I’ve never been the cuddly type, and I thoroughly dislike kissing on the cheek. Air kissing is even worse. What’s wrong with shaking hands or just nodding hello to someone who isn’t your closest family member?
The only time I don’t mind greeting people with kisses is when I meet my extended Swiss family. That’s because I’m busy remembering that in Switzerland you don’t just kiss twice on the cheek but three times. If you forget, it becomes very awkward when you’re pulling away at the same time as the other person is moving in for the third kiss.
My mother has her theory about my aversion to forced intimacy, which she shares with every psychologist I’ve ever met: all those times I was in hospital as a child, being prodded by doctors and nurses without regard for my personal space.
Or, perhaps, it’s just that I’m a cold-hearted Scandinavian who doesn’t like other people to get too close to me?
Either way, fate has ordained that I should find myself sharing a home with three warm-blooded, cuddly-loving, space-invading people: my husband and daughters.
Don’t get me wrong, of course, I love to hug my children (and husband, occasionally) and now that my eldest is thirteen years old and asks me to leave her room before I’ve even crossed the threshold, I have to be grateful for the occasional embrace. Her sister, on the other hand, loves to cuddle, and I must admit, she is by far the best hugger I’ve ever met. She’s warm and soft and has hands that can melt the coldest heart.
At night, when I tuck her in, she wants me to lie next to her for a little while, hugging and chatting about the day just gone. Last week, we were enjoying one of those moments when she stopped mid-sentence and fixed her eyes on me.
“Mummy, you look terrible,” she said. “You’ve got loads of wrinkles around your eyes. You’re getting old.”
That’s not quite what you’d like to hear from your nine-year-old daughter, or from anyone else for that matter. I’m 47, hardly ancient.
But just in case, I’ve since been slathering on an extra layer of eye cream morning and night.
I don’t mind growing older; truly, I don’t. I have a few strands of grey hair, my crow’s feet are getting deeper, and my waistline is not what it used to be, but none of it bothers me enough to do something about it. I have a gym membership that I haven’t used for years but which I still keep paying for because you never know, one day I might go there. And I can’t be bothered putting on make-up on a regular school day. I’d rather have those extra minutes of sleep in the morning.
The only times I make a real effort to dress smartly and paint my face is when I have a party to attend or when I go for my annual gynaecological exam.
If you saw my gynaecologist, you’d understand. She’s drop-dead gorgeous and only a few years older than me. We have kids around the same age, but whereas I look like the tired and irritable middle-aged mother I am, she’s smoking hot.
“Ovaries look good, and I can’t see any sign of menopause yet,” she declares in her soft Irish lilt, and I leave her office on a cloud of relief and a feeling of having been granted a second chance at life.
Age is only a number, some people say, but that’s not true. Age is something that affects your body, whether you like it or not. I’ve noticed this year, for example, a growing number of age-related complaints. This summer, I discovered I have tinnitus, which my doctor put down to advancing age; and the harmless waterfilled cysts in my breasts are very common in middle-aged women. And I have to get up to pee in the middle of the night.
It’s downhill from here, and the sooner I accept it, the sooner I can get on with the stuff that matters.
So, if listening to my daughter pointing out my physical flaws is the price I have to pay for a cuddle, it’s a price worth paying.