Sunday, September 5, 2010

Farewell Hugs

Hugs have become a problem. C.S. gives them too freely, too often. He hugs almost everybody, sometimes multiple times in one conversation. Sometimes too long, often too tight and even when he has just met someone, strangers may end up with this little boy wrapped around them in a loving embrace.

The first week of school, he was so excited to see everyone again. He hugged his former teacher 5 or 6 times before he could continue down the hall again. He hugged his friends, especially his wise little classmate and protector who, thankfully, is in his class this year too. And it melted every adult heart in the room when my little guy hugged his buddy because he was so genuinely thrilled to see him again. But, this excessive hugging will become a problem with his peers. It already was last year and even for some adults. Not everyone is comfortable with his hug generosity. But unfortunately, on his own, C.S. has no way to tell who does, who doesn’t, and/or just when it’d be best not to hug someone. All he knows is he loves doing it.

I realize all this of course, but there’s another side of me, the mother side of me, that cannot let go of his embrace. I might be more accepting of his hugs and his frequent, compulsive touching because I have known so many variations of it. And although there have been days where my skin is over-saturated with his touch and I actually cringe at the way he clings to me, of course I remember how difficult it used to be. I too well recall how I once struggled to hold my infant son, how he would squirm away and then press into me. I remember that I could not cradle my child—that the way I held him would be best described as wrestling.

And though, as he got older, we had finally worked out a comforting way for me to hold him — my hands pressing him tight against my chest while he pushed his head into my chin and dug his feet into my thighs — physical contact was still a battleground. Throughout his toddler years, he at times bit me, bulldozed into me or banged his head backwards into my nose and teeth. Loving him was not always so easy, at least not physically.

That his desire to get close to someone can actually be described as “touch” and “hug” still seems a wonderful milestone to me. But it has gotten out of hand. He’s a far cry from a toddler now and third graders can’t hug adults and strangers the same way Kindergarteners and even a cute first grader may get away with. We’ve got to make a change.

So after the first two days at school, when C.S. roamed the halls on a squeeze spree, his special education teacher taught him a new way to “hug.” She instructed him that from now on, he’ll hi-five as a special greeting and a double hi-five is his new “bear hug.”

That worked for a day. But C.S. missed the squeeze. So he suggested his own modification. Instead of a quick clap of hands, he wrapped his fingers into a clasp and then squeezed the other person’s hands. A fistful, but it was hardly the armful of satisfaction he once received. His new OT now stepped in with the next part of the solution — a neoprene blanket that she wrapped around him as part of his new sensory diet to deliver the deep pressure his body craves—but I’m sure it was just not the same as hugging.

So when, at the end of this first week, we visited his Social Worker [this is the therapist (more expensive financial obligation and longer drive) I decided to commit to] when he greeted her with his typical embrace, I mentioned the new hug policy at school and asked him to show her his hi-five bear hug instead. And they went into her office with a topic for the evening's discussion.

When it was my turn. She and I talked about how much I hug my child, when and why. I do hug him an awful lot. It began innocently enough. It was even later recommended as a therapy by his special pre-school teachers, physical therapists and the many books I read to understand his sensory issues better. Whenever he was overwhelmed with emotions or sensations, I calmed him down with a big squeezey hug; by holding him and rolling with him; by scratching his back, legs and head; by finding the right way to touch him. There were so many ways I delivered the many sensations he craved. And, ah-ha, yes, a number of our home therapies began with me wrapping my arms tightly around him. A hug was the comforting answer to so many things.

So now, as the therapist suggested, I will begin using other means to help my son. When he is upset or over-stimulated, I can wrap him in a heavy blanket, cocoon and swing him in the hammock or lay beanbags on his chest. But for a while I think this also means that gone are the days that I will scoop up my crying, sometimes thrashing son and hold in my arms until everything is alright, everything is alright honey, I’ve got you.

Silver Linings? Sometimes they can shine too brightly.

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