Monday, January 10, 2000

Are hugs supposed to hurt?

Ah, the tender affection that passes between parent and child. The warm hugs, the soft cuddles, the butterfly kisses, the caress of a cheek, the touch of a little hand. Or, if you happen to live in our house, the stranglehold of little arms around your neck, the hard pushes, the head butts, the pinching of little fingers, and the biting of little teeth. I'm telling you, in our family, love hurts.

Parenting children with sensory-integration problems  is a perilous business, to be sure. Since kids whose brains are miswired in this way often don't process touch the way the rest of the world does--feeling light touch as threatening, feeling hard touch as pleasurable, feeling pain not at all--their idea of an affectionate pat may feel like a slug in the arm to you and me. Mostly me. Ouch.

And of course, our hugs and snuggles are liable to feel equally disagreeable to them. For a long time after we adopted him at age 2, the closest I could get to hugging my son was squeezing his foot. When he finally consented to sit in my lap, he often ended this cozy time by whipping his head back and bopping me in the nose. (I believe that this has served to realign my sinuses, not for the better.) He enjoyed it when I wrapped him tightly in a blanket and then leaned some of my body weight on him; though he may have felt cuddled, I felt like a pro wrestler.

My daughter has also never been a big fan of hugging; she says it makes her feel trapped. So, in the spirit of "the best defense is a good offense," she hugs hard. Breath-takingly, lung-piercingly, rib-crunchingly hard. A regular backwards Heimlich. Hates cuddling, loves rough-housing. I used to worry, when she was a cute little 5-year-old, that my husband might hurt her when they played hard; now that she's almost 10 and almost 75 pounds, I'm afraid she might hurt him. Maybe she’s the one who should be a pro wrestler. Her favorite game is "I'm stronger than you are," and it involves pushing my hands very hard in an attempt to propel me around the room. I can still beat her. If I start with my back to the wall.

Still, I can't say there hasn't been progress on the affection front. My daughter does now consent to smackdown-free snuggling; only when she's sleepy, but it's a start. And now, at age 6, my son finally loves to let me hold him. Then, when he feels nice and happy and relaxed, he offers me an affectionate gesture in return: usually a solid pinch on the arm, sometimes a puppy-like bite instead.

He means well, but...ouch.

No comments: