My friend Katie Sherrod recently shared on article on Facebook about people requesting kisses from children—not predatory people, just ordinary friendly people reacting to a cute child. But the point was that this affection-on-cue teaches our children to please others and to observe social ritual without taking into account what they want. Katie herself wrote how she hates to be asked for a hug or a smile—they are hers to give and there are times she doesn’t have a hug or a smile. True for all of us.
The post made me think about Jacob, who is always told to give me a hug and a kiss before he leaves. And, I confess, if he doesn’t, I sometimes say in a joking tone, “Jacob Burton, you come give me a hug!” Kegan, my youngest grandchild, resisted my kisses and hugs for a long time until it became a game—now he comes to me, apparently reluctantly, but with a sly and shy grin on his face (see the toothless picture above). Nine-year-old Sawyer on the other hand is the most enthusiastic kisser I’ve ever met—he throws his arms around you and plants a big one.
I made a pact with Jacob this past weekend—and I will make it with other grandchildren—that if he wants to hug me, I would be delighted and would hug back; if he wants to give me a kiss, I’d be over the moon (I come from a family of mouth kissers—none of that cheek business for a lot of them, though Jacob gives cheek kisses if I have lipstick on). But he doesn’t have to. He thought that sounded pretty good.
So this morning, in my driveway, as he headed to school, his father said, “Give Juju a hug.” Jacob gave me what I call a passive hug—he leaned against me and let me hug him. His dad objected, and I said, “No, it’s okay. We have a deal.” So Dad looked around, sensitive to seven-year-old egos, and said, “There’s no one around, for Pete’s sake.” I told him that wasn’t the point, and he said, “Well, you’re far more lenient with him than I am.” (I suspect that’s true in a lot of instances—grandmother’s privilege.)
Act Two: this afternoon, Jacob’s mom comes to pick him up, and I repeat the conversation. Her take on it was totally different, though she would probably agree about adults out of the family asking for kisses. But, with Jacob listening intently, she said, “Giving a hug is how we say thank you and show our love for our grandmother.” That, too, made sense to me.
Result? The kid went off to baseball without so much as a backward glance at me. There’s no winning.