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The Summer of Touch

Anyone who hangs out with me knows I am not as touchy-feely as the average person. It is what it is. Last year I noticed Big Girl seems to be taking my lead, stiffening up when kids hug her and avoiding physical contact unless necessary. It’s come up in the past, but it really hit home this summer when I sat watching Big Girl at a swim meet. It became an ah-ha moment — the moment I knew I needed to fix it. Fast.

Everyone was on the swim deck. About 50 or so swimwear-clad kids pushing and jostling and joking around. That day the kids were taking turns snapping swimsuit straps, hugging and squeezing each other while laughing. Smacking backs, grabbing ponytails, and holding arms and wrists. And there was my daughter. Standing. Watching. Doing nothing.

My heart literally ached for her. Ached. How did this happen, I wondered? It couldn’t be from a lack of physical contact. I have always hugged the kid a lot. In fact, I used to pick her up out of her crib while she was sleeping just so I could keep holding her, lying her in my lap and rocking well into the night, much to my husband’s chagrin. The kid got kisses, hugs, nose beeps, and back rubs. “Bad hand,” a fun game from my own childhood, would come out and tickle her until she squealed. The only thing I could figure is that she learned by watching me recoil from physical contact. It had to be that, I thought.

I decided to try and fix it. I tackled the problem on two fronts. The first: I went on a Big Girl offensive, hugging her, kissing her, punctuating my words with a hand on her arm or an arm around her back. I made sure she got plenty of physical contact from me. The second was being a good example. I started touching people. Not in a weird way, of course. But I finally started making physical contact that I should have been making all along. It was not so terrible, actually. The more I did it the easier it became.

Guess what happened? The kid isn’t necessarily running around giving people unprompted bear hugs, but she’s happier. I can say, without question, she is smiling more. She’s smiling a lot more. And it seems like the more affection she gets the more she wants. She’s seeking me and my husband out for more hugs and kisses. Watching her I feel like the Grinch. My heart, I think, actually grew three sizes between June and now. And I think it’s affecting her socially, too. She comes home telling me how she sat with this one at lunch or played tag with that one. Yesterday, she told me that girls came looking for her at recess. That’s success in my book.

Oh, and the experiment is reaping benefits for me, too. I like to think I am more approachable now. I also like to think my husband is happier, too. (I couldn’t touch and hug friends and strangers more and neglect my husband!) I must admit it wasn’t easy. I had to think about it in the beginning, but now I find myself punctuating conversation with a hand on the arm and it feels natural and normal — like I should have been doing it all along.

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