The best part of my day is just before Jason goes to bed. It happens after I've given him his bath, brushed his teeth, and put on his pajamas, but before Juliette reads him a story, we both sing him a song, and we put him to bed. Built into our night-time routine is a little moment that Jason and I call Hug Time. It's about what you'd expect--he gives me a hug.
I don't remember exactly when we started Hug Time, but I do remember why. A bit after he turned two, Jason stopped wanting me to hug and kiss him. The first time he pushed me away I was reminded of the stories my mom tells of my own toddlerhood, how right around that same age I also stopped wanting to be held. She would try to pick me up and I would stiffen my body so she couldn't hold on to me, and slide away to freedom. The pain I felt when I thought Jason might be doing the same thing was more than I expected--I came up with Hug Time as a compromise. He might not want random affection from me, but if I made it part of his routine, something he knew to expect and count on, then he'd be OK with it.
And it worked. Hug Time is now an integral part of Jason's bedtime. It's to the point now where if I do things in the wrong order--asking him to pick out a book right after brushing his teeth, for example--he'll spread his hands and insist, "But Daddy, you forgot Hug Time!" I think Hug Time may even be responsible for his general turnaround on the subject of physical affection--well, maybe that and the fact of his sister's birth.
I look forward to Hug Time all day, and once it comes, I try to make it last as long as I can. I focus on the sensation of his skinny arms around my neck, the weight of his head on my shoulder, the smell of shampoo in his hair. I stretch the hug to five, ten, fifteen seconds, doing everything I can to impress the moment into my memory, because I know that some day there will be no more Hug Times. Eventually he'll move out, and even before that he'll outgrow such things. After all, how many teenagers stand around embracing their fathers for half a minute? How many adults? The hugs I give my own parents these days tend to be fairly perfunctory--a quick squeeze and a couple of pats on the back.
It's hard for me to imagine ever not wanting my kids to hug me the way Jason does now; it's easy to imagine my heart breaking when they stop. I've been thinking a lot lately about how my own parents must have felt, how they feel now, and I think I ought to hug them more. But except for Juliette and my kids, I've always been profoundly uncomfortable with physical affection. Often I wish I were different from how I am--in a lot of ways--but it's hard to make some changes. And I suppose however they feel about it, my parents must be used to the nature of our relationships--or maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better.
It's one of the tragedies of parenthood, I think, that we focus so much of our effort and desires on getting our kids to grow up, only to have them do so. I look forward so much to not having to deal with tantrums, diapers, boogers, picky eating, and so on. But it all comes at such a high price. I'm sure I'll be able to deal with it when it happens. For now, I'm looking forward to Hug Time, as long as it lasts.