Kina and I have a strange nightly ritual of taking back kisses, which emerged naturally from a long period in which she would ask me to kiss her cheek and then push my face away before I could land it. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about these rituals, and in some ways I’d feel better if she just didn’t want a kiss at all, but kids are weird, and we give them what they need because we are biologically obligated to do so.
When taking back a kiss, it is important to make a loud chomping sound to fully scrub the kissed surface of its smooch juice. Then, after chewing twenty times, one must swallow it by saying “gump!” Finally, to close the ritual, you recite a secret incantation that I cannot for obvious and secret reasons write down here. Afterwards, the ritual is inverted—the kisser becomes the kissed, the taker-back is taken.
Last night, after elaborately reclaiming my kiss from Kina’s cheek, I allowed her to smooch me on the nose, but she refused to take it back, seemingly insulted by the suggestion that her kiss was unwelcome. “Keep it. Keep the kiss. It’s nice,” she said, in a vaguely threatening organized-crime way. She did exactly the same thing tonight after I put her to bed, which means we have entered into a new phase of affection acceptance that I expect to navigate clumsily. Should I also refuse to take back my own kisses? Should I no longer say “Ew I don’t like it”? I will only learn from my own mistakes in this kind of scenario; I know that, at least.
In the future, games like this will no longer seem fun to her, and so I relish the little absurdities of etiquette that accompany them. There are rules that must be followed. Our nightly rituals—hugga mugga (in its real, close-away, and far-away versions), the reclamation of kisses, our intricate Baby Rainbow Unicorn stories—are bureaucracy at its most entertaining. If bedtime were my only job in the world, I’d never retire. She wouldn’t let me, anyhow.