By LORI BORGMAN
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
A friend asked if I understood the middle school concept of going out.
"Coming out, staying out and camping out I understand completely," I said. "But going out is a mystery. It's like quantum physics, only harder."
Going out, in case you've been under a rock, is something that kids around the age of 12 do. That said, kids as young as 10 have been known to be going out. Kids as young as 8. And they keep getting younger. No doubt, there is a 3-year-old in a preschool somewhere who was just picked up from fingerpainting and has announced to the car pool that she is officially "going out."
To clarify the national dialogue between parents and children, I've put together this FAQ (list of frequently asked questions), along with answers on the matter of going out.
Q. What does it mean when someone is going out?
A. It means someone in the early grip of preadolescence, or perhaps still in the grip of Beanie Babies, is interested in someone of the opposite sex, and that interest is returned.
Q. Where do they go when they are going out?
A. Nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. They're too young to drive.
I take that back. Some of them still have Big Wheels in the garage, but they're too young to drive anything with a motor under the hood, and Big Wheels aren't exactly built for two.
Q. Why don't they ride bikes?
A. Hey! C'mon, pal! Quit giving them ideas already. They're on the fast track as it is.
Q. My 7-year-old has a motorized Barbie car and it could comfortably seat two.
A. Security! Remove that woman from the room! Next question.
Q. If they don't go out anywhere, why do they call it going out?
A. Look, if we knew the answer to that, do you think we'd still be hunting for Osama?
Q. Why is this going-out business so confusing?
A. Because to an adult who (we hope) has both hemispheres of the brain functioning, going out means grabbing your coat and going to the grocery, the bookstore, a movie or to meet a friend. To a young person, who is still working toward that day when the neurons fire in something other than a random order, going out has a completely different connotation.
Q. How will I know if my child is going out?
A. Your best shot is to dress incognito, ride the school bus and listen for the day's buzz. Either that, or host a slumber party.
Q. Is there something less painful I could do to obtain this information?
A. What made you think parenting was without pain?
Q. Do the kids exchange rings or something to signify they are going out?
A. Not usually, but sometimes they exchange Twinkies or Gummi Bears from their lunches.
Q. Do the young people know they are going out?
A. Yes. Girls tend to know before the boys (a phenomenon that will never change). Sometimes a boy will ask a girl to go out, but other times a boy will simply take the only empty space at a table in the cafeteria or happen to enter a classroom at the same time as a girl, and before he knows what hit him, he is going out.
Q. Words aren't necessary?
A. No. It's in the air.
Q. How do they know when they are no longer going out?
A. That doesn't always involve words either, but it always involve rolling one's eyeballs. And tears. Sometimes there are tears.
Q. Are the tears real?
Q. Do you have any suggestions for consoling a child who is no longer going out even though, technically, the child never went out?
A. Puffs tissues with extra lanolin and a dictionary for looking up the words going, out and precocious.
XLori Borgman is the author of "I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids" (Pocket Books). Comments may be sent to her at P.O. Box 30092, Indianapolis, Ind. 46230 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org