Yum. Oh, yum. I dread the day when she stops doing this.
At 11 and 9, Max and Sabrina are still at the stage in which I can lavish XOs on them, even in public, and not embarrass them. When I serve lunch at my daughter’s school, she bounds up to greet me and lets me plant one on her (or ten). When I’m out running errands with my son and feel like giving him a hug, he’s cool with that.
These little hits of bliss power me through the day. OK, coffee, too, but nothing beats the high I get from kisses and hugs. The endorphin rush is a known physiological phenomenon, as are the psychological payoffs for kids. One well-cited study from Duke University Medical School shows that tots whose mothers showered them with above-average affection are less likely than other kids to grow up to be emotionally distressed, anxious, or hostile grownups.
The happiness payoffs for parents of all those hugs and kisses seems immeasurable. It just took a while for my kids’ kissing gene to kick in.
My parents were not shy about expressing affection to me and my sister when we were growing up; they freely doled out hugs and kisses. As a parent, I out-mush them by far. When my kids were little, I’d kiss every little bit of them — the dimples on their hands where knuckles should have been, the rolls of chub on their thighs, each little piggie toe. The kids were takers, but not givers.
One of Sabrina’s first words: “No tisses!” [“No kisses!”] She was a fiercely independent, wise-behind-her-years tot who very quickly figured out that I was powerless against the feel of her skin on my lips, and she’d hold it over me. I’d literally have to beg her for kisses. Once, she tried to trade one for a doll at Target (“I’ll give you one kiss if I can get that baby!!”) I turned her down, as hard as she was to resist. Mercifully, Sabrina grew out of her miserly affection tendencies into a kid who loved nothing more than when I wrapped her in a towel after she came out of the bath, perched on the tub’s edge and nuzzled her. Even now, when she’s done with her shower, I’ll hear her shout from the bathroom “Mommy, can you hold me like a baby?”
My son, Max, had a stroke at birth that resulted in cerebral palsy. We’re lucky — he got the mild kind. Having CP means that your muscles don’t work the way you want them to, including the ones around your mouth, and so even puckering up to give kisses proved impossible. He also didn’t particularly like the sensory feel of it. My favorite memory of the day my husband and I brought Sabrina home from the hospital after she was born: Max leaning over to kiss her forehead, the first time he ever gave a kiss. They came sporadically after that although over time, his sensory issues abated and now he freely doles out kisses, especially when he’s done something wrong. His mouth doesn’t close, and so I get these gigantic whole-cheek kisses of the extra-extra delicious variety.
Hugs have been a whole other story. Max’s arms were stiff when he was younger, and he couldn’t wrap them around me. It used to make me sad when I’d see other little kids at the playground running up to their moms and throwing their arms around them. Hugging is still not a movement that comes naturally to Max, but he’s grown into them. Every single time I get one, I’m grateful not just for the affection but for the ability.
My husband and I are openly affectionate, too. But I have to admit, the kids get more kisses on a daily basis. Sometimes, I kiss them right on their lips. Not during the winter months, as I learned the season when I got strep throat three times, but pretty much otherwise. A friend once teased me that I like to make out with my kids. I’ll also confess to being a kissing bandit: At night, when Max and Sabrina are fast asleep, I’ll tip-toe into their rooms and shamelessly smooch their cheeks.
I cannot get enough of their kisses and hugs, and that’s more true now than ever. I’m well aware that the kids are getting older, fast. I know I need to savor these moments. And part of me wants to make sure I’m getting my X and O fill, for all eternity.More On