Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Coldest Drink in Town

Take your nine-year old for an after-school Icee, and you can learn a lot. Those frozen, icy treats seem to have a truth-serum-like effect on Jack, at least. On Thursday, I scooped up Jack and his best friend Joe* from the "walkers" pick-up point behind the school and bestowed upon them the ultimate words for any grade-schooler: "Let's go for an Icee!" For a couple of bucks I can make a child's day, so why not? (Yes, and Dr. Clarke that's money in the bank for you, no doubt, when cavities come to call.) When else does hero-dom come at such a bargain?
After 40 years, the truth-serum quality
of the Icee remains the same.
   I'd already won major fun-Mom points by giving into the plaintive requests that Joe come home with us after school. I called Joe's Mom and asked if it was okay and she heartily gave her consent—and gained two more hours to relax or get done whatever it was she was trying to do on Thursday. Jack and Joe were elated. Is there anything better than discovering your best friend can come over to play? Yes. There's discovering your best friend can come over and you get a mid-week Icee.
  One of the reasons I give in so easily to Icee request is that I used to enjoy those treats so much when I was Jack's age. There was a 7-11 near my grade school, and sometimes (not everyday) I would walk up there with friends and purchase a cup of pure frozen cherry heaven. Amazing that the graphics on the cup have not changed significantly in 40 years. The Icee polar bear still remains in his 60s jovial form. He hasn't morphed into a skate-board totin', iPod-wearing cool dude—at least not permanently. I believe he did a stint as a surfer a while back (which makes no sense at all for an Arctic creature) but thankfully, the Icee Company realized the merit of remaining true to their brand—and their fan base of millions of Baby Boomers, like me. Icee Bear (his real name) is still the same lovable, letter-sweater-wearing Polar Bear from my childhood. The formula and basic machinery has remained true as well. Now Icees can be had in exotic and antioxidant-boosting flavors, such as pomegranate passion fruit, but the original is still the best: cherry. Turns out, Icee came of age at the same time I did, so it's natural I'd have such an affinity for the stuff. Today, there are more than 75,000 Icee machines in the U.S., which serve 500 million brain-freezing concoctions a year. Jack and I buy our share.
   Now, I'm passing on the tradition of sipping frozen cherry syrup through a red straw with a little spoon-shaped end. I'm also witness to what must have occurred 40 years ago when I walked with friends after exchanging a dime for a cup of pure sugary delight. I don't recall the conversations inspired by that happy thirst cessation. I do remember walking with friends, just as Jack walked with Joe the other day, sharing secrets and hopes and dreams. I recall the feeling of being a silly kid, who enjoyed the little twinge of independence that comes from being allowed to walk alone in the world. Of course, Jack and Joe weren't walking alone, but for a while they forgot I was there—or at least forgot I was a Mom. I got to overhear what occupies the third-grader mind as I listened to their Icee-induced conversation.

   "Mike* broke up with Catherine,*" Jack said.
   "How come?" I asked. 
    "Oh, Catherine cheated on him with a second-grader," he replied and he took another long pull of Icee through his red straw.
   "Really?!" I said. "She cheated on him? What does that mean?"
   "She was dating the second-grader behind Mike's back," replied Joe.
    "How awful for Mike!" I said. "He must have been really hurt."
     "Naw," said Jack. "He was happy about it 'cause he liked Amy* and now he's dating her."

I know all these kids of course, and know that their "romantic" relationships are just friendships at this point. When I asked what they meant by "dating," I as told it meant simply having a play-date with that special boy or girl. There was nothing overtly sexual about these relationships. Jack's had a "girlfriend" since first grade. In fact, he has the same girlfriend since first grade, which is a testament to his fidelity and sense of commitment—not to mention exceeding good taste in girls. (She's a doll.) And yet, these kids' seeming resilience to the impermanence (that good Buddhist word, again) of relationships stunned me. Mike wasn't upset when his relationship with Catherine changed. Instead of nursing a wounded ego, he was on to the next girl. Catherine, no doubt, was not happy in her relationship with Mike, or she would have never entertained the attentions of that second-grade beau. Neither Jack nor Joe were scandalized by any of this activity. They saw it as the normal waxing and waning of grade school friendships. 
   As we walked along, the conversation shifted. Joe and Jack began talking about Pokemon cards and the most advantageous way to use a Pikichu in battle. I walked behind the boys, sipping my cherry Icee and marveling at the microcosm of love and relationships going on at the third-grade level. Here, fidelities were made and broken at such a young age, and yet, no real damage done. Is current media (thanks Suite Life) introducing kids to complex aspects of romance too soon? Or is this good practice for their adult lives? I can still recall the heartbreak I felt when my first crush failed to return my affection in kind, so maybe this play-romance is useful. If so, it's very possible that these kids are ahead the curve in getting the whole romantic thing right. 

* Not his/her real name.

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