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Monday, March 23, 2009

The First Kiss

Nicole Caccavo Kear and her baby son, Giovanni

By Nicole Caccavo Kear

As soon as my son was delivered, the doctor placed him on my chest and Giovanni, in his first earthly action, reached his fingers towards my chin. Whether it was an expression of affection or a spasm of panic, no one can tell, but I believe he knew me from the start.

Accidental or not, that was his last tender gesture for months. As an infant, Giovanni initiated plenty of physical contact but it generally fell under the category of hand-to-hand combat – things like wind-milling his fists at my face as if I were a speed-bag, head-butting me, and plunging his claws into my belly while nursing.

I longed for the day when Giovanni’s gestures of affection would take on a slightly more conventional tone. Then, soon after he turned eight months, my grandmother started making claims that Giovanni was kissing her.

“He can’t kiss yet,” I snorted, “You’re imaging things.”

“Giovaaaaaaanni,” she beckoned, “C’mere. Give Mommy a kiss!” Then, she kindly offered a demonstration, pooching her lips out so she looked like the victim of a bad collagen job and pressing them to my cheek over and over while making exaggerated smoochy sounds. Finally, as if he’d decided it was worth the effort just to end the indignity, he crawled over. First, he socked me in the eye to make sure I was really paying attention. Then he opened his drooly mouth like he was going to eat me whole and placed it squarely on my nose.

You would have thought the kid had just split the atom from the jubilation which broke out. Pleased with himself, he went into repeat play mode, kissing my nose, waiting for thunderous applause and kissing again. It was the messiest expression of affection you can imagine. It made a dog slobber look antiseptic. And I lapped it up.

Thus began what we called Giovanni’s kissing sprees. Days would pass with not a kiss in sight, and then suddenly, for no apparent reason, he’d go on a rampage, like he had to unload a lot of kisses fast. He wasn’t picky about who got them either, he’d just place his leaky mouth on whoever’s face happened to be in front of him. So at the first sign of a spree, I’d yell, “Come quick -- Giovanni’s kissing!” and the family members would line up, waiting their turn at the baby kissing booth.

Three years later, Giovanni isn’t quite so undiscerning with his affection. If you want a kiss from him, you’ve got to pony up. My grandmother understands this, which is why she now comes equipped with sweets.

“Giovaaaaaaaani,” she croons, “You wanna cookie?”

And as his eager, sugar-craving hands reach for the treat, she retracts it, fast, “First you gimme a kiss.”

Which he does, perfunctorily, like paying a toll. At nearly four years old, he understands that for a blue-eyed beauty like him, kisses are a kind of currency. And you can forget about scoring one unless you’re bringing something to the table.

Except for me, that is. For me, he’s got kisses a-plenty, kisses for nothing. Well, not exactly for nothing, unless you call the gift of my time, patience, energy and love nothing. But unconditional. And unlike the accidental chin grasp in the delivery room, and the one-size-fits-all, totally-transferable lovin’ off his baby days, these kisses, I know, are meant for me.

Nicole's a native New Yorker who lives in Brooklyn with her darling children, aka Thing 1 and Thing 2, and dear husband, who got her into this mess of motherhood. She writes a column called "Dispatches from Babyville" for the Park Slope Reader and contributes regularly to Time Out NY Kids, Pregnancy, New Parent, Parenting and American Baby. You can read her work at
www.nicolecaccavokear.com. To read more or her misadventures, check out her blog: www.amomamok.blogspot.com