I am a touch-starved mother.
I haven’t had any tactile, come-to-mama contact with my children in over a year.
This Mother’s Day, I want a hug.
My kids are good-and-grown adults. They’ve lived on this earth for more than a minute, but never have so many minutes ticked by — more than a year’s worth! — where I haven’t been able to hug them or hold them or randomly reach out and hook my fingers through their fingers just because I feel like it. This makes me very sad, if only because their fingers are just so beautifully hookable.
I’ve never gone this long.
The pain of physical distance is real
If you’re a mom who has been distanced from your child or children for these last way-too-many months because of COVID restrictions, I know you can relate. This isn’t phantom pain, either; it’s as sharp as the slice of the sharpest scalpel. This is pain that stings, which simply stinks.
If it sounds like I’m whining, it’s probably because I am. But mine is more than a whine. Mine is a Mother Howl. It is primal. It is a roar.
Even in this mess I’ve been blessed, though: My children live close by, so I’ve been able to lay eyes on them through most of this viral nightmare. We take socially distanced strolls. We sit together in a spread-apart circle on Saturdays. I can look at their ears and their arms and their fingernails whenever I feel like it.
When we go on walks I can even match my stride to theirs, so there is at least that sense of physical synchrony. It’s the sweet solidity of touch that has been taken away — and its absence has created a presence that feels like sandpaper or nails or a throbbing toothache.
This virus, with its rude self, just barged in like a bull in a china shop and knocked everything askew. It reached out and slapped millions of mother’s palms from the soft cheeks of millions of their children. It busted up the sacred mother-child embrace like a backyard bully. It has caused worry and withdrawal within me. Rude, rude, rude.
For Mother’s Day, I just want my babies back. Yes, they might be grown, but I still need to touch their oh-so-very touchable cheeks. I still need to feel their fingers. And though I try to practice mindful gratitude every day of my life, on this Mother’s Day I don’t want any flowers, thank you very much. I don’t want any perfume. I don’t want to go out — I want to go in for that precious Mama Bear hug. The hug is what will make me happiest.
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Something else is raising my happiness quotient, too: It seems that we are, all of us, poised to emerge from this deep, dark tunnel. There is an end in sight. Millions of people have been vaccinated. The sun is trying to rise again, but it’s not all the way back up. People are still dying. Vaccination rates seem to have hit an unfortunate plateau; if you haven’t been vaccinated yet, get it done. We must remain vigilant and responsible. We cannot drop our guard just yet.
If this is your second Mother’s Day without the benefit of a warm embrace from your children — just hold on. Keep staying safe. Continue being responsible. Your huggable moment will arrive soon.
I’m trying to remember the last time I actually embraced my kids. Sadly, the memory is gauzy and amorphous, as wispy as smoke. This teaches me an important lesson: From here on out, I will remember each embrace with clarity and intention, simply because that last hug could always be, well, the last hug.
I do remember the last time I hugged my own mother. I reached over and pulled her close to me — gently, gently — as she lay in her hospital bed. I told her I loved her. She squeezed my hand. I didn’t know it then, but it would be the last time I saw her alive. Even today, more than thirty years later, I can still feel both the hug and the hand squeeze. I am blessed to hold onto that memory of our final embrace. It sustains me.
I also vividly remember my grandmother’s hugs, how her wide-open embrace would wrap me up in a world that was safe and secure and suddenly smelling of talcum powder, Jean Nate, and Sunday morning church. These are my precious, huggable mama memories.
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Our memories will always belong to us. If your mother-child bond has been severed as your face this Mother’s Day – whether it’s because of distance or death or some other unavoidable bond-breaker – take a minute to mess around in your memory and see if you can recall a really sweet embrace. Find comfort in that memory. Let it soothe you.
From here on out, when I embrace my children, I will remember the vivid details. Where we were. What we said. Maybe even what the sky looked like. Were there clouds? We must be mindful.
Cherishing the hugs and touches
Fortunately, I am now fully vaccinated, as are my kids. Out of an abundance of caution, however, we still have not shared an embrace, though we’ve decided to make this Mother’s Day the first day we hug it out after more than a year of huglessness. With the Centers for Disease Control’s new guidelines that allow the fully vaccinated to move outdoors without wearing a mask, the promise of that hug is upon us.
I can think of no greater gift.
You can best believe that this Mother’s Day, I will hug them and hold them as if there was no tomorrow. I will hug them with ferocious joy, like it’s the first time – and the last time – I’ll ever hug them. (After all, one never knows.)
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When I finally embrace my children on Mother’s Day, and for every embrace yet to come, I will try to mark every moment of that precious embrace. I will cherish their cheeks and feel their fingers. I might even reach out (and up … way up) to touch their eyelashes if the spirit moves me, just because I feel like it and just because – finally! — I can.
My howling is about to be over. The sun is about to rise. This Mother’s Day will be filled with simple and abundant joy.
It will be the hugs that make me happiest.
Kristin Clark Taylor is an author, a journalist, and a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributing Editors. She can be reached at [email protected]