Motherhood is not for those of us with personal space issues. The moment those little sea monkeys start to grow behind your navel, you’ve got to make peace with the fact that your entire endocrine system exists for the benefit of another human being. They come out clawing for food from YOUR body, they are only comforted by the laying on of YOUR shoulder, they are possessed of scrupulous aim when it comes to projecting every possible bodily fluid onto YOU. They pull your clothes, they follow you into the bathroom, they trip you up. For the most part, children do not understand the concept of maintaining a minimum distance.
Now, as a physically affectionate person, I might be less bothered by this than most. Jesse sitting on my lap while he eats his dinner (because this is the only way I can seduce him into finishing what’s left on his plate); Grace playing with my hair as I read her a bedtime story; even the foot pressed into my side when Jesse scrambles into my bed like a puppy in the early morning hours and falls back to sleep – none of this annoys. I love the physical closeness of my children. I long for it. As they grow, I have become keenly aware of when it is absent.
Noah’s method of hugging is now tilting his head toward me and letting my arms surround him, or turning away from me, and backing in toward my trunk. These do not feel like real hugs. When I kiss him, he looks away. He does not touch me of his own accord. I must always initiate. Grace tears toward me at the end of the camp day to squeeze my middle and lift her face for a kiss. Noah strides by me, headed for the corner chair and his Nintendo DS. He always maintains a minimum distance from me – and from others. Unless he is torturing his siblings. He can sit on Jesse without batting an eye.
I’m aware that part of this could be that burgeoning distinction that all nearly-eight-year-old boys must make from their mothers. There is a part of him that has begun to recognize that holding my hand is no longer kosher. And then there is the part of him that simply shies from certain forms of physical touch because of his unique circuitry. He loves horseplay, for example – rough housing, being thrown in the air, banging into other kids on the trampoline. But the light touch of a kiss on the cheek, or gently holding his hand creeps him out. He’d much rather I squeeze the living daylights out of him, or mash my entire face against his (which I have done, in an attempt to steal a kiss from him). Not that he enjoys these at all – I believe he more “tolerates” them. But the harder the touch, the more he giggles. There is a direct relationship between pressure and pleasure for my boy. So, when I want nothing more than to physically connect with him at the end of the day, it’s usually a flying body-slam onto the couch, or a twirling bear hug that gives me just a few seconds longer in his arms. And it works out okay. Because the few seconds he tolerates are the few seconds I need.