“Mom, my friends think kisses are kind of embarrassing.”
That was the opening statement lobbed at me by my 7-year-old son the other night after bathtime. I laughed a little and asked, “Really? Whose kisses do they think are embarrassing?”
“Their moms’. You know, when their moms kiss them.”
I waited for the follow-up, expecting him to say, “But I don’t think it’s embarrassing when you kiss me. I love it when you kiss me!” Things had played out like that before, when he really liked something that his friends didn’t, like playing with girls or liking Mozart and Megadeth. So, it wasn’t just wishful thinking on my part. Really.
Still, I’m sure you can see where this is headed. After a beat, he said: “It’s kind of embarrassing when you kiss me sometimes.”
I’d be lying if I said a tiny piece of my heart didn’t break at that very minute. He didn’t want kisses from me anymore? I was embarrassing him? Already, at 7?!
I think I choked out an, “Oh,” before recovering and starting a proper conversation about this bombshell he had just revealed. As his words hovered in the air, I realized that he was half-telling me and half-wondering if he really felt this way and, if he did, whether or not it was OK. I could also tell that he was trying not to hurt my feelings. My heart broke a little more as I realized that he loved me enough to do that and that he was really trying to figure out this very tough thing for himself.
First, I told him that I would never want to embarrass him and that of course I wouldn’t kiss him if he didn’t want me to. His body, his choices, as I’ve always said. He visibly relaxed a little.
Then I asked if he really didn’t want the kisses or if he felt funny in front of his friends. It was the latter, so we talked about always doing what you want, no matter what your friends think. In retrospect, I guess it was the “If your friends all jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge, too?” question that my parents posed to me a little less delicately.
I prodded a little and asked him which friends he felt this way. He listed two and stopped…just long enough to take a breath. And then he listed pretty much every boy in the first grade. OK, then! Mom kisses are embarrassing!
At least it wasn’t just me, I guess.
But it was me. Because I’m his mom, and I love this child with every ounce of my being. A mentor and friend of mine used to laugh when I first had my son because I could not stop kissing him. Literally. Every three seconds, my lips were kissing his chubby cheeks, his little nose, the top of his head. It was as easy and as necessary as breathing. I adored him, it was as simple as that, but those kisses also reinforced that he was safe and happy and loved and that my love for him was unconditional.
We were forging new ground and figuring out new boundaries, new rules. As much as I didn’t want to, I knew that I had to.
Part of me thought that would never change. This child has always loved my attention. He’s always loved affection. He’s always loved cuddling and snuggling, and he’s always told me everything. He’s always been a mama’s boy in the most wonderful, healthy sense of that phrase, and it’s been wonderful. He’s wonderful, and he always will be, of course. It’s just that things are changing for him. He’s growing up, and even though I still want to smother him with kisses every chance I get, and I never want that to change, of course I know that would be selfish and not conducive to the whole growing-up thing.
We were forging new ground and figuring out new boundaries, new rules. As much as I didn’t want to, I knew that I had to. So, I started with some questions.
“Would it be OK if I still kissed you at home?”
“Would it be OK if I gave you a quick kiss before you got on the bus in the morning?”
“Would a hug still be OK in front of your friends? Just not a kiss?”
OK, then, new boundaries for this new phase of parenting. That wasn’t so bad, right? I could handle these new rules. The question was: How long would they last before we got to the next phase of no-kiss, full-embarrassment?
I didn’t want to think about it, and thankfully I didn’t have to right then. My sweet boy felt so much better having said all of that—relieved, bold, happy, respected—and he started telling me a funny story about his day. Things were just like they always were…sort of. The only difference was that I had to do everything in my power not to give him a whole bunch of big, fat, grateful kisses right then and there.
Still, I felt exponentially better later that night when I leaned in for that goodnight kiss and he said, “Mom, will you snuggle with me for a little bit?”
I had a million things to do, but there was no way in hell I was going to say no to that. Not then—and not ever. After all, who knows how long he’ll still want those snuggles?
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