A few weeks ago I was at a park, chatting with a friend. Somehow we got on the subject of affection and the different ways people show it. I went on a rant about the concept of “Love Languages” because I haven’t actually read the book myself, but I have TALKED to people who have, which makes me amply knowledgeable to spout off about it because I am an insufferable blowhard.
“So what it comes down to,” I explained in my own special insufferable manner, “is that people just understand certain expressions of love better than others. And kids too! For instance, Tre needs to hear that we think he’s doing well. That he’s a good kid, and that he emptied that dishwasher just exactly how a dishwasher should be emptied. And Max needs to have you there, with him, just being in the same space as him. And Raphael, well, he needs to be snuggled and hugged and pet like a cat.”
When I said that, I paused. It was one of those lightbulb moments when the clouds part and the music swells and I realize yet again, Oh my word, I am so very perennially stupid.
See, Raphael has been making me insane. He’s got this habit of running up to me and…whapping me. He takes both hands and makes flat little flippers out of them and then rapidly moves them back and forth against me, like a demented wee dog, digging a hole. In my hip.
“RAPHAEL,” I say, in the gentle, loving manner most recommended by parenting experts, “STOP THAT or I shall PINCH your little head off.”
Sometimes he actually does stop. Usually he pretends to be a deaf, demented wee dog, or he circles around me and starts whapping the other hip and I lose my mind and run away and join the circus.
Another attractive habit he’s developed lately is sitting next to me, as close as he can, and poking at my arm, at the flesh lining the underside of my arm. He pokes it and watches the reaction, and murmurs, “Jiggly, jiggly, jiggly.”
He still lives and breathes, proving once and for all that I am a FREAKING SAINT.
What I realized that day, in the park, under a crystal blue Colorado autumn sky, is that Raphael wasn’t just trying to make me insane. Raphael was ASKING for some love in the form of physical affection. Maybe I could fend off some of these…less than endearing habits with a few more cuddles.
Or possibly he was just trying to make me insane. But it was worth a try.
“Raphael,” I told him that night, “I’ve been wondering something. You know how you like to poke at my arm or whap me –“ he grinned and held up both his best flipper-hands, “ – yes, like that. Well, I’m wondering if you don’t just want a hug when you do that? Because if you need a hug, all you have to do is tell me, and I will stop,” I paused, and dropped to my knees, so I was forehead-to-forehead with him, “and give you a REAL hug. Would you like that?”
He nodded and threw his arms around me. I hugged him, firmly and sincerely, and after a few moments he was done, and he ran off again.
Over the next few days it seemed I was constantly being interrupted for hugs. It was sort of annoying, to tell you the truth. I mean, who has time for all that LOVING with the work of mothering to do? Ahem. But I had agreed, so I stopped, dropped, and hugged. Incidences of mother-whapping or –poking dwindled dramatically, and when he DID start to whap or poke, he would stop himself and say soberly, “I think I need a proper hug.”
After a couple of days on the new hugs-a-lot regime, Raphael climbed into my lap.
“Remember how I used to whap you all the time? And now,” he paused to lace his arms around my neck, “I just get hugged instead. It feels better to…” he leaned in against me and breathed it in, “it feels better to just be true.”