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Washington Voices

Front Porch: Ingenuity helps to get kids to hug

According to my calendar, Jan. 21 was national hug day. But I missed it. In between interviews, phone calls, emails, exercise and trips shuttling kids to their various activities, I completely forgot to milk my opportunity for obligatory hugs.

I could have used them. Jan. 21 was a roller coaster that started swell, had some fun curves in the middle and ended in a few unexpected tears. Thankfully, I don’t need a designated day to get a hug from my husband. He always has one ready.

My children are another story.

When they were little they hugged me, and each other, all the time. This started before any of them could walk or talk, of course.

From the very first startled cries I hugged them, pulling them close, my face nuzzled next to theirs, arms encircling their small bodies. My touch said everything they needed to know. “I love you. You’re going to be OK.”

If one of them fell and scraped a knee, a hug made everything better. No bandage required.

If they mastered a milestone, like walking two steps, saying a two-syllable word, earning an A in school or riding a bike without training wheels, a hug helped them celebrate. If it was time to get up, time to leave, time to come home or time for bed, a hug always completed the routine.

In fact, my middle child added his own embellishment to bedtime hugs when he was about 4. When I tucked him in, he’d wrap his arms around my neck, clenching his fingers around his wrists.

I’d lie there for a few minutes, hugging him back. But when I went to break the embrace he wouldn’t let go.

“I locked you in jail,” he’d chortle, flexing his muscles, his upper body coming off the bed as I tried to leave. Four-year-olds can be remarkably strong. It took a tickle to break away.

During those hug-heavy years, I didn’t realize it would eventually end. If they were sad, happy, bored or tired, a hug always fit the moment.

They knew this and often came running, arms outstretched, demanding hugs. I’d comply, even on days I felt if I was touched one more time my skin would spontaneously combust.

You see, I wasn’t always a big hugger and I still like a little personal space. When it’s time to sleep, for example, I’m a roll-over-and-give-me- at-least-3-inches kind of gal. Three years of nursing meant I had someone touching me all the time. Day and night.

While I enjoyed all those snuggles and hugs, I’ll admit there were times I just wanted to be left alone. But I hugged anyway because the small people in my life needed it. And I came to realize I did, too. Touch matters. I believe we all still need it, whether my kids know it or not.

Now they are at a cat-like age when it comes to parental hugs. Some days they like them. Most days hugs are an imposition worthy of eye rolls, head shakes and sighs. So, I’ve turned to tricks to keep hugs a regular part of their lives.

To the words, “Mom can I….?” I hold out my arms. They hug me while finishing the request. In fact, that middle child who used to lock me in jail will often hug me before petitioning for privileges, as if it were spontaneous affection rather than an effective butter-up. He’s pretty persuasive.

Considering how many times kids ask their parents to do something or go somewhere, I feel like I tapped a gold mine of opportunity to squeeze in a few extra hugs. I also use these requests as a way to encourage housework help. My living room carpet gets vacuumed frequently thanks to one son’s love of playing video games.

Recently, I found a new technique to add to my arsenal of ideas to elicit a little extra love. I watch funny videos on my smartphone. All I have to do is sit on the couch and press play. As soon as I start laughing, my kids want to know what’s funny. And because the screen is so small, they have to snuggle up close to see it.

As they lean on me and laugh, I soak it up and smile. It’s a reminder of the times we snuggled while reading books or watching movies. Touch and laughter, I’m convinced, are the best ways to build bonds.

I’m also aware this stage will eventually pass, just like those skinned knee years. That’s why I’m thankful for social media, video sharing sites and smartphones. Some people think these things get in the way of maintaining real relationships. They might be right. But for those few minutes, an Internet video on my phone brings my children close again.

Maybe someone should proclaim a national mobile phone funny video sharing day. After all, I missed national hug day.