kissing and comfort zones

I’m not comprehensively disabled around small people.  On the contrary, I enjoy their company and like playing the goofy uncle who asks silly questions.  It’s the greetings and goodbyes which I tend to fumble, and could do without.  It’s possible my own Dad wasn’t such a great example here, being himself rather disabled around small people and in showing affection towards them.  Yet it feels like an innate disability of my own too, a personal gene of inhibition.

Kissing children makes me uncomfortable.  Upon meeting and parting I much prefer to pat them on the head, ruffle their hair or, if it seems as if I must, kiss the top of their head.  Kissing their faces just feels a little ‘icky’ somehow, for me, a bloke with little experience of small people before these particular small people came along.  Of course it’s different if they’re yours or if you have parental experience.

But then, I find kissing grown-ups on the cheek to often be a little icky too.  While I naturally affect breezy confidence when kissing cheeks, in truth I’d prefer if the casual convention for males to kiss females upon meeting didn’t exist at all.

There’s far too much jeopardy, too many variables, stuff that can go wrong.  She doesn’t present a cheek or doesn’t expect or want a kiss – stay the hell away you creep, and just accepts a hug instead, leaving you almost head-butting the back of her head and not knowing what to do with your face, or dangling out into thin air, or kissing her ear, or what if you both turn your head in the same direction and accidentally kiss each other’s lips instead?  All of these things have happened and sporadically return to haunt me.  I remember them far too well.

Even as a child I had weird issues with it; one vivid memory of refusing to kiss “Auntie” Pat on the cheek and throwing a huge tantrum because it meant not getting a slice of my favourite chocolate cake and crying the whole car journey home.

Then there was the time when I’d just kissed one female former colleague and went to kiss a second I knew equally well but was so taken aback by her awful skin I just shook her hand instead, “oh hey you, aahh..”   As her limp, dead, hate-filled hand sat in mine I became the most evil person ever.

So in that moment at the weekend when my brother asked me to strip naked and then dress his daughter, 2, I was stung with no little terror.  We’d been happily playing with a Peppa Pig jigsaw I’d bought her for Christmas when he dumped a pile of clothes down next to us.  Was I cool with this?  I asked myself.  Sure, I mean, I suppose..  erm..   I asked her if she wanted to put some clothes on and my brother poked his head back around the door, asked if I was ok with doing that.  I’d never dressed anyone before, never changed a nappy, kept some discretionary uncle distance.  Actually I wasn’t ok doing it.  I was massively awkward.  I was jelly.  “Er not really,” I confessed.  “I am a bit awkward to be honest.  Don’t want her kicking off.”  I felt clumsy, inadequate, failed, relieved.

There was a similar feeling later that day when we visited extended family discovered in the last few years thanks to the internet.  Our families have met several times since and enjoyed a poetic symmetry.  My mother’s new found half-sister had two daughters, whereas she had two sons; the elder daughter had two children, a boy and a girl, roughly the same age as my elder brother’s two children, a boy and a girl; the younger daughter was single.

At dinner I was enclosed in a corner of the table against the wall and subsequently found it difficult to contribute to wider conversation further down the table, contending with children’s squealing playful noises and my brother’s commanding central seat.  After a few faltering attempts I gave up.  Conversation then moved towards the absent younger daughter who, it was casually mentioned, now had a man.  Terrific, I thought.  Well done.  How dare she shatter the hitherto perfect symmetry of our families?  The bitch.

I rose from the table, went into the garden to play football with a six year old and broke his goalposts.


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