This a post I have been pondering for a while.
“Baby, say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah yeah
And let me kiss you”
From Kiss Me by One Direction.
Let me say up front that I will say things that some may not like. I have said many of the things before in other places and sometimes caused a little controversy.
A while back I was on a mini break with my lovely 14 year old daughter. We had booked into a hotel in a large city and I was delighted to see that the hotel was also hosting a conference for children with learning difficulties and their parents, although my daughter wryly noted that even on holiday I seem to find things that remind me of work. Inclusion is one of my favourite topics: https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/included-or-not/
At one point during our stay, we found ourselves in the queue for the lift with a father and teenage son who were there for the conference.
Immediately I saw a twinkle in the son’s eye as he saw my beautiful girl and soon he began to talk to her, asking her name. Immediately I saw her tense and flush, in the way that she does when spoken to by any stranger, before replying in a quiet and forcedly cheerful voice.
I stepped in, asking the boy his name and making chit-chat, sensing that his dad appreciated that.
The lift journey was short but why happened next took us by surprise. The boy put his arm around my girl. I saw her tense, look at me in a panic and I heard his dad ask the boy to let go.
For a moment we all stood, me keeping eye contact with my girl but above all, keeping calm.
In the dad’s voice I sensed that underlying tone of desperate hope that his child would make the right choices but also fear that he might not, that the control he was trying to exert as an adult might not serve its purpose.
Have you been that parent of the toddler in the supermarket who has suddenly turned from biddable and smiley to resistant and angry? Do you remember that sinking feeling you get in your stomach when you know that you aren’t in charge any more and no end of cajoling is going to stop those bottles/loaves/sweets (delete as appropriate) coming off that shelf and onto the floor?
Have you been that teacher of the pupil with anger issues who has suddenly turned from biddable and smiley to resistant and angry? Do you remember that sinking feeling you get in your stomach when you know that you aren’t in charge any more and no end of cajoling is going to stop those swear-words/punches/roars (delete as appropriate) from being released?
I could see that the boy’s dad was experiencing that sinking feeling.
A moment later and the boy had planted a kiss on the flushed, panicky cheek of my girl.
Something more was said by the dad and at that moment the lift reached our floor. I took my girl’s hand, said a bright “nice to meet you, enjoy the rest of your day” and we left the lift.
“I’m sorry” I said, as we walked the hotel corridor. “I can see that that was really uncomfortable for you. But I really don’t think he wanted to make you feel like that.”
“But mum, it’s not ok! I don’t understand why his dad didn’t do more to stop him!”
I tried to explain. I tried to explain that maybe the dad knew that any more of an attempt to stop his boy could have led to an outburst in a small enclosed space that he would have wanted to avoid at all costs.
And I explained that I was 100% certain that the dad would have spoken to his son after we had gone.
I imagine that the conversation would have gone something like this:
“Hey, remember how we have talked about not touching and kissing people unless they have said we can?”
“Yeah dad. But she told me her name and her mum talked to me.”
“Yes but that didn’t make it ok for you to hug and kiss her.”
Boy thinks: “but why wouldn’t she want me to hug and kiss her? I look like Harry today… cool and with my best jeans and t-shirt. “Baby, say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah yeah
And let me kiss you.””
Boy says: “ok dad”.
I know that my girl will take a long time to forget what happened in that lift. I know that she feels let down by the adults. But I also know that by having talked about what happened and having acknowledged her feelings, we have mitigated against it causing her ongoing worry and distress.
Some will see this as a story of assault.
Others will see it as a story of helping children to learn about situationally appropriate behaviours.
I am not sure how I see it.
“Education is everything. We can’t and shouldn’t simplify it and talk in terms of it being the job of either teachers or parents. We need to accept that our job, as adults, is to be honest with children and to help them negotiate the complexity ahead. It is our job to develop in each child the skill to know and understand himself, the tools to express herself and the strategies to meet challenges along the way. And it is our job to talk openly and honestly so that, if and when bad things happen, children know to talk about them so that they do not become a source of guilt, a life-stealing force, a legacy of hidden pain and shame.” Nell Flowers. The Story of My Self.
I share this story with my lovely girl’s permission.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.