Sunday, April 7, 2013

I have three sons who kiss me a few times a week, usually on their way out the door. It's instant communication from them: I'm fine, I love you, we're good, I'll be safe. Billy kisses me good-night. My fourth son doesn't ever kiss me, and withdraws from my touch. His communication says what you'd expect. He's never happy with me. He's rarely happy at all.

I have two daughters who kiss me a few times a week. It's instant communication from them too, but different. Usually: I feel lousy, thanks for listening. Or, alternately, thanks for the gas money, moving my laundry or making my favorite meal. They need something, I take care of it and they're expressing gratitude. They also say thanks, but this makes it genuine, sealing the deal with a kiss. I have a third daughter who kisses me throughout the day--when she leaves for middle school, when I look sad, when she goes to bed. I know someday she'll slow the pace to the "few times a week" but I'm loving the constant contact now. When she's mad at me, and cries, she refuses to kiss me. It stings, but I have to laugh a little too. Her pout is just so cute.

My fourth daughter is the conundrum. She's crafty. She doles out her kisses, her hugs, her occasional knee pats, like the rare relics they are. I touch her and kiss all my kids plenty, but of course that doesn't count. She turns so I kiss her hair, stills under my hug, gives me a stiff little pat on the back, consolation, like she's saying "Not this time, Mom, but soon. You're getting closer. Soon you'll deserve an actual kiss." And I wait for them like they're tax return checks. Every day I think one might come. If she edges closer, her face softens, I often ruin the moment and reach for her. She hesitates. Backs away. The startled mustang runs for the hills.
Yesterday, I got a kiss. It was mostly the result of my handing over my debit card for the first time ever. She'd run hard at her track meet. She was going to Panera with friends, a new phenomena over the past couple months as these Connecticut girls work their way through a six month waiting period between permit and license, then another six month waiting period before they drive with unrelated teenagers. I only had six bucks. I offered it. She looked worried. Not enough for a drink. I handed over the faded  Credit Union permit to live in relative comfort. She nodded, content, then grabbed my phone and asked for the PIN so she could text it to herself. I gave it to her without a moment's hesitation. I could feel it coming. I didn't reach. And there is was--my kissing kids aim for my lips and she bussed my cheek but her kiss was warm, loving, more than just a brush-by. When we feel safe and secure our kisses are soft. Hers was mush. Her instant communication was a combination of my sons and daughters: it was a thank you, an I love you, and a we're good. Totally worth sitting on cold bleachers for two hours waiting for her two-minute race.

As I left the track, I carried my granddaughter, who's been sick on-and-off for two weeks and 
spent an evening with her mother and me in the Yale Children's Hospital this week. She has a belly ache, is the gist of it, and though we offer juice and toast and bananas and everything else supposed to help, all she really wants is to be held. At 3-1/2, this isn't easy. She comes up to my own belly when she's standing. But she's adamant: hold me, hold me, please. If I'm writing, she climbs up next to my hip, under one arm, and I'm reduced to mouse-use only. If she's tired, it's a full-body monkey-hug, splayed across my chest. On the walk up the big high school hill I was trying for a hip hold but she wanted my chest. I carried her in my arms as long as I could, but that only got us half-way up. Can you walk? No. Hip? No. Back? Yeah. So we made it to the car. Since I was alone, if she'd said no, I would have had to rest and then carry again. Nothing else would do. It was the only way her belly didn't hurt. Because touch heals.

Article here
Yes, I'm reading a new issue of Psychology Today. I have a subscription now.
This won't be the last you hear of it. Because it's interesting--they cover every part of touch in the cover article from basketball teammates who communicate on the court with slaps, hugs and shoulder tags to workplace touch, touch from strangers, different cultures, sex--and the two findings that stick with me the most are these:

1. Touching another person, to comfort them (when they are in distress) or to relax them (say, in massage) has the same emotional and physiological benefits for both people. So, no more feeling guilty for asking for a back rub. And, maybe, my hesitant daughter felt as good about the First Kiss she gave me in 2013 as I did. Maybe enough to pony up again before her summer birthday. Maybe when I take her to visit a couple of colleges. Maybe if I let her drive.

2.  Couples who stay together touch each other almost equally. This isn't to say one partner isn't
the usual starter. One usually is--my husband's much more affectionate than me, and a better kisser. But when they do, the other reciprocates, giving them each a point on the touch scoreboard--I reciprocate in force. When there is no even exchange of physical touch and affection, or a serious imbalance, the relationship is usually unhappy. Chances are it won't last. We humans can live with a lot of deprivation but unless we're hard-wired to avoid touch (in case we typically don't have lovers), being deprived of touch when it's free and easy and constantly available isn't something we can bear. Even deployed soldiers, long-distance relationships, will go to Skype, and put hands on screen. Almost feel the other person. Close enough. At least we're trying. The number one way to have a good day, it's been proven, is to kiss and say I love you to someone you live with at the start of the day. Either give or receive. The benefits go both ways.  If you're alone, and I know this sounds silly, but say it to yourself. Kiss you palm. Massage your hand. Self-touch has the same connecting, soothing power as touch with others.

I kiss my parents--you guessed it--a few times a week, when I see them, when we part. I talk less than I used to, but the touch hasn't changed. I rub their upper arm. They pat my hand. I'm sure their touching me started in utero, with the limbs that poked out my mother's belly that they tickled and poked back. My touching them started at birth, and I've rarely gone more than a week or two without seeing them, even when I lived in Rhode Island. I'm in withdrawal, a little bit. My mom's been away for a while. It's the whole package--the way she looks at me, her smile, her kiss, her smell, her soft hair. There's nothing like it, not quite. It's love incarnate. I miss talking to her, yes, but I miss her touch more.

Two more days and I'll get my fix. :)

Love, Lisa

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