I’m picking Thomas up from school. He, buried beneath the usual mound of school bag, gym bag, stray artwork, trailing coat, letters and party invitations, comes charging out of the door, cannons into and flings his arms around me as is his wont and I, as is my wont, bend down and give him a big kiss.
A mother from another class, whom I know only to smile and nod at as we occasionally pass each other at school or even more occasionally on the high street, sees us and says with a laugh that is not a laugh, “You kiss that child too much.”
Well. I mean. What?
My mind explodes.
How can she care and, even if she does, how can she dare say this? What gives people the pathological self-confidence to formulate these thoughts and then give them utterance?
How has she formed this opinion? Has she been stalking us? With a notebook, keeping careful tally? One mark for a quick peck, up to five for a full yumming? What about when I just rub my face in his hair – does that count? Does she deduct for tellings-off or does the record of affection stand alone?
And beating below, above, around and through all this is the thought that always strikes me most powerfully whenever anyone voices a criticism of me and especially of my parenting: what if they’re right?
How has she formed this opinion? Has she been stalking us? With a notebook, keeping careful tally? One mark for a quick peck, up to five for a full yumming?
In microseconds, I am down the rabbit hole. Outwardly, I am composing my face into a studied neutrality as I help Thomas on with his coat and stuff all the documentation he has accrued into bags. Inwardly, I am convulsing. She could be right. I do kiss him a lot. I love to kiss him. I drop a little one on his head most times I’m passing, a smacker on his cheek whenever there’s the slightest excuse and we have a big kiss and cuddle every night at bedtime. I have never known how people stop themselves kissing (their own) babies. I could never believe I was allowed to hold and nuzzle mine as much as I wanted. But I grew up in a household where the only emotions recognised were hunger and anger at grammatical errors. Physical affection was frowned upon. I have no idea where the normal boundaries lie. If there is a too much, who’s to say I’m not doing it?
The raw nerve quivers and shoots doubt through my entire body.
All this happens in the time it takes her to draw in the breath she takes before adding, “…for a boy.”
My mind clears. Clarity of thought and self-assurance returns. With these words, she has undone herself and I can uncouple myself from the power I have unaccountably let her wield over me. She is an idiot. She is just an idiot. She is wrong, wrong in all things, and I am right. I am just now too weakened by events to confront her, but I will remember this next time and I will deal with her. In the meantime, “I could kiss you!” I say and set off home.