The thing I love most about motherhood is the physicality of it. My days are saturated with touch: with beautiful touches–hugs, snuggles, “eskimo kisses,” chewing–and with not-so beautiful touches, like diaper changes and wiping runny noses. (There’s been a whole lot of that last, lately.)
It’s easy to see how the beautiful touches confirm and uplift the experience of parenthood, but I choose to enjoy the not-so-beautiful ones, too. I will never actually like changing diapers, but the time on the changing table is ripe with opportunities for loving touch: for chewing, for kisses on exposed bellies, for tickles and nibbles on little arms, resulting in giggles galore. I hate washing my children’s hair, because the screaming reaches epic proportions–but once the baths are done, even the most confirmed non-snuggler wants to be wrapped in a towel and held close…and that’s nothing short of a taste of Heaven.
At these times, I’m less likely to be distracted from my children by my multitasking life. That’s not to say it never happens–a busy person’s phone rings without regard to those times–but more often than not, at those self-care times I’m really in the moment. When I’m holding a face still to brush teeth, I’m not paying attention to the scrub of toothbrush over pearly whites, but to the sensation of skin underlaid with baby fat beneath my palm.
Touch is especially necessary in sad times. Hugs are ubiquitous parts of any apology in our house. Perhaps all parents of tots do this? Before children can speak the words, before they can sign, they can hug an “I’m sorry.” For us, with a five-year-old just learning to speak, touch has held its importance far longer than it otherwise might have. And I believe, or at least I hope, that through it, my children are learning a beautiful truth about human interaction: that reconciliation is more than one-sided apology. If I tried to force an adult to hug the person he or she was being asked to forgive, it would be excruciatingly difficult–for both parties. Who wants a hug from someone who has hurt them? Bridging the physical distance between two people at odds makes it almost impossible to hold a grudge.
And this lesson carries over into discipline. My children want me to comfort them, to wrap them up in security and warmth, not only when they get a boo-boo, but when I have punished them. I used to hesitate to comfort them after disciplinary actions (you know that with small children, a lost bedtime story is one of the great tragedies of humankind), but I’ve come to realize that this is a gift, their desire to receive comfort from the one who has hurt them. It allows us to finish conflicts with a measurable act of love. And if I’m mad at them, which, let’s face it, I often am in disciplinary situations, it forces me to reach out to them and forgive.
Touch allows us to feel love, in a physical way, in our bodies, and the beautiful thing is that it is mutual gift; the giver receives, and the receiver gives. One of the most gratifying things for me is when Alex snuggles up against me at church. He wants my arm around him, in public. I don’t need to hear the words “I love you,” because I feel them in my every nerve ending.
Will this saturation of touch last into adolescence? Perhaps not. Probably not. But for now, this is what feeds my mother’s soul, what fortifies it against sleepless nights and bad attitudes and challenges that seem insurmountable: the visceral knowledge, communicated by touch, that I am loved by those I love most.
Part 2 in my practices of mothering, shared with Sarah & community at