I used to have a serious snuggler. My almost nine-year-old son, who nursed until he was four, glued himself to me for the first five years of his life. After weaning, he was still quite the snuggly boy, sitting on my lap, cuddling up close to me on the couch, and requesting to be carried long past the size of comfort for me.
I loved it.
My older son has never like to be touched beyond the briefest ministrations. Past a few months of age, his nursing sessions were brief and generously spaced. He enjoyed being held until he could navigate the world on his own. He weaned at 11 months, despite my yearnings otherwise. He simply didn’t long for the closeness and found stopping to eat a burden. To this day, his version of asking for a hug is to stand, stiff and straight-armed close to my side while I do all the hugging. It’s brief and rather atypical, but I relish each opportunity to hold his still-small body.
Touch works for me. Tussling my boys’ hair, feeling the warmth of a sleeping child next to me in bed, even sharing a raucous wrestling match with my boys all fill my heart, renewing me. I’m not a causal hugger: you know, the type to greet everyone with squeeze. I do appreciate well-placed hugs, those enfolding one in tears or celebrating reunion, and I have a few friends whom a hug is stock greeting and closing, and it feels just right. Touch carries an intimacy to me, one that I don’t care to share with everyone I meet.
A dear friend with a thirteen-year-old son still enjoys the tender touch of parent and child. Although he’s close to her size (taller, perhaps), he still leans tenderly if heavily against her side, drapes his arm around her, and places his head on her shoulder. And he’ll do this in full view of others. He loves through touch and has yet do develop any shame about the channel of emotion. While his mom reminds him that he’s a bit heavy to lean on her so, I know she relishes the contact from this man-child. I’m envious.
Any discussion of touch that ignored the personal and intimate touch between lover and beloved would be incomplete. That’s a painful hole in my life, six months divorced, two years separated, and many years somewhat estranged from my once-husband. Over our 18 years together, the urgency to touch diminished, and as our sons entered the picture, their care required so much touch, time, and energy that giving those elements to each other happened less. While I’m reconciled to the dissolution of my marriage, the loss of touch from a loving partner still leaves a hole. A friend advised massage to fill some of that hole, and, while I have yet to try it, I can see the possible benefits. Still . . .
Over the past year, my snuggly younger son has become notably less snuggly. Sometimes, he’ll lean up against me on the couch, but a beat later, he rights himself, pulling away. Only at night does his guard come down. After a few chapters of our current read-aloud, I turn off the light. While he wiggles into position for a few minutes, I read to myself with a booklight, a habit from the years I spend next to him reading, waiting for him to succumb to sleep. Now I read for just a few minutes, enough for him to settle in. Then off goes the light, and our snuggle begins. As I curve around his small frame, I breathe in the scent of his hair and the nape of his neck, relishing the moment of touch we share. In a few minutes, I wish him good night, but before I can pull away, he whispers, “Another minute. Another minutes.” He giggles at his grammar and secure with the knowledge that I’ll comply with his wish. So again, I breathe him in while I hold him close, passing love, giving love, filling my heart.
Touch. It works for me.