Vacationing with my sister and her family last week, my almost-teen nephew and I got to talking about camp. I asked him, as embarrassing aunts do, if kids still played Spin the Bottle.
“Yes,” he replied, “but with hugging.”
Adorable. But, no. NO. I’m putting my foot down. Spin the Bottle is not about hugging. Full stop. End of story.
I’ve accepted a lot of the ways that life has changed for kids since I grew up in the 80’s. Bike helmets? Great idea. Inviting every kid in the class to my son’s birthday party? Sure, why not. Trophies for everyone at the end of the season? Fine…I guess. But hugging as the result of Spin the Bottle? Absolutely not.
Because what is Spin the Bottle about if not the utter terror that you might be an awful kisser or drool at an inopportune time? That your braces may intertwine with your partner’s or that you might feel the sting of rejection? Of course I want my kid to have a healthy self-esteem, but if we are now hugging during Spin the Bottle, the cost might be too high. Are our kids so fear-averse that they eliminate their angst by avoiding that terrifying kiss? If so, we should invite old Aunt Gertrude to our game of Spin the Bottle. She’s a fantastic hugger.
I remembered my own first Spin the Bottle experience and the jumble of emotions that accompanied it.
It was the weekend of my bat mitzvah. After an elaborate luncheon at our synagogue, I was looking forward to having some friends over for a less formal party at our house that night.
We were hanging out in our newly-finished basement when someone suggested we play Spin the Bottle. I hesitated. Spin the Bottle was a game I’d only read about in Judy Blume books. Could we really play it in my house? I was part horrified, part electrified, and totally up for it.
Someone turned off the remaining light so that only the glow of the television lit the room. Although I had fantasized about playing Spin the Bottle, I was feeling a little queasy, very much the opposite of the adult I had supposedly become earlier that day.
One of the boys produced an empty Coca-Cola bottle and my friend Steffi snatched it from him, while I grabbed my best friend Dara and dragged her to the floor. The other kids followed and soon we had a lopsided circle of giggling girls and sweaty boys.
Seizing on her apparent authority, Steffi instructed us, “OK, someone spins the bottle and has to kiss whoever it lands on over there in that closet,” she said, gesturing toward the cordoned-off unfinished part of the basement.
“That’s not a closet!” proclaimed Jenny, who was clearly stalling.
“It’ll work,” Steffi decided, leaning forward to pick up the bottle. “OK, Lisa will go first since she is a woman now.”
Taking a deep shaky breath, I gave the bottle a spin. I was beginning to understand why the adults in my life were always bemoaning teenage-hood. This was no picnic for me either.
The bottle rotated once, twice around the circle, slowly, a wheel of fortune inching toward its destination. I squealed involuntarily when it stopped at Adam, a boy from camp who had held my hand in the movies once. Adam looked at me, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, as he waited for me to follow him to the closet. I was about to have my first kiss, and it was going to be with a boy that I kind of liked. Could everyone hear the thunderous pounding of my heart?
When we were both in the makeshift closet, Adam shut the door. I could only see the outline of his face in the dark.
“I didn’t think it would be this dark,” I babbled, terrified to stop talking, lest he remember the real reason we were here.
He moved toward me. I couldn’t see him but I could feel his breath filling up the small space. I had never been this close to someone’s breath before.
My mind flashed back to the many Saturday nights I spent watching people kiss each other passionately on The Love Boat, under a moonlit night on the Lido Deck. I wondered how they could breathe or if I would ever want to kiss anyone for that long.
Suddenly, our lips were touching! It wasn’t a Love Boat kiss: my arms hung stiffly at my side and I concentrated on remembering to breathe. It was maybe 3 or 4 seconds, but it was long enough to be a legitimate first kiss. My body flooded with relief, and horrifyingly, I started to laugh. There were no orthodontia casualties and only a teensy bit of drool.
As we walked into the light, I felt what I always feel after I do something scary: pure exhilaration, as if I conquered something or changed just a little bit in some important way.
Are kids feeling that after a Spin the Bottle hug? How can we teach our kids to embrace what is scary, to welcome possible rejection, so that they can also experience the elation that often accompanies it?
I don’t know. I’ll have to ask Aunt Gertrude.