Kiss and Hug
An unprecedented event happened this week.
My son, who has long demanded the extended kiss-and-hug goodbye as I drop him off at school, marched into his classroom without so much as a pat on the back. Up until now, it’s been, “Kiss and hug! Kiss and hug!” each morning as I put one foot toward the door to keep from being late to work. Usually, I walk out the door of his preschool knowing that he is watching me go, probably with his hands in his mouth, needing consolation from his teachers and the comfort of a stuffed animal to handle my departure.
Everybody tells me how adorable it is. Everybody tells me to cherish these moments for when he is a teenager and wants nothing to do with me. Everybody tells me I’ll miss the days when he was so woefully dependent.
And then it happened.
Tuesday morning he said, “big boys don’t need a kiss and hug. Right, daddy?”
Now I know if I could pause this moment in time, the soft-hearted father in me would reply, “big boys need them too, get over here” or “everybody needs a kiss and a hug, pal. Even daddy.” I’m also well aware that the Hallmark-channel-watching readers of this blog would insert a sentimental response here if they could.
So what did I say?
“That’s right, son. Big boys don’t need a kiss and a hug before school.”
Do I regret it? Not in the least.
The next morning, he put his lunch in the refrigerator at preschool and ran into the classroom without so much as stopping to consider a kiss and hug. Did I experience the twinge of regret? Did I long for that last embrace after a long and (frustrating) morning routine?
I can write, without hesitation: NOT IN THE LEAST.
The truth is that big boys don’t need a kiss and a hug before school. It may be a sad truth to some, but it is an inevitable truth for all. In the maturation process, we need enough stoicism to stand apart from our needs for validation and comfort. I see it as a proud moment in his development, not an unfortunate reality.
I have been waiting for this day my son’s whole life.
The day when he indicates that there is some emotional independence in his velcro-shoe-wearing soul. Will there be a day in the future where I long for him to return to clinging to use the way he used to? Maybe. I can’t say how I’ll feel about things tomorrow, let alone ten years from now. You’ll just have to stay tuned to the blog to find out.
What I can tell you is that I have an innate urge to see my son grow up. This urge existed when he was only the size of an avocado in my wife’s belly.
“It’s going to be nice to have someone help me clean the gutters,” I said, rubbing her bump.
“Let’s worry about changing his diapers first,” said my wife.
There is this instinct that wants my son to perpetually grow up already, and I can’t shut it off.
As for my daughter? That’s a different story.
If my daughter were to stay her small cooing self her whole life, I would not be disappointed. It has me thinking: why do I want to rush my son’s life forward while I play my daughter’s in slow motion? I can’t answer that, in the same way I can’t explain why there are daddy’s girls and mama’s boys—not the other way around. I’m sure it’s a function of genetics or neuro-chemicals or hormones or one of many topics that this father of two does not have the time or energy to research.
The same instinct that tells me to foster independence in my son, tells me to wrap my daughter up and cradle every piece of her precious innocence.
In my mind, I know I should want her to foster the same independence that I want for my son.
But, instincts are hard to fight, hard to reason with.
I’m not one to go read the latest book on child psychology to inform how I should parent. I’ve always believed all I really need to know has been slowly written in my DNA over the course of millennia. And I had great parents to model my parenting after. I’ll admit that a big part of that instinct brought me to marry a strong, independent woman and a kick-ass mother to handle the many (daily? by-the-minute?) situations that baffle me.
Instinct tells me that watching my son grow into emotional independence is an absolute victory.
So, just for that day, I celebrated.
Yes, I did a kick-step and half-skip to my car, feeling accomplished over something I have little to no control over—something that leads my son away from me, toward independence.