I'VE never been shy about showering my young toddler with affection, but I certainly don't want it to lead to him being eaten by a bear.
Before my baby was born I wasn't sure if I was going to go all Greek father on him and smoother him with kisses or if I would just cut the cord, give him a kind but sensible double-pump handshake and be done with it.
When he arrived the choice left my hands and travelled straight to my lips. The first time I held him I never wanted to let him go, and for the first few months I rarely did. In that beautiful age when he was old enough to smile but not old enough to move, I would carry him around, unconsciously planting kisses on the top of his adorable little head like a woodpecker searching for grubs. Standing in line at the grocery store I'd awake from my trance to realize that I'd just landed 17 pecks in the span of eight seconds.
As he grew, he reached the magical age when he began to kiss back, starting out with hilarious, sloppy, wide-open slow motion smooches that were equal parts adorable and slobber.
Soon enough he figured out to close his mouth to kiss and open his mouth to talk. The first time he asked for "kiss daddy," I beamed like a freshly charged supernova.
Apparently positive feedback works because the kiss soon became his favourite form of communication. From mama and daddy he moved on to the other regulars in his day-to-day life: his stuffed teddies.
Kiss whale. Kiss bear. Kiss Sumi. It was all innocent fun with a harmless cast of characters, even the thunderbird/orca/black bear with ties to the morally ambiguous International Olympic Committee.
Then he took his show on the road. "Kiss girl," he'd say, perusing the cutie patooties on the playground. You gotta like the moxie from a kid still in diapers, although I advised him he might want to play a little hard-to-get for the next 24 years or so.
Next came the characters in his little baby books. Kiss cat, kiss doggie.
Here's where the problem started. Kiss cat, kiss doggie is cute when the dog is big, red and named Clifford or the cat is in a hat. It's not so good when it translates to real life and he's chasing random animals down the street. We're not a pet family and he's not around animals often, so it was both exciting and a little disconcerting to see him pucker up and toddle after the neighbourhood alley cat with no fear.
As a carefree child, he just didn't understand: you can't kiss random cats unless you want a new face. It was time to teach some proper greetings. Here were the ground rules:
- Mama and daddy, of course, you kiss early and kiss often.
- Pretty girls, you give them your patented sideways face, smile and say "Hello." If you really like them, make a fart noise and run away.
- Bros, you give a highfive, fistbump or whatever the cool kids are doing. If you've just dunked on your mini hoop, a chest bump is appropriate.
- Colleagues, you complain about how slow the WiFi is around here and ask if they saw last week's Mad Men (babies are big fans of Joan, for some reason).
- Potential employers, you look squarely in the eye, grasp their hand firmly and pump once, saying "pees a mee too."
- Cats, you ignore.
- Dogs have degrees. Big ones are usually cool but make sure you give them their space. Sleeping ones, let lie. Little ones, read and react. If it's a nice little one, you can pet it. If it barks at you, kick it. (I'm just kidding, of course. I know, we love our dogs on the North Shore. The only thing worse than hurting a dog here is hurting a dog while you cut down a tree. I would never seriously advocate kicking a dog, so you can stop banging out your angry letter to the editor. Please, put the typewriter away. I'm looking at you, West Van.)
With the rules set, it seemed as though he had it all sorted out. Mama got kisses, peers got "hellos," and adults got cautious but curious deference.
Then came a new picture book, new words and a new threat.
"Kiss grizzly," he said, leaning over and giving the bear in the photo a smooch on the snout.
That's not good, particularly considering there are actual grizzlies just down the road - and black bears too. In fact, for all I know there could be a black bear next door right now, eating my neighbour's hot tub cover.
This needed drastic action. We tried everything we could to strike fear into the heart of a tiny little boy: bears are yucky, bears eat all the salmon, bears are dangerous, bears destroy exciting construction sites, bears steal pizza.
He thought for a moment, then spoke.
"Kiss salmon." Uh oh. Sounds like we've still got some work to do.