Planting the Seed
“How old do you think I’ll be when I have my first kiss?” Ryan asked during dinner.
I put down my salad fork and turned to look at my son.
My eleven-year-old son.
“What’s the rush?” I asked.
“I’m just wondering,” he said between bites. “Do you think high school or college?”
I took a sip of water, stalling. Why is he asking me this? I wondered. And as luck would have it, my husband was working a late shift, so it was just Ryan and me. I was on my own with this one.
“I don’t think you can really plan that. It just kinda happens depending on what’s happening in your life.”
“When did you have your first kiss?” Ryan asked.
“During college. Not with Daddy,” I clarified. “But not until college.”
Ryan nodded. “I think it’ll be high school for me.”
I took a bite, thinking about what to say, or not to say, next. Did I let this go? It felt like a door had been opened, and I, as a mother of a son in 2019, had a responsibility to take this further.
We chewed in silence for a minute or two, and then I told Ryan, “You know Ryan you can’t just kiss a girl. You have to ask permission.”
“What do you mean?”
“Daddy asked me if he could kiss me good-night at the end of one of our dates. Like that. You always have to ask a girl permission,” I said.
“Okay.” Ryan turned back to his meal.
Again, I had a choice here. I could stop now, leave it alone. He’s only 11, after all. He’s not anywhere close to having to deal with this.
Or, I could plant the seed.
I’m a gardener.
“Ryan. It’s not just kissing. You always have to ask a girl permission to do anything. To hug her. To hold her hand. To touch her shoulder. You know how I do this to you and tease about your soft shave (I rubbed his cheek with the side of my finger), even something like that, you have to ask a girl permission.
“It’s her body. She’s in charge. If she says no, or something makes her uncomfortable, or she doesn’t like something, then you need to respect that. She’s in charge. Even if you want to. Even if you want to kiss, if the girl says no, then it’s no. She’s the boss. Does that make sense?”
“Okay,” Ryan said.
He took a bite, and began to tell me about the drawing he was working on in his history class.
I listened, but I wondered. Had I gone too far? Had I made too much of a big deal about a seemingly innocent question?
In so many ways, the world is a different place from the one I grew up in. It’s not just the technology. It’s the information. The explicit conversations.
When I was a teenager, I don’t remember my parents telling me about my rights as a young woman. I knew no one should hurt me. I had “the talk” and knew the “facts of life.” But I never had the talk about my power, my rights. It was just implied.
Later at bedtime, Ryan adjusted his blanket and pillow as I stood by and waited for my cue to sit down so we could read.
“Do I have to ask permission each time?”
His question caught me off guard.
“Ask permission for what?” I asked.
“To kiss my girlfriend. Do I need to ask her permission each time?” Ryan looked at me, waiting.
I smiled. He had listened. He had heard. He had learned.
“I think if she says yes that first time, then you’ll know after that. You’ll be able to tell if she’s okay with a kiss goodnight or a kiss hello. Like when you and I look at each other, and we kind of move in, and do our nosey-nosey. I don’t ask you each time, we just both know it’s coming, and it’s okay to do it. But if you ever tell me not to, then I’d respect that.”
He moved his face to mine, and I smiled. Nosey-nosey time.
Ryan put his head on the pillow, and I began to read.
Later, after he was asleep and I was downstairs, I thought about our dinner conversation.
11 years old.
I began reading to Ryan when I was pregnant with him. And now, he’s an enthusiastic reader.
It all starts early.
Wendy Kennar is a freelance writer who finds inspiration in her son and from the experiences of her twelve-year teaching career. Her work has appeared in a number of publications and anthologies, both in print and online. You can read more from Wendy at www.wendykennar.com where she blogs about books, boys, and bodies (primarily living with an invisible disability).
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