Today I read an article on hugs and it made me think about ….well hugs obviously… but more importantly, it made me think about different types of touches that I have been exposed to as a person, in my forty years of life.
I wish I could remember those first ones - my parents and my grandparents holding me in their arms after I was born.
I remember them later, as a girl, probably preschool age. And you know what is really scary - I remember when I got spanked and when my ears were pulled because I did something wrong. I don’t remember any hugs, tucking in at night, holding hands… I remember I fainted once and my father carrying me as I was coming back to consciousness. Wow… I never realized this before…. I don’t remember the good ones. I remember the traumatic ones. Like being taken away from the arms of my parent’s friend as she brought me to a different country to see my grandparents. I didn’t really know my grandparents so they were strangers. I remember my crying and screaming and I remember feeling their pain and confusion. I know that I had plenty of caring, tender, nurturing touches. I saw many photographs showing those moments. I know my parents and my grandparents were loving and by any stretch not abusive. But why don’t I remember this?
Not to be only negative, my memories changed after my life changed (so it looks like). When I was seven I started living with my grandparents. My grandmother became my mother. She took care of me, she gave me baths and combed my hair, she would wake me up and dress me in the mornings to go to school, and tuck me in at nights. I remember my dad would read to me at nights and even show me slides with beautiful drawings and tell me the stories behind them. But the hands I remember, the loving, warm, caring hands I remember were my grandmother’s. Some mornings she would not be able to wake me up (this happened only if she was sick) and my grand dad had to do it. I adored my grand dad but his rushed morning brush of my cheek was very different from my grandmother’s hand on my head. I did not enjoy those.
I also remember her brother who was a captain on big ships. He loved to pinch my cheek, lovingly, but his two fingers were like an iron clutch! It hurt me and my cheek would be red for a while.
What I remember most, were the nights when I was sick and my grandmother would feel my forehead to check if i had a fever and she would tuck me in tight.
When I grew up those moments were gone. I was a young woman. The family stopped giving me moments of affection reserved only for children. My grandmother’s hands got old, freckled and bony. They were still beautiful - long fingers, elegant nails and always warm. I would massage her hands when they were hurting, I would massage her feet and when it was really painful, I would massage her back.
We would sit together on a sofa and watch television. It was a one person sofa, and we loved it. It kind of squeezed us together. We would snuggle under a blanket and I would feel her body close to me. Simple moments of closeness.
Then there were all the weird, negative touches. Starting in middle school when boys get all crazy. Sickos groping me in public transportation (yes, #metoo), weirdos dancing too close in my dancing classes or the after class practices, the diving instructor and even some friends…
Or just the weird ones of learning to be intimate and being scared, nervous, insecure and torn between YES and NO.
Handshakes were also always interesting to me. The limp ones, the firm ones, the clenching ones, the sweaty ones and then the perfect ones that transmit security, confidence and openness. I still judge people by their handshake. I just automatically do.
Oh and the hugs…. The unwilling ones, the side ones, the short ones, the closed fists ones, the tense and awkward ones, and the beautiful ones - warm, tender, firm, long and you know… the ones that feel just right. But those are rare.
The experience of touch interaction is so rich, so complex and so important that a book could be derived. Who knows, maybe one day… for now, it’s just a rant inspired by an article.
In this present day, doing what I do, I come to the experience of the touch interaction with babies. I used to baby sit quite a lot, just a few years ago, and I got to touch babies so much. I carried them, I gave them baths, I dressed them, changed diapers, held them while asleep and to help them fall asleep. Now I mostly watch them. I observe the interactions between them and their parents. I support and I respect. I help when I can and I always do my best to hold the space for them. I just enjoy the pain and joy that comes with what I do. The good and the bad. Because it’s not all good. It never is.
Touch is part of who we are. Without the sense of touch we would not be alive. We could not survive. Think about it. Our skin protects us from and connect us to the world around us. It gives us so much information about air, water, objects, living creatures and other humans. It spells out the non verbal and shows the invisible. Touch defines us because it creates memories. It wires our brains. And it starts early, even before we can remember. That’s the scary and fascinating thing, all in one.
Think about your touch experiences throughout your life. See what comes up. Be surprised. And then, try to make some unforgettable memories for people around you. Specially the ones you love.