Monday, January 29, 2007

Hug Rehabilitation

I don't hug. I went through a "don't touch me, stay away, noooooooo!" phase around the age of nine. My father thought it was great fun to chase me around the family room. It only increased the panicked feeling of being "caught" though. To clarify, my father was an extremely nice, good father: I just suddenly didn't want to be touched and the idea of anyone encircling me made my skin crawl.

Fast forward to my Sophomore year in college when I pledged a sorority. Oh the horror of sisterhood hugs. Especially once they discovered my sure fire hug escape tactic. Hugging me is like hugging jello--jello that can dodge. I will mystically bend, weave and end up just outside the circle of your arms that were moments ago grasping me in a hug. And I won't say anything, I'll just stand at arms length and look at you like a bemused newt. Somewhere between the age of 9 (when yes, impending puberty probably had a lot to do with the original huge aversion) and the age of 19 I developed a natural escape and recoil reaction. Sometimes my newt like eyes will focus and realizing my misstep in protocol I'll apologize.

I have to credit my sorority sisters with having great senses of humor and forgiving hearts. I kept escaping their hugs for the rest of my time in University as they, bless them, kept trying to give them to me.

Now that I have kids of course, I have mellowed quite a bit towards hugs. I certainly don't recoil from the outstretched arms of my daughters and I remember the overwhelming flooding joy of motherhood realized when my eldest was able to give me a real bear hug for the first time at the age of 10 months or so.

Even before becoming a mother though I astonished my friends and family by flinging myself at my graduate committee members on stage during my graduation ceremony for my Masters Degree. Actually I sort of desperately hurled myself towards them and grappled them: I might have even squeezed and levered them several cm. off the stage floor. I guess that after the months of being locked in my room wrestling with my masters thesis and weekly receiving their very detailed comments and suggestions regarding what was WRONG with said thesis or what was MISSING from said thesis or what should be BOOTED OUT or CLARIFIED in said thesis I felt like a hostage receiving her freedom. And I totally loved my captors for releasing me! Plus, AFTER it was all over, I realized what wonderful guidance I had received from them. But the first thing my best friend since high school said to me after I descended the stage, degree in hand was, "Laura, you HUGGED your professors!"

My Dad thinks it is hilarious that he caught the moment on film.

I made giant strides forward in my hug rehabilitation program when I accepted the position of head teacher at an international preschool in Osaka, Japan. Which is sort of ironic in that a.) when imaging Japan most Westerns won't think of Japan as being a very "huggy" country and b.) I had spent so much time and effort at ensuring that I would never have to teach anyone under the age of 18. Yet there I was, in a classroom with 20 children aged 1.5-4 years old.

The first week was rough. One of my students had to be carried out side the classroom for a "time out" and inexperienced me picked him up from the front. For a three year old he could really land a punch and his kicks were pretty impressive too. My supervisor discreetly took me aside and demonstrated different useful "holds".

But sometime later, as the children become more accustomed to me and I to them. . . maybe it was during story time? A little hand rested on my knee. Then a sleepy little head pressed into my shoulder. A little arm wrapped around my thigh as I stood in the middle of the classroom during art time. And the spontaneous hugs that I was given were the best benefit I have ever received from a job. Especially when the hugger would giggle or throw themselves at me. Although the pensive, rather measured and restrained hugger was to be appreciated as well. Up would swagger a two year old. He'd look in my eyes. I'd look in his eyes. He'd cock his head to the side. I'd wonder. . . "did I pass muster?" And then I'd get the hug and I never had the slightest desire to flee.

When you've had a bad day, a fight with your spouse, trouble with disciplining your children, or simply news overload--how many people can get hug therapy at the workplace?

And here is what my hug rehabilitation taught me in the end. Previously I had been looking at the custom of hugging in the light of . . . well, as an intricate ritual like some kind of folk dance only a student of dance is competent to perform. Who leans in first, where will there be physical contact and for how long? when is it "appropriate" to hug? etc. etc. but after receiving a multitude of hugs, some sticky, some wet, some bear like, some slow and sleepy I realized, a hug isn't a ritual: it is a crystallization of grace and warmth.

So now, I actually frequently make mental notes to myself, opening a care package from a friend back home, "ooooooh, that's a hug!" rereading an e-mail that has left me giggling into my morning cup of coffee, "that's a hug!" and while I still won't partake in superficial social hugging I will hug the very dickens out a friend. I will hug the breath out of someone who has made me feel special, safe, appreciated and happy. I will pause at arms length. I might look you in the eyes. I might cock my head to one side and then--I'll hug, perhaps still a bit awkwardly, but sincerely.


Anonymous said...

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

ee cummings

Corsegold Girl,
I know about the 'hugging' situation as I grew up in a typical stoic, Danish-American family. It was odd to try to plan ahead for the inevitable Holiday hugs from relatives, friends...."Let's see, if they come at me from a 30 degree right angle, that means MY left arm goes over there shoulder first, or is it the other way around?" --PANIC--
As I grew older and more secure with myself, I found that I WANTED to hug and hug and hug....It was the true expression of my love or fondness for the person that I was with. Again, I think it all came about do to maturity and self awareness. Who cares if the initial hug is messy or awkward? It all conveys the same feeling, yes? Hugs. I realize now that I cannot live without them, the simple act of reaching out to another, physically, empowers both the recipient and giver. If distance prevents a friendly hug, I find that receiving a written letter, or something along those lines, ALMOST conveys the same feeling. To know that someone took the time to think of me, organize their thoughts and send something to me through the post instead of cold, electric e-mail makes me realize that it is a mental hug.

The poem, above, by e.e. cummings reminds me of those who I wish I could actually HUG on a daily basis, for these people sustain me. Read it over--it is an e-mail hug and then some. For everyone out there who thinks that a simple (ewwwww) hug is unecessary, think again as to how wonderful, loving and thoughtful it is to have SOMEONE who carries your heart with them, always and in all ways....


Lily said...

You are a wonderful writer. I am glad you started blogging. Coming from a Punjabi background where even the guys often give each other bear hugs, I feel estranged from the practice being in Japan. DS is already getting in trouble because he wants to touch and hug his buddies- the only one who shares this with him is his American/Japanese friend. He actually got his finger bit when trying to hug a buddy!
It is perfect that you are living in Japan where physical arm wrapping around each other is less expected.
But the power of the sincere hug is incredible. To observe the shock and then the body turns from stiff to relaxed when DS wraps his arms around special adults like Baachan, Jichan and the babysitter is beautiful.

I am looking forward to reading more of "Rehearsal Times Over"- love the Blog name and the explanation.

Curly Hair said...
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