Dawn of boundary setting rises earlier than expected

My son denied me a hug last Friday. I knew it would happen some day, but I thought he’d be 13.

He’s four.

The boys and I went for a morning swim. Wearing his little swim-lesson floatation device, Charlie kicked over to me and wrapped his arms around my neck, all smiles. “I love you, Mommy. Thank you for swimming with us.”


Happy pool time

We had the hotel pool to ourselves. Normally, the more nuzzles and tight squeezes between my boys and me, the better we all feel. However, as soon as one adorable Adrianna, age 6, arrived and started playing with Charlie, he lost all interest in mommy hugs.

“Noooo, Mooommmyyy,” he answered, turning abruptly away from me. “Let me go.”


Just in case anyone actually wondered, it’s not always all smiles for the Quinn family. This is me saying, “Easy lil buddy. We don’t have to take a picture.”

Let me go.

Later, at lunch, I tried to put my arm around him. No dice. He squirmed. Brian, ever my protector, looked at him quizzically and said, “Charlie, don’t you think you could show Mommy just a little bit of love?”

Charlie shrugged his shoulders. “Noooo. I just want to sit here, ok?” he said, glancing at the table where the will-be-absolutely-gorgeous-one-day Raquel, age 9, was sitting with her family.

Sigh. “It’s ok. This is what happens, Babe,” I said to Brian. “This is how it’s supposed to be.”

Then I turned to Charlie. “Cutie, I don’t need you to hug me right now. I get it,” I looked him right in the eyes and smiled. “We can have a hug later. Later, when you feel like it.”


You wouldn’t think a man would have much game in a backpack “bubble” from swimming lessons, but it didn’t slow Charlie down.

Behind my smile letting Charlie know he wasn’t in trouble for not hugging me, I felt desperate and manic at once. My son, my first baby, my sensitive little boy, my sometimes shadow, he wanted to be his own man. His separation from me was subtle, yet the realization of what’s in progress hit me with force: He was doing what sons have been doing for all time, ditching his mom for the attentions of another female. And I could do nothing about it other than honor him for setting this potentially awkward boundary with me.

Ever since I became a mom to these two boys, I’ve been mindful that some day the cherished canoodles with them rightly would be a memory. And so I’ve made an extra-emphasized (and arguably self-indulgent) point to hug them frequently, to lovingly touch their skin, to play with their hair, to kiss their faces, to hold their hands when they want, to share my own pillow when they wake at night, to pick them up as much as possible and to always have my lap open for them, even if it means they’re perched upon me at the dinner table. Because at some point, a kid grows up; and the least I can do is give them unconditional refuge until that happens.

Still, all mental preparation for this moment aside, when I became invisible to my son the moment an adorable age-appropriate girl walked into the pool area, it was like a vision of my future. Bittersweetness. (Aside: Very relieved we made it over this boundary-setting hurdle without excessive discomfort…hopefully it’ll make it easier for me when he’s a teenager and really setting boundaries with me.)

Lucky for me, though, halfway through “Madagascar” in the theater that afternoon, Charlie looked over at me with the big doe eyes of little-kid-ness and climbed from his seat onto my lap. I said a little prayer of gratitude that his path to separation from me would be a gradual one. Before turning to face the screen, he squeezed my neck and said, “I looove you, Mommy. So much.” New boundary noted, the hug was even more wondrous than the one that started the morning.


Charlie’s first cannonball.


Charlie: (to girl in bright yellow swimsuit) Hi, I’m Charlie Quinn. Wanna play in the pool with us?
Girl: Yeah. Sounds fun. I’m Adrianna. Wanna use my goggles? Oh…but they’re pink. Do you care if they’re pink?
Charlie: Oh, thank you! I’d love to use your goggles. I don’t care if they’re pink. I actually love pink.
Girl: You like pink?! Ok, great! I’ll go get them. (Girl skips to her mom, grabs goggles and runs back, tossing hot pink into the air for Charlie to catch as she leaps in the pool.)
Charlie: (laughing, catching pink goggles) Hey, thanks!

5 thoughts on “Dawn of boundary setting rises earlier than expected

  1. Emily,
    I am loving your comeback blogs!
    This one made me think of some of my conversations with Jane, my ex, and my observations of her relationship with Josh, our son. Of course, my slice of their world has been small over the years but enough to compare your experiences with Charlie to moments in their journey together.
    I don’t think I ever heard about or saw situations arise over the presence of a girl, but these moments arose when Josh would want to exert his independence, ever maturing in its awkward fashion, since being little. There would be frustration, pain, anger, stubbornness, mean words and periods of sustained silence.
    However, dogged demonstration of respect, with tough lessons, mixed with much patience and/or love have always paid through.
    And like your cinema hug, Jane cherishes those moments when Josh sits next to her on the sofa and snuggles in for a cuddle from Mom and tells her that he loves her.
    At 20, he’s far too big to sit on her lap!

    • Gary, thank you for such a reflective and beautiful and future-predicting note. I will be mindful not to fear the mean words and extended silences that are sure to come at some point. I like your method of demonstrating respect, patience and love. Those sofa snuggles must be like heaven for Jane. And so must your really cool dad moments, of which I know you have many.

  2. What a sweet story. There is such refreshing innocence and honesty about being four, albeit easily capable of producing awkward parent & child moments. Charlie certainly appears to be a charmer.

  3. awwwww Emily, this is a beautiful story. I do not have kids yet, but I share with you that subtle fear of seeing your babies become grown up man….the circle of life, but still a little bit painful. Good news are that for now (and many years to come) you are and always be the perfect woman for these two little boys! love you my friend!

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