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“What are you doing?” I asked my niece, my face a little squished and I a little unsure I wanted to hear the answer. With her 3-year-old grip — the kind of grip you can only undo by prying each finger away, one at a time — she clutched the back of my neck in her hand and pressed my cheek close to hers.
She pulled away — only inches — and blinked.
“Butterfly kiss,” she said matter-of-factly and blinked again, her long lashes waving before resuming their fluttering and tickling against my cheek. She then proceeded to rub her nose to my nose. “Eskimo kiss,” I affirmed. And then “one more kiss,” she said, planting a big one right on my mouth.
Clasping her hands behind her back, she trotted away, kicking the occasional plastic egg a short distance on the floor, her long dark curls bouncing over a spray of Easter pinks and purples.
My infant daughter, Mea, stared up at me from my lap, not quite able to comprehend what had happened. She would understand better as the day went on. Sunday was filled with such showings of affection, for me and my daughter. It’s Sarah’s way.
Once, about a year ago, as she and I put on our hooded sweatshirts to go outside and play, she pulled my face close to hers — our foreheads touching — and just looked at me, giggling.
Occasionally, she’ll wrap herself around my leg or my husband’s, as if to say “Don’t go,” in her own unique way; or maybe she’ll climb onto the couch and sit beside you, but only for a moment. She has too much energy to waste sitting still.
She loves us. There is no doubt. She loves her baby cousin even more.
“I’ll hold her,” she often says, draping a burp cloth across her tiny shoulder usually only minutes after we arrive for a visit. Sitting with her on her lap on the couch, she’ll touch her cheek to my daughter’s soft head and stroke it with her hand, slightly cupped for extra care.
“Awwwe,” she’ll say. “I like her.”
When Sarah’s not sitting with my daughter, she’s watching her, studying her, doing everything in her might not to touch her, until Sarah forgets and does it anyway, placing her finger as delicately as a preschooler can — which sometimes isn’t delicate at all — to the tip of Mea’s nose, her tiny ears, her pink little cheeks. Giving her Eskimo kisses over and over. Staring at her, inches away from her face, giggling.
Such is the love she has. Pure, unquestioning, unrestricted, sometimes, a little tough.
At some point, that will change. Like the rest of us, she will become a little more restricted, a little more refined, a little less childlike. Sarah will no longer need to be told “don’t touch” and “be gentle.” She’ll outgrow Eskimo kisses and butterfly kisses and will need to be asked for a hug or kiss of any kind. Her little brother, Carter, also generous with his affections — his smitten grins and repetitious hugs — will do the same thing. As will Mea, who only just now we think understands what kisses and hugs actually are.
It isn’t fair, really. As we grow, the innocence and unabashed bliss of affection wanes, emotions don’t run as freely as they once did and we learn there are proper ways to show someone you love them.
In most circumstances, cramming their faces against yours unexpectedly — for a butterfly kiss, an Eskimo kiss, or just a giggly stare — isn’t among them. Isn’t that a shame.
Holly Tabor can be reached at (270) 505-1745 or email@example.com.