“Hugs Heal” I wrote in Heart of a Toddler, but hugging had a hard time of it this week.
The hugs have increased in number and ferocity. What was once a special and tender moment has evolved into an object of scorn for many.
Running around hugging every one of the children in the playground was sweet the first few times my now three-year-old did it. His hugs were spontaneous and genuine, showing caring and an attempt to bond with all of the other children around him. Absent was any hesitation when it game to age or sex of the recipients; he hugged peer boy playmates with the same compassion that he showed to the fragile baby and the 6 year-old girl.
It was when he jumped them from behind, grabbing ahold of their heads and dragging them to the ground to hug them that it became a problem. Hugging has been proven to help heart health, reduce stress and depression, but I learned this week, only if some “Hugging Etiquette” is followed.
Hugging is a two-way street where both participants must be open to it, or its power is lost. Dive-bombing a person with a hug isn’t the way to do it. Clinging, desperate hugging isn’t going to do it. Both are too passionate, too much to deal with.
On the other hand, the shallow half-hugs I find myself giving out to acquaintances because etiquette dictates it is no way to approach hugging either. Easier to deal with when you don’t really want to be delving into the intimacy that a real hug demands? Definitely. But still not the way to appreciate the power of hugging to heal.
As I was being reprimanded for letting Adam over-hug, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was doing it because he was hoping for that one true hug from these strangers that he’d just met. At 3, 4 and 5 years old were they already giving him that superficial half-hug? I thought back to the children that really hugged him back when he doled out the first round of hugs and then to the few children that he’d gone back to and over-hugged. These last children were the ones that, to my quick judgement, were the least receptive to being hugged but sorely in the need of them most.
Could it be that his over-hugging was not only a need in him to be filled but in them as well?
A quiet sort of heaviness settled into him as I explained that he was hugging too rough and that he needed to ask people first before hugging them. I was telling him how to hug more like everyone else just as I was wishing that I and everyone else would hug more like him. Hug freely and with abandon. Hugs that just knock us over with their intensity and that are returned with the same vigor.
I hope that he has the courage to ask and keep asking. We all so much need the hugs that he’s willing to give to us. For that matter, I hope I find the courage to ask more too. I hope I find the presence of mind to be there for each hug fully, whether asked for or not.