No Holds Barred

Thomas hugged me yesterday. Now at this point in parenting, you’d think I wouldn’t care where my hugs are coming from. A hug is a hug is a hug, right?

Um, big “No” on that one. When you have a baby who is capable of slapping high fives with peers and offering his hand for adults to shake, I don’t think it’s too much to expect him to be able to give a proper hug to his own mommy. Especially when he is more than happy to bestow affectionate squeezes on the very brother who, just moments before, high-sticked him (a generous euphemism, as the hockey puck is nowhere to be found).

Maddux was never a hugger. Still isn’t. She’s more of a wrap-your-arms-around-a-neck-and-then-dangle-limply-with-your-full-body-weight-while-emitting-a-strange-high-pitched-giggler. But she abuses hugging technique with equal abandon upon all her victims, so that’s OK by me.

James, on the other hand, was born hugging. His arms just naturally curl into a hug position anytime he’s near anything remotely huggable. A mom, a pillow, a truck. If you’re on his VIP list, James will drape himself across your chest and ask you, with that huge smile that showcases all 20 of his teeth, “Sing sunshine song!”

Of course, if you are a baby, James finds that it’s easier to subdue you by giving your head a big squeeze. You can’t see. You can’t move. It’s perfect. So the key to getting a really good hug out of my middle son is to avoid being below the age of 14 months. (Luckily for you, you’re reading this, which means either that you’re older than 14 months, or that you’re a very bright baby indeed. In which case, you’ve been warned about the hugging.)

So anyway, James and Thomas have been hugging each other for a few weeks. At first I thought it was just a new grappling technique in their Fight Club.

“Stop that fighting at once!” I barked at my two smiling boys. Then I thought to myself, “Why are both of them smiling? Shouldn’t one of them be screaming for mercy?” And I realized that instead of a mutual stranglehold, I was witness to the most amazing thing ever: Two boys hugging each other nicely instead of face-checking each other. And I had just yelled at them to stop. Oops.

Luckily, my children are incredibly disobedient, so telling them not to hug was perhaps my parenting coup d’ etat. They embrace each other in between head-butts at home, and give each other big bear-hugs at the gym. Go, me.

But was I on the receiving end of any of these full-contact hugs? No, I was not. Although Thomas was happy to slap me fives or shake my hand or descend into my knee whenever a spot happened to be available (he will plop himself on any open lap, a fact which delights his siblings to no end), his mommy-hugs consisted of a hand on each shoulder, his head laid sweetly just below my chin. Nothing to sneeze at — but then he’d go give his brother a hearty squeeze around the neck. Where’s my squeeze, kid? You wanna talk squeezes? You don’t even want to know how long I spent trying to squeeze your giant full-term head out, and you didn’t even have the courtesy to face the right direction! Don’t you think I could use a hug after all of that?

But after a few weeks of practice, Thomas decided his hugs were ready for prime time, without me ever having to unleash my “Where’s Mommy’s hug?” rant on his unsuspecting ears. (Besides, I’m saving the agony-of-labor card for something really important, like sleep.)

Yesterday, as the boys and I were dropping Maddux off in her classroom, we all hugged each other good-bye as usual. Then James gave me a hug good-bye as well, hoping that this was the day I’d let him stay in Maddi’s class and play with all the fun blocks and beads. (He keeps forgetting this is contingent on being potty trained.)

“Aww, James, what a nice hug!” I exclaimed.

Then Thomas flung his chubby arms around my neck and crushed his cheek against mine. I just about fell over. (And not just because I was squatting and the giant baby-hug threw off my equilibrium!)

I’m a pretty tough cookie. I can ice a bloody lip or nose without breaking a sweat. I can scour dried poop clumps from a windowsill with the calm of someone sweeping away a few dust bunnies. And on Sept. 11, 2001, when my radio alarm clock woke me with news of planes flying into American landmarks, I went to work on what should have been the first day of my weekend (24-year-olds don’t get real weekends off in news) and edited stories of death and horror for another week. The only things that can dissolve me into a quivering puddle of goo are that impossibly sweet “Silent Night” Pampers commercial and hugs from babies whose little limbs can barely encircle your neck.

And I finally got my big, soft, heart-melting baby hug from Thomas at the moment when I least expected it. If it hadn’t been for the swarm of 3- and 4-year-olds watching and judging, I would have wept for joy right there. There’s just something about a toddler’s glorious abandon of affection that can turn a mom to jelly in an instant. A hug is not just a hug when it’s my baby’s first, no matter how many kids I have. (Although, given my feelings about the third stage of labor, I think it’s safe to say we’re done.)

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