ezra’s story, with his generous permission and blessing. At first, he wasn’t so sure he wanted it to be shared, given the vulnerable nature of its content. But when I explained how lacking I was for inspiring content of my own (ha!), and how much I felt his story might be a blessing for others to receive, he took mercy on me and acquiesced, upon the condition that I remove any revealing details that might expose the other person in the story.
Before I posted it, I invited him to read it, to make sure he felt it accurately portrayed his experience. Ezra blushed and laughed out loud while he read it, and was clearly moved in moments as well. When he got to the end, he looked up at me smiling, and said, “It’s good, Mom. You can share it.” And so I shall.
My son Ezra Star (11 and a half now) has a hugely passionate heart and romantic soul.
His bright, kind, acutely sensitive, and powerful masculine presence has always made him deeply attractive to his friends, and particularly to the girls.
I recall his first serious romantic crush happening when he was about five. I remember him coming home from kindergarten and telling me exuberantly all about the girl he liked, and how she liked him too, and how he always made time at recess to play with her on the monkey bars since that was her favorite thing to do.
As my son inches his way toward adolescence, this romantic inclination seems to bother him a bit more. Ezra is one of those boys who has a full-grown man-spirit awakened inside him, unabashedly aching to catch up with itself. Once last year, I heard him scowl with frustration, “What’s even the point of having crushes at this age? Fifth-grade crushes are just dumb. I mean most of us aren’t even brave enough yet to hold hands.”
But this past March, right after we entered into isolated quarantine, a beautiful mutual crush arose for Ezra that made his heart sing. In respect of privacy, we’ll call her Sara. This connection with Sara noticeably lifted Ezra’s chest, gave him an extra bounce to his step, and brightened his endlessly housebound, spring days.
In case you’re wondering how a mutual 11-year-old crush is established in 2020 during a global pandemic, it looked like this text exchange:
Ezra: Hey, how r u?
Sara: I’m ok. How r u?
Sara: Do u like anyone in our class?
Ezra: Lol ya. How about u?
Sara: Idk. Who do u like?
Ezra: I’m a little shy about who. I’ll tell u after u tell me.
Sara: Idk who I like.
Ezra: Oh really?
Ezra: Lol. I like u.
Sara: Oh cool. I used to like you.
Ezra: Lol. I’m kinda shy about it but I’ve liked u since 3rd grade.
Sara: I might like u.
Ezra: Ha. Lol. Nice.
Ezra: Wait really u might have a crush on me?!
Sara: Yeah I have a crush on u. Don’t tell anyone.
Ezra: Yay! Don’t worry I won’t!
In the weeks that followed, many passionate heart and kiss emojis were exchanged, alongside warm good morning texts, sweet goodnight texts, and frequent sharings about what they each had eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Photos of each other’s bedrooms were exchanged. Talking on the phone felt a bit too intimate, so it was mostly avoided. But a couple of times they bravely leaned into it and called each other. Ezra would emerge from his bedroom after those calls with his face joyously shining.
Quarantine has been painfully hard on Ezra’s heart. As a tremendously athletic, social, and extroverted human, so much about this time has challenged my son. It was beautiful to feel this blossoming crush as an uplifting focal point of his day.
But one evening at dinner, Ezra openly shared with his sister and me, “Sara told me she’s really not ready for dating. But that maybe when she’s older we could date.” His shoulders drooped down a bit as he shared this. When I asked him how this news had landed for him, he shrugged resignedly, and said, “I don’t know. I mean—I get it.” His tone revealed a desire to be accepting, alongside a transparent eagerness to mature beyond this frustrating stage of his life.
As summer arrived, and the most minimal social connections began to occur, one day Ezra got up the courage to invite Sara to meet him for some ice cream. He assured her, “Not as a date, or anything like that. Just, like—to hang out?” She responded with a very clear “No,” explaining that she felt too shy for that, and she was sorry, but she just really wasn’t ready for something as huge as sharing ice cream together. Ezra’s heart sank, but he quickly let her know that he understood and that it was fine.
A few days later, Ezra confessed to me that he was getting the feeling that Sara might not have a crush on him anymore. I asked, “What’s giving you that sense, my love?” With concern, he replied, “It just feels different in the energy between us. I think maybe something has changed for her. I’m worried my asking her to meet for ice cream felt pushy to her.” I nodded with understanding, and asked him, “So what will you do now?” He answered, “I think I have to ask her how she’s feeling, just so I know.”
A little later on that day, I caught glimpse of Ezra walking slowly into his bedroom. It was not difficult to gather that he was feeling devastated, and on the brink of tears. Concerned, I followed him into his room, asking, “What is it, love? Can I help?” His voice cracked, his face reddened, as he expressed heartbrokenly, “I was right. Sara said she only likes me as a friend.” He tossed his phone to me, and buried his face into his quilt, letting waves of emotion rise up and out. I opened the text exchange, and read this:
Ezra: Hey. Do u still have a crush on me?
Sara: Ummm do u?
Ezra: Yes. Of course. So much.
Sara: I like u but I just don’t like u as much as I did but I still like u just more as a friend.
Sara: Sorry if that wasn’t what u wanted to hear.
Ezra: No it’s ok. I respect ur truthfulness.
I took a deep breath, put the phone down, and gently rubbed my beautiful boy’s strong back. “Oh my love…” I said softly. He lifted his tear-stained face to meet my eyes, as he proclaimed, “It’s just sooo disappointing, Mom.” I hugged him close, kissing the top of his head, and replied with empathy, “I’m so sorry baby…yes, that is super disappointing.”
He cried some more, letting his heart break. My mama heart broke with him. My sweet, passionate, tender, powerful son. I praised him for his intuition, for his direct communication, for his kindness and respect toward Sara in what was clearly a painful moment, and for letting his heart feel so much.
After a while, Ezra stood up and took a few deep breaths with his eyes closed. I could tell he was searching to find his center. Then he quickly wiped the tears off his face, and said resolutely, “Okay then.” I asked him gently, “What do you need right now?” He thought about it for a moment, and then replied with clarity, “I think I need to make a really sad hip-hop playlist to listen to, and then go kick and punch my punching bag.” I giggled a little, with immense fondness, and responded, “That sounds like a really wise plan, my love. Way to take care of yourself.”
Later, as we drove in the car for some errands, I asked Ezra if he was open to hearing my deeper reflections on his exchange with Sara. He said he was.
I shared with him the two things that stood out the most for me in his exchange were his honest vulnerability and his respect for Sara’s boundaries. I reflected on how amazing it was that he didn’t put up any self-protecting armor, but instead chose to stay vulnerable with Sara, openly expressing how he still felt about her, even when he suspected her feelings had changed. And then upon hearing her truth, in a moment of deep disappointment, how he had maintained kindness and respect for her feelings. I told him that the combination of his honest vulnerability and his unwavering respect are extraordinary qualities for a young man to embody and that I was deeply proud of him.
Ezra’s face brightened, “Thanks for seeing me, Mom.” Then he shrugged, “And who knows? Maybe she’ll feel differently when we’re older?”
I chuckled a little, “I certainly wouldn’t be surprised.”
Ezra was quiet for a moment, and then added thoughtfully, “But for now, I decided it was best to change her name in my phone contacts.”
This surprised me, and I asked, “You changed Sara’s name in your phone? To what?”
Calmly he replied, “Oh, I changed it to ‘Sara just as a Friend,’ so I won’t forget.”
Equally humored and impressed, I grinned: “Great idea, love.”
Here’s to stewarding emotionally intelligent and wise-hearted humans, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Here’s to the myriad of ways we get to learn from the youngest generations. Here’s to heart and kiss emojis getting us through our darkest hours. Here’s to the possibility of us all learning how to elegantly navigate the tender experience of feeling crushed.