Saturday, July 08, 2006
Why we kiss babies
Anyone who has ever taken his or her baby out in public has experienced the common phenomenon of the baby-kisser. At any time or place one or both of my daughters are accosted by a stranger who finds it perfectly appropriate to place his or her lips all over them. Contrary to popular belief, the perpetrators are not just women, though the men who do it are usually older than fifty. And they don't limit their smacks to the top of the head, which is the most common, but sometimes place a big kiss right on the lips. Now I'm no clean freak who worries about the amount of bacteria that someone just transferred to my daughter (is the cracker she just picked up off the ground and ate any better?) but I can't help but be annoyed by these people. And what do I say to them? "Did you just kiss my daughter on the lips?" One good tactic I've heard: tell strangers that you are teaching your baby to blow kisses instead. When it was just Clara and I, I could run interference and if someone started leaning over and puckering I could stiff-arm their forehead and shake my head no. But with two of them now the baby-kissers can take advantage of the situation and sneak in some smackeroos. And Kate, unfortunately, is at that big-eyed, big-bellied, big-smile, roly-poly age that just screams kiss me!
Don't get me wrong, as far as I know Kate and Clara are the most kissed kids in history, what with their family, friends, Megan and me, and especially Jenny constantly kissing them. Don't talk to Jenny when she has one of them - she's busy. I'm great with all that. The kids should be kissed by their loved ones. There would be something wrong if they weren't.
All this kissing got me thinking, why do babies seem to have their own gravity, drawing us closer to them? Not everyone feels that tug but it's the ones who don't who are the exception, at least in my baby-centric world. It's a right of passage for a politician to kiss babies, as if that brings him down to earth and shows him to be like the rest of us, Vladimir Putin's belly-kissing incident notwithstanding. Pychologists have discussed several possible sources for the practice of kissing, from the caveman parent-to-child food transfer to the possibility that a kiss was a sign of trust since it brought people closest together. Between lovers, it's a guarantee of mutual attention.
Whatever the source, the draw to kiss a baby has to come from endorphins, and those who allow themselves to be ruled more by their passions than reason would arguably be more likely to be baby-kissers. When we kiss our loved ones we feel happy, both from the closeness we feel and from the signals the mouth sends to the brain. Scientists have shown that endorphin levels spike during a kiss, proving that kissing makes us happier. Happening upon a baby probably gives a small endorphin rush that just begs some people for even more; therefore, they must kiss the baby. It might also explain the draw to the baby's lips, since it is from the kisser's lips that he or she draws the happiness.
Or, this could all be BS, and people kiss babies because they're yummy.