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