Lessons in Kissing
April 2004 – nine years old.
The blankets were tucked around him tight and warm and scratchy. Mum sat on the edge of his bed, dipping down the sides and smoothing down the blankets. He snuggled down, wriggling a little as he wormed his way further under the covers, enjoying the light scratchy feeling along his arms as he moved.
On his bedside table was a collection of bright birthday cards. At the front of them was a handmade card picturing a sandbox and two gummy lollies. He smiled, and burrowed further into his new soft pillow.
‘Goodnight Ant,’ Mum said, kissing his head with feather light words. ‘I love you.’
‘I love you too, Mum,’ he said, trying not to yawn.
She stood and the dip in the bed straightened out. Her night gown swished back and forth in a familiar comforting sound.
‘Mum,’ he asked, leaning up on his elbows. ‘Why do you kiss me when you say goodnight?’
She paused, turning back to him with a soft little smile. She sat back on the edge of the bed, smoothing back his dark hair.
‘Because I love you,’ she said, brushing hair behind his ear.
‘Do you always kiss people you love?’
She nodded. ‘Usually, yes.’
She laughed a little. Light and soothing.
‘Why are you asking?’
Ant frowned, fingers playing with a stray thread, ‘You kiss Lucy. And you kiss that lady friend of yours.’
‘Yes. Do you love her?’
Mum nodded. Her hand was a warm weight on his chest.
‘But Dad doesn’t love his friends?’
Mum laughed. ‘Because he doesn’t kiss them?’
‘No honey,’ she said, smiling. ‘Dad loves his friends. It’s just a different kind of love to how he loves you and me.’
Ant frowned. ‘So … what’s the kind of love where you kiss people?’
‘Kissing is for family, or for when you’re older and you get a girlfriend.’
‘A girl friend?’
‘Someone special you want to spend lots of time with,’ she said. ‘Someone you care about a lot. Like your Dad and me.’
Ant frowned. ‘What about my boy friends?’
Mum blinked, her mouth thinning in that way she did when she was annoyed with one of Ant’s brothers.
‘Boys don’t have boyfriends, sweetheart,’ she said. ‘Boys have girlfriends, and girls have boyfriends.’
‘But … why?’
‘Because that’s the way love works.’
‘But I love Tim,’ Ant said. ‘He makes me happy. And that’s what love is. Right?’
Mum stared at him, her blue eyes big and wide. Ant shrank down in his covers.
‘Right?’ he asked again.
After a moment, she smoothed down his blankets again, harder than normal, and said in a very quiet voice, ‘No, sweetheart. Boys don’t love boys the way your dad and I love each other. Now, don’t you worry about any of this love nonsense, okay? You’re much too young for love. You’ll understand when you’re older. Goodnight sweetheart.’
She kissed his head again, sweeping across the room in her swishy nightgown to turn off the light and shut the door.
In the dark, Ant’s bright blue eyes found the place he thought the birthday cards stood.