In love, age seven

Saskia and I are alone in the van on our way home from school, winding along Dollarton Highway in the slanting afternoon sun. She's in the back seat, quietly looking out the window, when her voice floats over to me: "Can little kids get married?" She asks with sudden great interest, like she can't believe the idea never occurred to her before.

"No."

"Oh." She digests this. She doesn't necessarily sound disappointed.

"Did someone tell you they can?"

"Colin did."

I know who Colin is. He has a sweet round face, brown eyes and hair, reminds me of a bear cub. I had watched him interact with Saskia the other day after school. He hovered around her with obvious adoration. At one point as she brushed by he reached out to play with the bunny tag swinging from her backpack. He looked totally smitten.

"He wants to marry me. In Grade 1 he really liked me. Now in Grade 2, he says he's in love with me." Her voice changes when she says in love, the words weighted with respect.

"That's nice, to have a friend that likes you so much."

She corrects me: "Loves me so much. I'm actually in love with him, too. That doesn't happen every day, does it, that two little kids are in love with each other?"

For once I am completely at a loss as to how to answer.

I know that's she's asking innocently, that a classmate with an older sibling probably introduced the concept. But I don't find anything cute or amusing about children adopting those ideas. I'm always surprised when other mothers chuckle and tell me what a flirt their kindergartner is, or tease their elementary school-aged son about girlfriends. I think friendships between young boys and girls should be considered completely natural. When they're treated as remarkable, I feel that the idea being instilled is that matching up with a member of the opposite sex is the first priority in life, to be pursued right out of the starting gate. That disturbs me. Falling in and out of love (and being consumed by it) is going to happen eventually anyway - why encourage it prematurely at age seven?

On the other hand, I don't want to dismiss her feelings, either. I remember my own intense crushes in elementary school, and they were impervious to other people's validation of them. (There was Chris, who had the affections of every girl in the class, in Grade 3; and Dino, who was a swimmer and reportedly shaved his legs, in Grade 4.)  I wouldn't have dreamed of telling my mother about them, though.

I don't feel prepared for this conversation; I'm unsure of my stance and whether there's even any real importance to the issue. I give Saskia an unsophisticated answer, fumbling, trying to affirm her affection for her friend while dismantling any romantic constructs, steering her away from the idea that she is in love without belittling her experience.

She unhesitatingly accepts what I have to say, then conspiratorially offers an anecdote: "Once I kissed a piece of popcorn and gave it to him and do you know what he did with it?"

"What?"

"He ate it."