On the brink of adolescence, the milestone awaits. Allison Glock braces herself for her daughter’s first smooch.
Last night over chicken and biscuits, my 12-year-old daughter, Dixie, asked when I had my first kiss. There is a boy at school who likes her, an older boy, with calf muscles and stubble. The subject of kissing has, apparently, come up.
“What was it like, Mama?” she presses.
I consider saying something ambiguous about love and connection. I also consider downing a shot of tequila. Instead, I tell my daughters about a fumbling, sloppy moment of awfulness in a closet at Vacation Bible School after a dare. His name was Mikey. And he didn’t like it.
Neither did I. We were young and inexperienced and supposed to be studying scripture, not leaning into each other in the dark while our fellow Bible campers chanted, “Do it! Do it!”
“This is a gross conversation,” says Matilda, 10, pretending to gag.
“Is kissing always gross?” asks Dixie, her eyes worried.
Yes! I want to say. All physical contact is disgusting and toxic and to be avoided until you are at least 75. Boys carry fleas. And are bad for self-esteem. And cause rifts with your girlfriends. And stink.
“No,” I say, exhaling slowly. “With the right person, at the right time, it can feel like visiting another planet.”
“I will never want to visit another planet,” Matilda scoffs.
“That’s okay. But you may change your mind when you’re older.”
“Like the way I used to hate turkey pepperoni?”
“Exactly,” I say, smiling.
Quiet, Dixie scrapes polish from her fingernail, wipes it on her shirt.
“Can you, um, you know, do it wrong?” she mumbles at her plate.
I reach across the table, lifting her chin with my thumb. Our eyes meet and in that moment I see her at 4, pupils wide with the expectation of wonders to come. Only then it was balloons and kittens, not kisses from boys. Balloons break. But they do not break your heart.
“Everyone does it wrong. Until they don’t,” I say, fighting back tears. “But you, my girl, are perfect just the way you are. Never let any boy make you think otherwise.”
I know even as I speak the words that this is impossible.
I say it anyway. As I do I remember my grandmother, the belle of Appalachia, who flirted (etc.) her way through West Virginia (and most of Ohio) before settling on my grandfather, a man of righteous honor and dignity who, when he succumbed to Alzheimer’s, wept daily not for the loss of his mind but for the loss of his wife, whom he could no longer kiss.
“Don’t fret,” I say. “Bad kissing or not, true love will find you in the end.”
Dixie grins, says that for now, they can just hold hands. I say that’s a capital idea. Just then, the boy sends a text, and she flushes at the sight of his name. Cupid’s arrow has been released. And there is nothing left to do but brace for impact. And protect the balloons.
Allison Glock’s heart belongs to her family, her rescue pit bulls, and Knoxville caterer Holly Hambright’s cheese grits-sausage bowl.