Melissa Hogarty is sharing a story about the joys and challenges of being a boy mom. Now you can find the Kindred Mom book, Strong, Brave, and Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, wherever books are sold. Subscribe to the Kindred Mom newsletter and receive a preview of the book today! Photo by Rae Galatas on Unsplash
I stand on the landing for a moment and gather a gust of air. “Good morning, good morning!” I sing loudly, moving up the steps toward my children’s rooms. My 5-year-old daughter pops through her doorway and giggles, headbutting me in the pelvis. I keep moving, rounding the corner toward my son’s room. “Good morning to you,” I carry on in a nearly tuneless tune.
My son’s door creaks open, and I reach my arms toward him for a hug.
He dodges, bending his knees and ducking his head away from my fingers.
In so doing, his head collides with his door jamb. He immediately howls in frustration—luckily he didn’t hit very hard—and allows me to wrap him in a very brief hug. Then he yanks his body away from my arms and grumbles through clenched teeth, “I was just trying to go to the bathroom.” From his tone of voice, I can tell he thinks I forced him to run into the wall, as if my body and his are opposing magnetic fields.
A familiar question rings through my head. Why doesn’t he want to hug me anymore?
I have always been a hugger. I will happily hug everyone from family members to mere acquaintances. “I’m going to hug you now,” I’ll announce to warn newbies, watching carefully for signs of alarm. Most people do not turn and dash away. Even non-huggers nod and extend their arms stiffly when I declare my intent.
When my son was born, I knew my hug skills would be valuable. Babies thrive on physical touch—and I was going to cuddle mine into brilliance and healthy attachment and joy.
I literally embraced motherhood with all my waking energy. I remember looking down into his sleeping face when he was three months old, tucked in my weary arms, and telling myself firmly: “You are holding him enough. You hold him all day long. Never look back on this time and feel regret, wishing you had held him more.”
Even years later, I am still confident I could not have held him more. But what I failed to do was memorize the way he felt next to me, the way his head nestled into the crook of my elbow, the dead weight of his trust.
It’s a game, I know. He wants to see if he is quicker than I am, if he can evade my grasp. And I let him play it. But already on days when my fingers brush the edge of his shoulder, he will turn and scowl at me. Already I can see the story he is telling himself: that I just won’t let him go.
It’s hard to imagine that the offer of a hug might turn me into the villain of his narrative, but the truth is, I’m terrified.
Is this just a foreshadowing of a more thorough rejection to come? Maybe someday his artful dodges will become “Keep out” signs splashing his door or refusal to make eye contact. Maybe I will long for the baby years again, when he would smile with delight simply because I looked at him.
What if his game of keep-away grows beyond the walls of our home, beyond the borders of our city—or country?
Where will I be then?
“Wrestle?” he asks with a gleam in his eye. I sigh.
“I don’t really want to wrestle right now, bud,” I admit with a twinge of guilt.
I do not want to be underneath a writhing pile of elbows and knees, struggling to keep my socks on my feet as my older children work together to remove them. I do not relish the idea of little fingers reaching into my armpits to tickle them.
But as his face falls and he shrugs his shoulders, which are thin and angular after a recent growth spurt, I give in. “Oh, all right,” I agree, quickly bracing myself as he throws his body toward mine.
Minutes later, we have rolled off the couch. I am on all fours on our bright pink rug, trying to shoo my 2-year-old daughter away from the fracas. I can hear my son behind me, preparing to rush at me again and use his scrawny weight to knock me flat.
I am no ninja, but I understand the theory of allowing someone else’s momentum to work for me in a fight. In an instant, I picture what I will do: I will twist to the side as he jumps, and he will land in front of me, and then I will begin to tickle him in earnest, keeping away from his kicking feet. I hear him charge and I tense, willing my clumsy body to time this maneuver correctly.
My son’s hands connect with my shoulders as I turn. Suddenly a blinding pain radiates through my face and my 2-year-old lets out a wail. “Aaaahhh!” I scream with her, squeezing my eyes closed. My hands blindly find my daughter and then reach up to my face to assess the damage. “I think you broke my nose!” I yell in an accusing tone.
“What? You did that!” my son retorts indignantly. I rock back on my heels, still a bit stunned. My nose is bleeding. My glasses are off-center. My pride is injured.
I hate wrestling. I allow myself to feel peevish and self-righteous as I press the bridge of my nose with my fingers.
I wonder briefly if I have years of bruises and discomfort to look forward to. Suddenly I recall how my own brother used to heft my mom in the air and toss her onto plush furniture after he outgrew her. An echo of her helpless laughter rings in my ears, the exact same sound I make when a tangle of children is crushing all the air out of my lungs.
Is this what it is to be a boy mom? Maybe wrestling is the little-boy version of hugging, a secret test of the strength and the resilience of my love.
As I shove a tissue into my sore nose, I resolve to look for and appreciate the ways he is showing me affection—even the roughhousing.
“Do you want to take a walk with me?” I ask, plopping down on the couch, where he is sprawled with a novel. He has to shift his body to give me enough room; I am practically sitting on him. “I have 45 minutes before I need to take your birthday pie out of the oven.” I am searching for a way to make his 8th birthday feel special, and there is nothing he likes better than undivided attention.
“Sure,” he agrees. He hangs his book over the corner of the coffee table and ambles off in search of shoes.
We step out the door into a perfectly warm afternoon. In silence, we make our way down the driveway. As we step into the street, my son looks up at me and extends his hand.
I stare at it for the briefest of moments. A light breeze could have knocked me down. He’s going to hold my hand, I realize with amazement. It’s not a hug, but it might even be better: the promise of steady togetherness as we walk, warming us from our fingers through our spines.
I cautiously wrap my hand around his and we take off, meandering through our neighborhood. I reach for something to say, anything that will be worthy of the rare gesture he is giving me. “What’s your favorite thing about yourself?” I ask him, my words keeping time with the clap of our flip-flops. He launches into a discussion of his Minecraft skills and dreams, the details of which fly into one ear and out of the other.
The only thing that matters is the constant pressure of his hand in mine as we swing our arms between us.
Melissa Hogarty is a habitually overwhelmed mama who is learning to slow down and sometimes say no. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and three kids, who regularly teach her that she has more to learn in the areas of grace, patience, and letting loose. She can often be found cuddled up with a good novel or pulling cookies out of the oven. Melissa is an editor and regular contributor at Kindred Mom and a member of the Exhale creative community. She enjoys singing with her church worship team and fellowshipping with other moms. She also writes a personal blog, Savored Grace, where you can find recipes as well as ideas about motherhood and faith.