Wednesday, December 2, 2015


I was flipping through a People magazine in my dentist's waiting room when his previous appointment emerged, a frazzled African-American mother with three kids. One boy, around 8, was obviously a special needs child. Out of the hubbub of his clamoring siblings, he headed straight at me. He gazed frankly into my eyes and bluntly asked, "Can I give you a hug?" 

In today's "Stranger-Danger!" society, and being an aunt myself of young children, I was hesitant. "Ask your mother first if it's okay," I answered. 

"Mom, can I give her a hug?" 

Mom, dealing with the other two, distractedly answered that a high-five was fine, which he took to be assent for his original request. He opened his arms. 

It was one of the best hugs I've ever had. His head tucked trustingly into my shoulder, his body a cuddly mass. I gave his back a couple of pats. He pulled away in the perfect time frame (one Mississippi, two Mississippi), and earnestly waved goodbye.
I sailed forward into the dentist chair, fearing no Novocaine. 

Ma, like me, struggles with small talk. She and I are great at deep discussions, but meeting someone at shul or at a wedding and idly covering "so, what's doing" territory is awkward. Then, decades ago, she observed on a Brooklyn street her redemption: Physical contact. 

For us Jews, it's gender-specific, but it really works. "Hi!" Move in for a smooch (even though with women, it is more of a cheek-graze air-kiss). Fondly stroke an arm. Place a hand on a shoulder. All conversational crimes are absolved.

I've been making a conscious effort to be more lovey-dovey with the kinfauna—hair stroking, spontaneous kisses, stuffing-squeezings. I'm still surprised how they sigh happily and burrow against me, no matter their age.
The men on my father's side of the family are big smoochers. His male cousins kiss, hug, pinch cheeks. With those opening salvos, any tension just melts away. 

Give it a whirl. It does wonders.   


Altie said...

:) I learned this by watching others. I was never the touchy feely huggy type, but now when I try to pretend that I'm happy to see someone I'll pat their arm and let it linger, and say something like 'so great to see you!'. It still feels weird for me to hug people, even close friends. Plus that whole awkward 'which way to turn your head' thing going on.

Princess Lea said...

Isn't the arm pat + linger amazing? Everyone is so taken with you, for so little effort! And I accidentally kissed my lady neighbor on the lips once because I messed up which cheek to go for.