No Means No

My son is five now, and he doesn’t like kisses anymore. He has pretty much refused to kiss me for the better part of a year, and now he is asking me not to kiss him. I’m sorry I ever turned down his baby slobber now. (No, I’m not. But mothers are supposed to say that, so I said it. I would still turn down slobbers.)

I have always wondered where people got the idea that no meant yes, or maybe, or just try a little harder. Years and years ago, I struck upon the idea that it was a principle learned in childhood. Parents teach their children that no only means no if it’s the parents saying it. For example, Thor says, “No, I don’t want a kiss,” and I say, “Haha!” tickle him til he laughs, then kiss him anyway. Or, worse, Thor says, “No, I don’t want a kiss,” and I pretend to cry until he relents.

Having forgotten my own epiphany, I have done both before. How confusing to a child. I am teaching him that his body is his own property, not to be touched in any way he does not like, but I’ll force my kisses on him? That’s not right.

Tonight, as I was tucking him in, I remembered. I asked if I could give him a kiss and he said no. I started to cajole him, and thought better of it. I hugged him instead and I said, “Okay, Bud. No kisses. If you don’t want them, you don’t have to have them.” I kissed his bear goodnight instead, just because I had one stuck on my lips and had to wipe it off somewhere. He offered his dinosaur up for another one.

I did hope he would decide that kisses for Bear and Dinosaur looked so good, he needed one, too. He did not. And that’s okay. Even though I really, really, really wanted to kiss his whole face.

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