When I was a teen, I did a lot of babysitting for other homeschool families. One day I babysat two families worth of children while their moms went out for lunch—I think there were about ten kids total that I was watching. I was in the kitchen cleaning up from lunch and the kids were in the living room putting on a play wedding as kids sometimes do. The nine year old was presiding over the wedding of the two five year olds, a girl from the one family and a boy from the other. All of a sudden I heard the older child say “now you’re supposed to kiss each other” and I freaked out and ran into the living room to break it up. I wasn’t about to let those two five year olds kiss, thus forever depriving each of the chance to save that first kiss for the altar.
In the conservative Christian homeschooling community in which I grew up, a person’s first kiss was incredibly important. Even today, the products of this culture debate this question with great energy, arguing about whether forbidding the first kiss until the altar is a form of legalism or the preservation of a precious gift.
Now, I was taught that part of the reason that the first kiss should be saved for the alter was that it was a gateway into other things. First comes kissing, and then, who knows? Making out, humping, sex—once you open the door, it’s hard to close it. It would seem, then, that five year olds kissing at a play wedding wouldn’t fit this category, given that we’re not talking about a kiss that comes as a result of sexual tension and mutual attraction.
The literature I read didn’t make a distinction between preschoolers kissing and teens kissing. Instead, it simply talked about the importance of saving “your first kiss” for your wedding day. And of course, we were regaled with stories of virtuous couples who had done just that—didn’t we want to be like them? And then there is The Princess and the Kiss, a book marketed to children as young as four.
The book is about a king and queen who help their daughter save her most precious gift, her first kiss, for the prince she will marry. The princess’s first kiss lives in a glass orb, something like the rose in the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast (you can see it on the cover). This book has become very popular in Christian homeschooling circles and beyond, and there are hundreds of thousands in print. This is the sort of thing I was raised on (though this particular book wasn’t around when I was little, lots of kids are growing up on it now).
All of this came rushing back to mind recently when Sally kissed a little boy at her preschool—or, as I would have seen it in the past, when Sally “gave away her first kiss.” We had gotten together with the family for a play date, and Sally and her little friend did the whole pretend wedding ceremony thing that little kids spontaneously do (I presided over a few in my day myself). At the end Sally grabbed the little boy and planted a kiss on his face. Surprised and bemused, I couldn’t help but recall my reaction to the pretend wedding staged by the five year olds I was babysitting so many years ago. This time, of course, my perception and reaction was different.
Sally didn’t lose anything when she kissed her little friend. Instead, she simply gained a common life experience—something she will look back at and laugh about when she’s grown. It’s the people who impute a cute childish action with so much meaning who are creating the problem, not my preschooler.