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.


Anonymous said...

For the record, it is because of the yummy thing. Your's just happened to be exceptionally so. I do not kiss all babies that way. For some reason yours are very close to my heart and I know I have to do a lot of kissing now because before long, it won't make them giggle, they'll just want to roll their eyes. They are just so easy to love and you just want to eat them. Maybe you should explore that, why do we feel the need to say that they sre so cute we just want to eat them? Oh, maybe it goes back to the yummy thing. How strange! Ok, wish I was kissing them now especially after seeing that picture, which by the way is my screen savor!

EBC said...

Jenny just told me about your blog.

I guess I'm 1/5th Homeboy. Mondays are my day with our boy, Benny. Hopefully our paths will cross soon.

Eric Cope

Joel Bittle said...

Hey Eric, welcome to the blog. Enjoy those Mondays with Benny. Jenny, I considered delving into the whole "I just want to eat them" phrasing but was afraid of where that research would lead. I'm glad I've provided you with a new picture for you to look at every day.


Anonymous said...

ok well dialog it is, Eric has a blog to. It's I need to read it but he talks about his new dad experiences I think. He also found yours before I could send him the link. Wow Eric that was fast! I must have talked you up good Joel! Maybe I'll get one that is called Must eat

Anonymous said...

I was cured of the baby lip-kissing thing when my son was but a wee tike. I once had the urge to plant a "big one" right on the smacker and in return got all the gelatinous "goo" transferred from his lower lip to mine. Since then, I reserve the baby kissing to the fuzzy part of the cranium (smells better too). And of course, the neck area is always good for making those motor boat noises!

Anonymous said...

I admit it. I'm the first to give strangers a look of annoyance when they try to kiss my kids, but I find myself sneaking kisses on to other babies just by instinct. The other day I was visiting a friend of mine who runs a daycare from her home. There was an 8 month little girl sitting on the floor (chubby and smiley of coarse). Before I knew it, I scooped her up and started kissing the top of her head (I'm a sucker for the good smelling peach fuzz too Ron). My friend called a few days later to let me know that my new little buddy had a cold and possibly, foot and mouth disease. Lovely. I guess it serves me right. I'll have to use more self control in the future.