I am not the kind of mother whose feelings get hurt when her children say things like “I hate you” or “I don’t want you to be my mommy anymore.” I respond with “You might hate me but I still love you” or “Tough luck cuz you’re stuck with me!” Raising my two boys has necessitated being impervious to these comments.
We recently attended a Rangers baseball game. Hal was sitting next to me. Out of the blue, he said, “Mommy, I don’t want you anymore.”
“You don’t? I still want you.”
“Well, I don’t want you.”
I looked down the row. There were 3 or 4 empty seats before the next people, who happened to be our pastor and his wife. “Well, ok, if you don’t want me anymore, I guess you could go down there and see if they will take you in.”
Hal looked at them. “No, I don’t want to go with them.”
“Well you have to go with someone. You’ll like them. They are really nice people and I bet they’d take you home with them. You should go ask.”
He studied them with some apprehension, as if they might jump up and snag him. “No, I don’t want to ask them. I don’t want to go with them.”
“I guess you have a choice. It’s me or them. You have to have someone.”
He pondered briefly before saying, “I choose you.”
“Great! I’m so happy. I really like you.”
I have learned, however, that I do have my limits. While I can handle the individual barbs here and there, I am incredibly vulnerable to the long term snub. One of these has been slowly eating away at me for over a year.
Hal does not like me to kiss him on the cheek. He wipes them off his face every single time I kiss him. In the beginning, he would be very ostentatious about it, loudly declaring, “Yuk!” and wiping them off with a smile. I thought he was being cute or attempting to provoke me.
Time went on. The wipes became less showy but still happened. After awhile, it started to bug me. Why does he wipe my kisses off? Doesn’t he love me? I decided to let him know that it bothered me. “Hal, it really hurts my feelings when you wipe my kisses off like that.”
“Well,” he said, tilting his head down, “You can kiss me on my head.”
But I didn’t want to kiss his hairy little head. I wanted to kiss his plump little cheek. While trying to process this rejection, I thought of blogs I read in which parents would insist that children should have power over their own bodies. If they don’t want to hug or kiss a family member, you shouldn’t make them. How can they have the nerve to reject truly wrong physical contact if you force them to accept any unwanted contact?
With a deep mental sigh, I decided to comply with his request. I began to kiss the top of his head. I felt sad every time I did it. Every once in awhile, I’d forget and kiss his cheek. He’d walk away silently and wipe it off just as he went out of sight. The confusing part was that he never seemed upset. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t walking away because of the kiss. But he’d wipe it off all the same. It didn’t make sense. He still told me he loved me. He still kissed me on the lips and hugged me tight. But cheek kisses were always wiped off.
Finally, one morning while we cuddled with Daddy, he dipped his head to me and said, “Mommy, you can kiss me on my head.”
“No, dear, I don’t feel like kissing you on your head.”
Daddy asked, “Hal? Why won’t you let Mommy kiss you on the cheek? Don’t you know how much that hurts her feelings?”
“Well, she can kiss me on the head.”
“But you let me kiss you on the cheek. You don’t wipe them off or make me kiss you on your head.”
“Well, Mommy’s kisses are wet.”
“I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about,” my husband said.
I thought otherwise. “Hal, if I wipe my mouth dry, can I kiss you on the cheek?”
“Ok.” I very carefully wiped my already-dry lips across my fingers and leaned in. He smiled nervously. I kissed his cheek. He paused, smiled, and did not wipe it off. I tried again. No wipe. Later that day, he approached me. I carefully wiped my lips dry and kissed him on the cheek. He slowly raised his hand toward his face. I held it gently at his chin and said, “That kiss was dry. Wasn’t it?” He smiled and nodded, then lowered his hand.
That was yesterday. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. What made him think my kisses were so wet that he couldn’t stand them to be on his cheek? I don’t wear lipstick or lick my lips regularly. My lips, and thus my kisses, should be no more moist than my husband’s. I thought back further and further into Hal’s brief childhood. I began to remember times when I would exuberantly kiss him with lips puckered way out: those would definitely have been wet kisses. They were in the minority of my Mommy kisses but he had apparently become concerned enough that all kisses were assumed wet and thus undesired. And then it became habit.
The revelation fascinated me. It was a simple preference poorly articulated. We are on the slow road to resuming normal kissing relations. Just now, I hugged him and kissed his cheek. He couldn’t raise his hands to his face because of the hug but he tried. “Now… that was a dry kiss!” I chided. He laughed and said, “I want another dry kiss!” I happily complied. And he happily accepted.