Yesterday afternoon, my four-year-old daughter was delightfully telling me about how I’m “the best mommy in the whole world.” She added that I’m “as beautiful as a map of Middle Earth,” which is, I suppose, a very high compliment coming from my budding literature enthusiast. I gave her an Eskimo-kiss and pinched her cute little cheek. Sure, I spent my entire childhood absolutely swearing that I would never, ever turn into a cheek-pincher, but it somehow happened. I mean, how can anyone resist a cute kid with a fluffy little face? When it comes to pinching cheeks, I’m as guilty as a great aunt from the 1980s.
Fast-forward to this morning. I’m getting my daughter ready for school when I notice a little red mark on the side of her face. Thinking it’s a rash, I grab some hydrocortisone cream and apply it to the mark while she brushes her teeth.
“Does your cheek itch?” I ask her, wondering what she might be allergic to.
“No,” she says placidly, “But it does hurt a tiny bit.”
I tried to think of where she might have injured herself. “Did you hurt yourself at the playground or anything yesterday? Did you bump into anything? Did you fall down?” The answers were no, no, and no.
Finally, I got a rush of panic and asked, “Has anyone hurt you? No one has hit you or anything, have they, honey?”
Her eyes lit up and she said, “Oh! Yeah! Nobody hit me, ever, except that one time last summer when the boy at Dinosaur Camp hit me, but that was a long time ago. But you pinched my cheek really hard yesterday when we were being lovey and sweet!” She said this without the slightest bit of resentment or anger.
I tried to tell myself that there was no way I could have pinched her cheeks hard enough to leave a mark– she would have told me that it hurt, right?– but the evidence was undeniable. There was nowhere else that she could have gotten the mark. I was not only a cheek-pincher, but I’d pinched my kid’s cheek hard enough that I left a red mark on it. Father, forgive me, for I have sinned.
I apologetically explained to my daughter that I never meant to hurt her, and I reminded her about the three “touching rules”– important rules about personal safety and personal space, with the third rule being, “You’re always allowed to say no to unwanted touches, even safe touches like hugs and kisses.”
“I know,” she said sweetly, “But pinching my cheek in a lovey way is a safe touch, and I don’t mind it at all!”
“Your great-grandmother used to pinch my cheeks and I hated it,” I explained, “And I would have been really mad if she had pinched me enough that it hurt. You can tell me if you don’t want me to pinch your cheeks anymore. It would be okay if you were angry at me and wanted me to never do that again.”
“I want you to pinch my cheeks because they’re so cute, but maybe don’t do it so hard next time,” my daughter said with a shrug.
I may have the first child in history who has been subjected to extreme cheek-pinching, yet doesn’t mind it. I, on the other hand, am so horrified by the fact that I pinched my daughter hard enough to leave a mark that I’m practically ready to turn myself in to Child Protective Services. Somehow, though, I suspect they would only laugh at me if I showed and asked to be arrested for being a cheek-pincher.
Even with my daughter’s unfazed consent to have her cheeks pinched “in a lovey way,” I think I have to declare my cheek-pinching days over. As cute as they are, as fluffy as they are, and as undeniably squeezable as they are, my daughter’s cheeks need to be left unharmed. And, since I clearly pinch cheeks as hard as my grandmother and my great aunt put together, I’m hereby revoking my own cheek-pinching privileges. I guess I’ll have to start sticking with hugs.
Have you ever accidentally hurt your child with a normally harmless show of affection, like hugging, tickling, or cheek-pinching? Share your stories below!