I didn’t really pay attention to the fact that the Roc didn’t hug until after he was diagnosed with Autism. He wasn’t an affectionate child like some children are, snuggling into their mothers arms, but he did like to be carried (the phrase I most remember from age 2 is “carry you!”), he liked to be rocked in the glider, loved being tickled, and he would always crawl into my lap for a story. The lack of hugs shook me, and I know it shook GC too, when we realized what their absence meant, or what we thought it meant. Detachment. Absence of love and connectedness. Distance.
I came to understand that those fears were laid by false claims about Autism. Hugs do not equal love, they are just an expression of love, one of many. The Roc has shown his love, attachment, and connectedness in other ways. His smile, his laugh, his sureness, his growth, and lately with words.
But just like any parent, I longed to hug and be hugged. I wanted to give hugs and I craved the action, the physical gestures of love many children give their mothers so freely. So we taught the Roc how to hug.
At first he would stand straight with arms held stiffly by his sides, and tolerate the invasion of his space as we hugged him. Soon he began what we referred to as “the lean” when he was prompted for a hug. Later we would place his arms around our necks and there they would stay, secure in their straightness. Then he began to bend his arms to form a very loose oval, but they were loose, a dead weight. But it was better than no hug at all and it was all progress, this evolution of the hug.
We have practiced these hugs every night and it’s also standard that when coming out of “time out” the Roc apologizes and gives a hug. So much that when I say “what do you say” he says “sorry mommy, I will give you a hug now.” It’s been an ingrained response.
We have adored these hugs because even though they are prompted, there is no longer an ounce of resistance to the request. (As long as it’s mom and dad who are doing the requesting.) I’ve prompted them all, and they only last a mire second before abruptly ending, but I’ve soaked up every split second. This evolution I thought was complete, and I have been happy with the prompted, but freely given loose armed hugs. I did not want for anything more…
And then the other night as the Roc and I were heading upstairs to start his nightly bath routine something extraordinary happened. We were holding hands as we ascended the stairs. I was thinking to myself that I loved the way his hand felt in mine, mine still the bigger, wondering how long that would last. Wondering when his hand would dwarf mine, and how much longer I would so easily be able to take his hand. Would there come a time when he would not want to hold my hand? That it would be embarrassing? Then we reached the summit and stopped in front of the bathroom door, at which time I fully expected him to say, as he does every night, “wait for me.” As in wait for me to take off ALL of my clothes, wait for me to go potty, wait for me to watch all the water go down the pipe and then refill the toilet, wait until all of this is done before moving to the next step – which is me turning on the faucet in the tub. But instead of reaching to pull the shirt from his body he turned to me and said: “I will give you a hug now.”
And he did.
A real hug.
Arms wrapped around my waist, ear pressed into my belly button, squeezing and taking my breath away. He hugged me for at least 10 seconds.
Count to 10.
I stood in shock with one hand on his back and the other on his head just processing the moment and when I realized it for what it was, the first spontaneous, unprompted, freely given hug, my eyes filled up with tears. I didn’t prompt him, it wasn’t part of a routine at that specific time, he wasn’t coming down from his room after a “time out,” he simply hugged me, just to hug me…
Monumental moment for him and for me.
5.5 years and my baby gave me a hug.
It was worth the wait.