This week, to wish her five-year old daughter happy birthday, Victoria Beckham kissed her on the lips. Mommy shamers united in hatred and blasted Posh Spice, calling her action disgusting and her a pedophile. In the photo, posted on her Instagram account, Victoria and Harper are in a pool (an AMAZING infinity pool with an ocean view BTW) and Victoria has her head slightly tilted while kissing her pig-tailed kid smack on the lips. With a few simple clicks you can be privy to the negative comments questioning the appropriateness of the kiss. You can also read tons and tons of positive comments in support of the kiss and see photo after photo of Mommy and Me smooches.
There are many articles, and blogs, online discussing whether parents and children should kiss on the lips and as you can imagine, there are just as many supporters as there are those in opposition. The web has drawn upon experts, like a British etiquette expert who said it's not proper etiquette to kiss your child on the lips and an American psychologist who commented on the irony of the controversy over a mother kissing her daughter, considering the over-sexualization that takes place in our culture. You can guess that the fashionista/icon's celebrity kiss wasn't the first time the debate has been sparked, and discussed, on the WWW. A simple Google search brought up a string on Ask Yahoo! from 2010, many mommy blogs, and this article from just this spring.
Is it right? Is it wrong? Is there a kissing cut off? What are acceptable actions of affection and which actions cross the line?
I think about this a lot because I was a touchy kid. I grew up with a mom that wasn't necessarily affection-seeking with me, but she certainly allowed me to be as affectionate as I needed to be with her. Mom was also very open about the human body and nudity and she didn't really have a choice for, as a kid, wherever she was, there I was. I took a bath with her until I couldn't fit in the tub anymore. I remember stuffing myself behind her in the bath, catching the water she'd toss over her shoulder and washing her back while she flicked her cigarrette ashes into a tray on the side of the tub. I'd follow her around the house, telling her nonsensical stories. I couldn't stop talking, so I'd tell her stories while she did the dishes, while she went to the bathroom, and while she got dressed. It didn't matter to me if she was naked as long as she listened to me.
At night, I'd smoosh into the recliner to watch TV with her, wrapping my arm around her and crossing my legs over hers. When she made dinner, I would grab onto her legs and laugh as she tried to prepare dinner while dragging me around. For his pre-dinner entertainmment, my brother would pretend Mom was his wrestling opponent, putting her in a Figure Four and making her shout, "I submit!" Did I mention we did this as teenagers? I loved the summer we borrowed a camper, parked it in the driveway and she slept in it with me each night. Nobody is better to spoon with than my mom. Even now, when I return home, I have no problem if the sleeping arrangement permits me to cuddle with Mom and her pug, Lilly. And when I leave, after leaning over to give her a hug, we might even still kiss on the lips.
Since Americans aren't known to be particualry affectionate, there can be days when we might not be touched by anyone. We learn, when we are young, about personal space. We prefer nodding-with eye contact and hand shaking to cheek kissing, and the "bro hug" is used by as many women as men.We reserve intimate affection for our partners and let's be honest, most women know that a back rub isn 't just a back rub. That means that, while some couples hold hands or hug or kiss just to kiss, many couples associate affection with sex and that leaves us to think that, if people share affection, they want something in return.
So, remember how I said I was touchy? I wish we were cheek kissers. I wish we walked around holding hands with our friends. I want to hug people all of the time. It gets awkward. I've had to learn to hold back from hugging people as much as I want to and I even warn people when a hug is coming their way. Nobody at work liked my idea of standing at the door each morning to give our co-workers a morning hug. Wouldn't you want a morning hug from me? For me, physical touch establishes comfort. I know that this is not possible in almost every other situation of my life, but it can happen with my family.
Back to my poor mom. I say that she wasn't necessarily affection-seeking because my brother and I were all over her all of the time. I couldn't get close enough to her. I imagine that all she wanted to do was take a bath alone, or go to the bathroom without someone at her feet, reading her a book. I, too, confess that, despite my penchant for affection, there are just some moments when I don't want anyone to touch me, even my kids. For many years, especially for new moms, our bodies don't feel like they are our own. After a day of nursing, followed by a night of nursing, I craved fifteen minutes without a sweaty little body stuck to my body. On a hot summer day, when I'm carrying groceries in from the car, (you know, trying to hang as many bags on my arm as humanly possible while praying the bags don't rip apart) I really don't also want to give one of my children a piggy back ride. I also prefer to poop alone and it's not so much fun when I draw a bath and someone, uninvited, climbs in and announces she peed. But, for the most part, I love having my kids as attached to me just as much as I was attached to my mom. I like the feel of their warm, soft bodies next to mine and I relish the intimacy we share that will likely fade over the next five years, if not sooner. And, like Posh Spice, I'll you what I want, what I really, really want, I want a, I want a, I want a kiss.
Charlotte is a big-time kisser. She has no problem laying one on me before bed or when she gets on the bus in the morning. She also loves to chant, "KISS! KISS!" whenever Andy and I are remotely near one another. She kisses me so much I have to forget that she picks her nose and eats it and lets the dog kiss her, too. (BTW, I bet you all the Victoria Beckham haters have no problem letting their dogs kiss them. People, dogs eat poop and lick their own butts.)Now, Caroline, on the other hand, is not a kisser. When she was a baby, I kissed her as I pleased. In her toddler years, once she was able to show me what she wanted, Caroline never wanted kisses. If I pursed my lips in her direction, she would shyly lower her head, allowing me to kiss the top of her it rather than her face. We didn't talk about it then, but I took my cues from her and simply kissed the top of her head. As she got older, I noticed how downright nervous she looked if someone wanted to kiss her, even on the cheek. She loved hugs and having her hair rubbed and, for those she trusted, she'd almost purr and rub her head on one's arm. She certainly used touch to show affection, helpful for someone who struggled to communicate verbally, but anyone, even Andy or I, touching her face was always too intimate.
When she started Kindergarten, she and I were layng in her bed one night, doing her nightly post-story back rub. What I still consider the best time of the day, I tucked myself into the covers and spooned against her, feeling the rise and fall of her breath against my own. Just as I thought she was about to drift to sleep, she turned and looked at me, our faces not more than six inches apart.
"Mommy," she asked,"does kissing hurt?"
"No," I whispered, "not at all."
What does it feel like?" she asked.
I smiled at her. "Well, it feels really soft. It's very nice." I held my breath.
Then she asked: "Can we try?"
"Of course." I told her. She leaned in to me, closed her eyes, gave me the gentlest, sweetest of kisses and tears welled in my eyes. It had been years since we had kissed and it pained me that she thought something so beautiful and special would hurt her. I tried to understand why she was afraid to kiss anyone, especially me. After our kiss, I asked her if it was so bad. She smiled and said it wasn't. The next night, as we lay in bed after reading, I asked her if she wanted to kiss me again. She smiled shyly and told me no. Ever since that night, now over four years ago, she has never asked me to kiss her again and I do my best to respect her wishes, even by warning her if I would like to kiss her on the cheek. I watch her, with Andy and Charlotte, or with our parents. She will glady hug those she feels safe around and she isn't shy about asking friends and family to rub her legs or her feet, but she almost always lowers her head when she hugs, ensuring that she shields her face from any unwanted kisses. Andy tells me her fear of kissing isn't a bad thing and it means she won't be giving them out to anyone, unless they are absolutely deserving. However, I can't help but wish, for her, that she can one day give someone she loves a kiss, and share in the joy that this simple action can bring, whether it is with me or someone else she really loves.
So, Victoria Beckham, I say you go girl because, to me, whether a mommy/child kiss is shared in a fancy pool and blasted out for the world to see, or shared in a quiet bedroom after story time, it is something to be coveted and celebrated.