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Teaching My Daughter to Kiss


Maggie bit me on the leg. We were lying together on the couch watching Frozen 2 for the millionth time. I had given her forehead and cheeks several loud smooches to her smiling delight. Hazel was snuggling by my shoulder. Every time I gave one of them a smooch, Hazel would loudly and sloppily smooch me back on my shoulder. We have an L-shaped sectional, so everyone has room to stretch out.

Maggie started shaking her head, Ray Charles style. She smiles when she does this. I think it’s her dancing, or maybe she’s shaking her head because it quells something seizure-related. We snuggled, and she crawled down the couch, hugging my legs, tickling my toes, and bit me hard on the calf.

The knee jerk response to pain is to recoil and, especially if it’s unexpected, to involuntarily yell. It’s an automatic reaction; naturally, I jerked my leg away and yelped. I turned to Maggie, whose face fell and suddenly looked like she was a second away from tears. It dawned on me what happened. She tried to kiss me back, but she doesn’t understand how to kiss so she bit me instead.

“Oh, baby, it’s okay. Don’t cry,” I said to Maggie, stroking her hair and her cheek. I covered her face with kisses and she snuggled into my armpit, chewing on her pacifier.

I had never thought about the detailed action involved in a kiss. There are so many things that I just never thought about learning or teaching, actions I’ve taken for granted. I never taught Hazel how to kiss. One day, she just did it. I also never taught Hazel how to hold a spoon or how to color or several other things. She just did it one day, all of these things. She does new things everyday, without me necessarily showing her how.

Maggie is learning, slowly, but lessons I never thought I would need to teach come up daily. How do you kiss? I asked myself. So, I went in front of a mirror like a curious twelve year old and watched myself kiss the air in slow motion.

I slowly pursed my lips, pressing them closer and closer together. They slowly puckered out. Inside my mouth, I sucked in, feeling the insides of my lips sucked up hard against my teeth. It is this suction motion in combination with the slightest opening of the lips that create the smooch noise of an audible kiss. I do it again, normal speed. My upper teeth press forward more than my lower teeth. I kiss the air again, slow motion. Top teeth graze the inside of my lower lip. I do this repeatedly at varying speeds, noticing the many nuances of a simple kiss.

I picked up Maggie and kissed her cheek, like I’ve done million times before. The only real difference is the resistance from pressing my lips against the soft skin of her cheek.

How do I teach you how to kiss? I asked myself. She doesn’t talk. She’s understanding more, but it’s so hard to know what she gets and what she doesn’t because she doesn’t respond like a typical kid. With actions like holding a puzzle piece or crayon, there’s always hand over hand to guide her, but with kissing, I don’t know how to convey the actions involved in a kiss. She learned how to drink from a straw, that sucking rewarded her with a drink. What reward that would comprehend could come from a kiss?


When I do anything, and I mean anything, Hazel is right behind me imitating my actions to the most nuanced detail. Hazel will find a baby wipe and imitate me blowing my nose by blowing raspberries into the wipe. That was never an intended lesson. Maggie doesn’t imitate, neither my intended lessons or annoying habits.

Maggie bit Hazel. She screamed and cried, of course, and Maggie looked sadly dejected. I snuggled both girls in my arms, and gave them both a series of air kisses. Maybe if they watch my lips, it’ll help Maggie see the nuanced motion of a kiss.

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