It was early fall and it was time to harvest blackberries to make our famous blackberry jams and jellies for the winter season. That morning I over-exaggerated my enthusiasm for picking blackberries that morning to make up for the kids’ general lack of enthusiasm for any early Saturday morning activity before 10am. Blurry-eyed and moody, they quietly slurped down their obligatory bowls of Post Shreddies before we piled into our station wagon.
My favorite spot for picking Rubus Fruticosus was about an hour away from our humble home. The ride was quiet as everyone was trying to get some additional sleep. Their silence gave me time to reflect on my relationship with blackberries. Ever since I could remember I had been picking blackberries. I thought of myself as a blackberry connoisseur and I’ll eat pretty much any blackberry put in front of me, but I am especially partial to the Chester Thornless because it has a firm body and is almost never tart.
Having arrived at my favorite bramble, everyone knew the drill, grabbed their plastic buckets and straightaway began to harvest. As the sun got warmer the kids gradually began to slip out of their morning reverie and their resentment towards me began to melt away beneath the cloudless autumn sky. We were probably about an hour into berry picking when one of the kids asked: “Papa, when is it okay to kiss?” There were about a thousand other questions I’d much rather have been asked that one. Why don’t they ever ask me questions about the Chester Thornless?
Beneath a sturdy oak near the thicket, I began to ponder this unexpected question. Boy, I guess I had never given this question much thought because I had honestly never imagined my kids ever kissing. I guess, or I was hoping, that Mother Nature would perpetually preserve them in their innocence. Plus, I was also one of the worst people to ask that question to. I had my first kiss way too young and got into the whole pairing off thing too young. I caved into the pressure at the time, did what all my friends were doing and gave into most of my crushes.
Of course, a lot of them had the encouragement of their parents. I, however, did not. My parents did not encourage young people kissing and didn’t think it was cute to have their middle school son start kissing on or start pairing off with middle school girls. Back then in my mind I found my parents to be too strict, way out of touch, with their values and questioned (not out loud) their wisdom as the parents of four children. What the cuss did they know about kissing, dating and courtship?
Of course, now standing at the precipice and having to confront the fact that my kids were growing up, I thanked my luck stars they were out of touch, they were freakin’ geniuses as far as I was concerned. Freud (a misanthrope) and Kinsey (a bona fide creep) had nothing on them. My parents weren’t acting out of some heavy handed desire to repress me, I could see they cared about my potential, the welfare of my wee soul and the souls of those poor girls that were subject to my awkward and immature courtin’ skills.
There were good reason they didn’t want to unleash their middle-school son onto the world. For as an addled-headed youth, I was that lethal combination of both physical and emotional immaturity. I had not figured myself out and hadn’t figured out much of anything at that point in my life. More than anything my earlier courting probably retarded and confused the process of knowing myself. I should have been out their learning how to be a friend with the opposite sex, a skill I found out that you desperately need for a successful marriage (not that I haven’t learned, but it hasn’t been painless, gosh, my wife is saint).
So back to the oak tree and the bramble, and that awkward but important question, “When should they kiss?” Finally, I said; “Listen closely you all, I hereby decree and ordain by the fatherly authority invested in me declare that no child in this family shall engage in serious kissing until you are 16. A peck here, a peck there is innocent enough, but kissing that leads to “dating” commitments or exclusiveness that can wait until your 16. Save that stuff for the right time, the right place, and the right person. There is a lot of time to grow up and experience all the jazz that goes into dating, all that making up and breaking up, the heartbreak, the bitter and the sweet, can honestly wait a few more years.”
Loving the sound of my own voice, I continued to drag out the point as I am wont to do, “You are entering a phase where there is so much to discover about yourself and the world (both spiritual and natural). The next 10-15 years are going to determine so much about your future. Don’t mess it up! Learn to be your own kind of beautiful. Don’t let a middle-school “love” and the inevitable pain that follows define you and take over your little lives, unless you happen to love heartaches and tears. I personally despise heartache and am hostile towards tears.”
Afterwards, I crossed my fingers hoping that they would actually follow my advice. We were probably going to have a few more talks like this. But, kids are going to be kids and the pressure and temptations permeate everywhere. Just maybe they’ll have eyes to see through the mirage and the myths being presented out there. They are going to explore their growing freedom as they become teenagers, and I’d be fooling myself to I think I can control them like I once did. But at least, they will know that there is a standard to look to and a reason behind it. It’s not all in vain. Being wiser than I was, my hope is they won’t be stiff-necked and that they will learn that life is sweeter and happiness more lasting when they learn to bear their temptations cheerfully, act bravely, await occasions, and never hurry.