My granddaughter, my Ellie, is the love of my life.
She is smart, sweet, beautiful, strong, feisty and affectionate. Sometimes, when I least expect it, she puts both arms around my neck and hugs me tight. “Oh, my Nonni!” she sighs. “My Nonni. You’re here!”
Sometimes she demands that I hold her, rock her, keep her warm. “Snuggle me!” she begs, after drinking a cup of the cold milk the she loves so much.
At just a bit over two years old, I am happy to indulge her. First of all, I know that a child this young truly needs to be held and loved and made to feel safe and special. But second of all, I know how fleeting this time will be. This magical time when she wants me to cuddle her and nuzzle her cheek and tell her how much I love her.
So I follow her lead. When she orders me to hug her, I do it happily.
But there is another side to this shiny coin, and it is one that Ellie’s Mom and I have talked about a lot.
That is the fact that sometimes when it’s me who asks for kisses or hugs, Ellie firmly states, “No. No kissing me.”
When I was a child, that message was most often met with, “Oh, that’s not polite! Kiss your Grandma/Aunt/Friend/Uncle/Neighbor.” Children were expected to respond with pleasure to the signs of affection from adults. Especially well known and well loved adults.
But those days are gone.
And good riddance.
Now when Ellie frowns and states, “No!” I back off as quickly as I can. “OK.” I say. “No kisses.”
It’s so hard, though! I love her SO much! I feed her, dress her, take her to the potty, rock her when she’s sad, kiss her boo-boos, tuck her in for her nap every day. I want to kiss her sweet cheek. I want to rest my lips on her brow. I want to rub my cheek on hers and nuzzle her neck.
But if she says NO, I understand that it has to be NO.
Because even more than I want to kiss her while she is still Nonni’s little girl, I want her to grow up with a sense of ownership of her own body. I want her to know the value of her affection. I want her to know, with absolute certainty, that her kisses are her gifts to give or to withhold. I want her to feel, in the deepest fibers of her heart, that if she doesn’t want to kiss someone, she doesn’t have to kiss them.
Even if that someone is her very own Nonni who made her buttered noodles today and sang her songs and washed her face ten times and didn’t fuss about the spilled juice on the rug. Even then.
If Ellie says “NO” then the answer is “NO”.
I want her to have the power to say “NO” and to mean it. Even if she says it to me.