|last minute gift-labeling with Natalie|
"The surprising thing about second grade is how much love is involved."
Natalie said this to me while we walked home from school the day before her Christmas break started. Her backpack was strapped to her shoulders, her winter coat left unzipped in the warm winter air. I had braided her hair the night before, and now strands had strayed to frame her face messily. Beside us, Natalie's mom - my sister - and brother Andrew carried on their own conversation. I had been teasing Natalie about Jamal, her neighbor who I thought was cute and with whom I knew she played often. She replied earnestly with this observation about girls and boys showing affection to each other, then began listing names of classmates she knew liked others: Brandon likes Sophie, Brian likes Lauren. And on and on.
Natalie seemed exasperated by the intrusion of love into her already fairly complicated seven-year-old life. She also seemed a little bit curious. She laughed when I told her about a boy I thought was cute, and agreed with her brother that I should definitely not get married. (Although later, Andrew rolled his eyes while suggesting maybe I should get married because I'm too boy crazy. According to him.) For Natalie, there is so much more than romantic love in second grade. There is reading to be done and dances to make up and friendships to foster and games to play and win.
A few days later, Natalie stood proudly in the middle of my parent's den, the rest of my family sitting in a haphazard circle around her. The Christmas tree sparkled with lights and kept watch over piles of gifts to be opened. At Natalie's side was a small bag with gifts she had prepared for each of her cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. She handed them out one by one and watched with a big smile on her face as we all opened the gifts she had made or picked out for us. She was the only grandchild to choose gifts for us, and told each person that she had made that in art class or picked that out or paid her own money for that. There was so much love and thoughtfulness in that small silly heart of hers.
Indeed, so much love involved, I thought.