Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Public — and Private — Displays of Affection

"You kiss me too much."

That was my tween daughter as she left the house this morning. You would think that under my roof, having eaten the nutritious breakfast lovingly prepared by my hands, wearing the Abercrombie jeans, Ugg boots and North Face fleece jacket paid for by my toils, she would accept a peck on the cheek.

Apparently ... NOT!

Wait a minute. She's my daughter, the fruit of my loins, the love of my life. How can I possibly kiss her "too much?" Yes, I've already been warned about public displays of affection. But, this is our house. No one is watching. The last time I checked, there were no surveillance cameras in our kitchen. My egregious smack wasn't going to end up on YouTube.

Plus today is an MCAS day. For those of you outside of Massachusetts, MCAS are high-pressure, long-form, standardized tests. Am I wrong in my desire to plant a protective smooch on the face of my little test-taker?

Do I sound jaded? Do I feel cheated? Yes.

Each time one of these habitual gestures is taken away from me, I feel a pang of bereavement, almost a sense of homesickness for a place I used to live. And, these bittersweet moments (heavy on the bitter, less so on the sweet) come without a warning. No one gives you a heads-up that this will be the last time they'll want you to read Good Night Moon, or hold your hand crossing the street, or let you hang out in the bathroom while they're washing up.

It hurts; truly it does. But, I have to confess that I understand what's going on — from a developmental perspective if not a maternal one.

My daughter swings back and forth between girl and woman, not just day-by-day, but multiple times in any 24-hour period. She wants to be her own person. But, she's dependent on me for so much: food, shelter, guidance, discipline, trips to the mall. She thinks she knows everything (everything), but in her heart she knows she knows very little. I remember the frustration of living on the cusp. Eager to make my way in the world but lacking the resources to do it, logistically or emotionally. I try to put myself in her shoes. Quite honestly, I wouldn't want to be thirteen again.

We've taught our daughters and sons that they are in charge of their own bodies. That no one has the right to touch them without their permission. We have to uphold their right to say and mean "No." Even when it really, really, really hurts our feelings.

For now, at any rate, I'll settle for blowing her a kiss behind her back. Please don't tell her. It'll be our little secret.

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