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There’s nothing cuter than a baby
who’s learned to a few key things adults find irresistible
– waving hello and bye-bye; feeding herself something messy
like spaghetti; and being able to show physical affection.

I’m speaking, of course, about hugs and kisses.

Cora’s been hugging rather well for
a couple months now, and is much more generous with those hugs than
I ever remember Maddie being. Ask Li’l Bit for a hug and
she’ll smile and hold her arms open wide, already leaning in
to you for a squeeze. My favorites are the
“contentment” hugs: Cora will circle your neck tight;
then her hand will creep under your hair and gently pat you
repeatedly on the back. It’s the sweetest gesture
that’s quite addictive; some nights Cora will be so happy to
see Brian home from work that she’ll run to him, snuggle into
a big hug, and refuse to be put down, and I’ll see him
walking around for several minutes afterwards –
uncomplaining, believe me – while she joyously pats his
shoulder and neck, over and over again, a sweet little Morse code
of “I’m so happy you’re holding me.”

I do see how much Cora loves getting hugs, but I can also tell that
part of the reasons she enjoys giving them is that she sees how
much joy they bring other people. Ask for a hug and likely as not
she’ll grin hugely, trot over, and squeeze your arm or leg or
whatever’s available, cheek lovingly pressed against you as
she smiles up at your face. The other night we were in a local park
with a series of duck sculptures, and when I jokingly suggested a
duck might need a hug, she took me seriously and went down the
line, hugging and patting each bronze fowl on its back.

And if that were all Cora did I’d be content, but she’s
become a kissing fool in the past couple weeks or so, and I find it
nigh near irresistible. I remember Maddie learning the sound before
the physical act, and she’d walk around saying,
“MmmWAH!” before putting her big, open “O”
of a mouth on your face. Well-intentioned, but wet. Cora, though,
has caught on quickly and now does the “MmmWAH!” as she
actually kisses you. She finds this to be about the most fun a girl
could have, and when she’s in an affectionate mood
there’s no holding back the sweet smacks. Hungry to receive
as well as give, she’ll often try to get me to kiss her:
lying on her changing table while I get her dressed, for example,
Cora will stick her foot up in my face and say,
“MmmWAH!” I’ll obligingly kiss her foot, at which
point she’ll hold up a hand and make the same request. Then
the other hand. Each time I kiss her, she squeals with pure joy,
but she always hits a point where she wants to reciprocate
–and that’s where you realize you’re in the
presence of Baby Kisses greatness.

Just last night I was trying to get her into her swimsuit after
dinner, and as I stood her up on her changing table she was propped
against me, leaning full body, head buried in my neck. And suddenly
I heard the “MmmWAH!”, then saw the face look up and
grin briefly at me before burying herself back in my neck for a
frenzied series of kisses.

How can you interrupt that unmeditated, unplanned, non-manipulative
outpouring of love?

When she finished I put her on the floor and said thank you, Cora
giggling delightedly all the while. Cora looked up at me, smiled,
and patted me on the knee before toddling off to head towards the
pool. And at the door, she turned, smiled at me, and blew one last
kiss – one last bit of love she had to get off her chest.

Moments like this, I have to stop and give thanks for the amazing,
loving little girl God’s given us. But I also try to use this
as a teaching moment for myself. You see, we all look at our
parenting skills and all we can see are the mistakes we make
– the places we yell or get impatient, lose our cool. We
watch our toddlers play “Yell at the baby” and cringe,
knowing they had to learn it somewhere. But they have to learn to
show affection somewhere, too, and if Cora weren’t getting so
much reassurance and love from her family, she’d never be
able to reflect it back on us. So I see her and know I have to be
doing something right. And my empty well is filled again.

I know I complain a lot, but this is one phase I’m in no rush
to see come to an end.


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