The other day I was strolling down a park path with my family. It was late August and freezing, and there was a guy just ahead of us, maybe late twenties, walking next to what presumably was his mother.
I noticed them when the young man’s mom reached her hand out to his upper back. Her hand drifted up and down a few times and rested briefly between his shoulder blades.
He visibly cringed.
And I shuttered.
I can recall many times in my life when I recoiled watching an awkward mother/grown-son moment, like a two and a half second kiss hello on the mouth, an impromptu back rub in the middle of a crowded room, or a wet thumb to dab food off a man who is fully capable of taking a napkin to his five o’clock shadow.
This wasn’t the first time I felt sick, but this was the first time I felt sick for the mom.
All I could think was, How am I not going to be able to touch him?
No, not the twenty-something, very handsome, strapping young man in front of me, my son.
These days, my little man, who is just two, is always happily attached to me. “Mama, I wanna hold you,” he says, and I scoop him up with a good squeeze. From there, I spend much of my day living life with my sweet sidekick and one free hand.
I don’t think there is anything more important than physical affection, especially at the beginning of life. Babies have a kabillion tiny emotional receptors on the outer layer of their skin. Physical affection activates their understanding of love, kindness, compassion, even humor. Jack’s eruption of giggles these days when I tell him knock-knock jokes started from sending his ten little toes to the grocery store.
I also know he will better navigate life’s troubles with the layer of emotional protection he is forming with every dinnertime launch from his chair to my lap, every opt out of his stroller to be carried until my muscles whimper and my hip joints scream, and every bedtime-story cuddle while my arms can still wrap around him and reach the pages of the book. I even know his fiery spirit is better off because I hold him tight all the way down the hallway to all his timeouts.
But what about me?
I spent the first part of my life sifting through so much wrong to find a love that is the most right. Then I give birth to the other greatest loves of my life to just watch them drift away from me, and if I’m doing a “good job,” speedily so. Sometimes it just seems plain mean.
Sure, things change, but right now life is so good that I can’t help but wonder why the hell things can’t just stay the same.
Recently, a mom of two grown boys said to me, “I wish I had known when I picked up my boys that it would be the last time.” My first response to her was, “Well, that’s depressing,” and then, of course, I inserted the thought into my mental list of what things can I obsess about today over which I have no control?
I review this list each morning as I sip cold brew. The least likely and most painful things are always my top picks.
I guess the good news is there are not as many rules for affection between my daughter and me. I know I will get to hold my baby girl in her adult life, but it will most likely be when she comes home sad because she’s dating an emotionally unavailable man who didn’t get held enough as a kid.
I guess I’ll take what I can get.
I know I can’t and (probably?) won’t want to snuggle Jack’s grownup face in my hands and rub noses with him every time I see him, but I’m gonna need a secret handshake or something. Maybe on my deathbed, I’ll insist on one more cuddle.
And Jack, if this post ever finds you years from now, will you come give your mom a hug?