So Caroline’s engaged. Which is cool.
She seems a little young—she’s five—but, they say when it’s right, you just know.
He’s unemployed. He’s in school part-time. If she takes his name, she’ll be Caroline Blackburn.
He comes from a great family. In fact, I didn’t even hear from Caroline that she was getting married. Her fiancé’s mother, Jordan, sent me an email. Apparently, Owen popped the question while they were in kids’ club at the gym. Caroline said “yes,” that it would be “fun,” but that she doesn’t want to have babies because she doesn’t like getting shots.
Not a deal-breaker even though Owen wants to have a girl named Eleanor and call her “Elle” for short. Jordan said that he was still excited and hopeful, as she tucked him in that night. The wall art silhouette of a jaguar stood guard beside him; both he and his Panthera comforter, straight and secure. Owen, confident that time was on his side, drifted off to sleep in his new zoo pajamas: Caroline could change her mind about the kid thing.
He’s big into animals. This summer, when Caroline was swimming around in the pool, Owen sat on the lounger, legs wrapped in a towel, eyes red from chlorine, trying to get her attention. “Caroline!” he yelled. She didn’t answer. “Caroline!” he yelled again, and again she didn’t answer. She wore goggles and was diving into the deep end, looking for plastic rings.
“Caroline,” I begged, “Would you please answer Owen?” She jumped up immediately, an already shockingly adept selective-listener. She wiggled to adjust her sagging pink swimsuit. She looked at Owen.
“What?” she yelled back.
“Tigers live in the jungle!”
But really, Tigers live in the jungle! is chump change for Owen. Not his best work. He is an animal aficionado. I say parrot; he says macaw. I say crocodile; he says only-if-his-snout-is-shaped-like-a-V-and-he-shows-all-his-teeth-when-he-clamps-his-mouth-shut. I say, “What’s your favorite animal?” He says, African or Asian? Aquatic or terrestrial?
Caroline asked me months ago, while I was putting her to bed, “Can girls ask boys to marry them?”
“Sure,” I said. “Why? Do you have somebody in mind?”
Right away she said, “Owen.” She added, “But, the problem is, Owen is always talking about animals.”
I could not resist pretending, just for a few moments, that she was my 20-something Caroline, my Caroline who’d met the boy of her dreams but had some concerns. “Oh,” I smiled. “So, is it that you want to talk about other things . . . something other than animals? Maybe you want to talk about what interests you?” She looked at me, thoughtfully, but didn’t respond. “Or, is it that you really don’t like animals as much as Owen? Maybe you feel like you don’t have all that much in common?” She continued to stare. “Or, do you think–”
She stopped me: “He’s not staying quiet long enough for me to ask him to marry him.”
Caroline has said on occasion that she’d like to be a rock star. Also a fairy. And a lawyer. And a children’s book author. I don’t knock the list: hold firmly to options and imagination. It’s just that last week she said she wanted to be a zoo-keeper. Caroline runs screaming from neighborhood schnauzers and pugs, but after one afternoon of playing “animal rescue” with Owen, she bailed—whatever the color of her parachute, it dramatically changed hue. Magenta to maple. Crimson to pickle-green.
However wavering her career path, Caroline is steadfast when it comes to Owen. She was not yet two when we met Owen and Jordan at a bookstore story time. These kids took their first steps—in Reference—right into each other’s arms, and they have been friends ever since. There are thousands of pictures, but one I particularly like shows a bald Owen grasping a sippy cup, leaning against our back porch stairs, looking in one direction while Caroline carrying her own cup (but a mop of curls) is looking in another direction. I wish it were a video because I’d love to hear what they were chattering about, stringing guttural sounds together. Since the early days, Caroline and Owen have seemed to understand each other. Years from now Owen may be leaning against the back stairs of his frat house (enunciation potentially clouded for other reasons?) while the two of them carry on some ridiculous college conversation with the same focus.
For Christmas last year, Caroline gave Owen a heart-shaped ornament from a mall kiosk. She insisted that the woman include on it the inscription: I LOVE OWEN. Lexi gave Cameron a crab ornament, but that’s another story altogether.
Now Caroline’s well into Kindergarten while Owen’s well into his new preschool in his new town. Recently, the Blackburn boys came over for a visit, just for a couple of hours, like they would do practically daily when they lived in the neighborhood.
It took Owen and Caroline a little bit of time to adjust. Owen didn’t really want to hear about Caroline’s school; Caroline was going on a bit about her friends on the bus. But, after a while, they were drawing together and then by the end, they were dressing up—Owen in my spinning shoes, a leopard coat, a scarf (for a punch of color); Caroline in heeled boots and a boa—the country cottage playhouse as backdrop. They were giggling like crazy. Jordan snapped a photo of them pretend-smooching like the picture they once saw in a burger joint—a funny silhouette of a boy and girl holding hands, sharing a milkshake.
A portrait of Caroline and Owen, sharing a childhood.