Vying for my attention became a constant and fierce rivalry between my two children. No matter how hard I tried to equalize my time, it was a fight to make up for the weeks they were denied while I underwent treatment for oral cancer. We would start an art project, and while I was admiring one, the other would take my head and physically turn it in their direction. When we turned up some music and danced in the living room, my arms were pulled in both directions, with the constant cry, ‘It’s my turn.’ When we would bake, the spoon would end up on the floor after the push and pull.

The two of them are only 18 months apart. Jeremy is older but like most girls who mature faster than boys, Elena continually measured her skills against her brother’s. When Jeremy would practice reading, she would call out the word he struggled to pronounce. When he learned how to ride a bike, she was pedaling right behind him. When a question was asked of him, she was quick to shout the answer. The rivalry was relentless.

One day, I decided to use their competitive nature to my advantage.


The familiar lips that loved to smother my five-year old with kisses were changed. Rather than welcome the physical expressions of my love, she shied away from me. How could I blame her.

I thought of a little competition we three could play: The Smallest Kiss In the World. Jeremy went first. He held my face gently between his hands, took his time moving in closer to my cheek and then he kissed me ever so softly.

“Hmm,’ I said, “Could that be the smallest kiss in the world?”

“Let me try,” Elena cried out. She took my head in her hands more like a football, angled my face just where she wanted it. I heard a kiss, but it was virtually undetectable, side-stepping every single nerve ending at the root of the tiniest hairs on my cheek.

“Too big,” I dramatically proclaimed, “Jeremy did a better job than that.”

“What?” she said. “Wait, let me try again.”

She became invested in the challenge to win the game. This simple competition was the spark that put us on the road to recovery. Who could have imagined the smallest kiss in the world would turn out to be the biggest gift in the universe.

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