615. New Feelings

Working with fourth graders, I get to see the interesting ways children deal with feelings that are new to them. Some of them are starting to feel attracted to other children in ways they’re not used to, and seeing that brings back memories. Some adults think the beginnings of romance and sexuality are funny. I see plenty of potential for humor, but I also remember how difficult it was to deal with those feelings as they started to be part of my life.
Take Saul, for example. Several girls in the class seem to be attracted to Saul. I don’t know how much of what I see is actual attraction and how much is just an attempt to fit in; Saul is the one to be attracted to. And he’s getting lots of attention from girls in the class. He doesn’t know what to make of it. Girls don’t come up to him and say, “Saul, I’m attracted to you.” Nor do they do other forthright things to make their feelings known. Instead, they make fun of him and tease each other about liking him. Maybe Saul sees their attraction and likes it, but I think not. I think he wonders why girls are picking on him. And just at a time when he’s starting to be attracted to girls.
Nadia is having trouble, too. Sometimes she cries, and she asks to talk privately with me or another adult. She doesn’t mention anything specific; that would be taking a risk she doesn’t want to take. She talks about the sadness and pain she feels. We adults listen to her. One time, I told her about a girl I was attracted to in fourth grade. I told her that I didn’t tell anyone about it, because I was afraid of being teased. I talked for about five minutes, and though she was not inspired to tell me about her own feelings, she was obviously fascinated by what I was saying, and not once did she say, “What does this have to do with ME?”
So far, I’ve mentioned girls’ attraction to Saul, and his attraction to them. And though I can’t be sure, I think Nadia is starting to be attracted to boys. Those feelings are hard enough to deal with: How will everyone else treat me if they find out about what I’m feeling? How will the person I’m attracted to treat me if he or she finds out? Being heterosexual, and having been heterosexual all of my life (so far), I remember how difficult it was to deal with those feelings.
I can only imagine how difficult it must be for Nadia if she’s attracted to Naomi, or for Saul if he’s attracted to Jason. It’s not easy for anyone who is starting to feel attracted to other people in new ways. The feelings themselves can hurt. Peer reactions can hurt (or imagining such reactions can be scary). If children are lucky, they can tell their feelings to someone without worrying about that someone’s reaction. Maybe it’s a peer who knows how to be a friend. Maybe it’s a caring and sensitive adult. But maybe there isn’t anyone to tell. It can be a scary and painful time of life.

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