I recall one night when it was time for Ben to go to bed. He stood on the stairs and kissed me smack on the lips–not once but several times, planting one kiss after the other. And I dutifully, if self-consciously, received and reciprocated his soft whisper kisses. It was in the ballpark of, say, 12 to 15 kisses in all, but who’s counting? The family gathered to watch this kissing parade. Ben was 2, and it was prior to his autism diagnosis. In retrospect, I see it as evidence of his looming autism. It was also evidence of an unusally sweet and affectionate nature and eagerness to please; it’s something, unlike his speech, that he has never lost.
Nor, now 8, has Ben lost his penchant for kissing Daddy. In fact, just this morning I took the boys to Starbucks. We sat outside in the early morning sun, Ben perched on my lap. The kissing parade soon began, a series of smooches, each a blessing. Truthfully, they weren’t the most delicate kisses I’ve ever had. But hey, who’s complaining. And although we drew the attention of some customers, this time I was not self-conscious. If they had a problem with it, that was their issue, not mine. I gave one guy one of those, “What are you lookin’ at, pal?” expressions, then we resumed our smoochin’. Soon there was a pause. I took this opportunity to discreetly wipe off a bit of wetness. Sipped my coffee. And soon enough I felt Ben’s hands against my cheek. He inched closer, not kissing me, not yet at least. He just sat there and looked into my eyes like a lover. A moment later he giggled shyly and leaned in to kiss me yet again. Completely endearing! I finished my coffee and escorted the boys to the car. As I drove away, I chuckled to myself, “Who needs a girlfriend.”