A Sweet and Smelly Spectrum

Sitting at my desk, I sense a presence sidle up beside me. Small arms reach around my neck while a pair of fish lips plants a kiss on my cheek. “I love you, Mom,” my youngest child says.

I tense.

I am not comfortable with any form of embrace, which is one of many clues I have to attachment issues that plague me. Articles about the benefits of human touch and the number of hugs that humans need each day to thrive only trigger feelings of failure and inadequacy as a wife and mother who does not do touch well.

I do not like to be embraced. It is difficult for me to embrace.

I find it curious that embrace was the focus word I chose for 2014. I wrote a post on my blog, defining all of the ways I needed to embrace the good in my life. I focused on what I could actively do. I focused on all the things.

Two years later I am invited to consider the topic be embraced. There is a difference between doing and being. Being is harder for me.

I grew in my body and gave birth to eight babies. I had enough head knowledge and book learning and life experience to know that skin to skin contact immediately following birth was important. I know that breastfeeding is best for babies and that infants need lots of human touch. So I embraced those things.

Even in moments when I wasn’t feeling it, I snuggled and kissed and nursed and cuddled. Even when the mommylove that was supposed to kick in and make a new mom bond with her baby seemed to pass right over me, I knew the right things to do, and I did them. I tried.

I embraced my babies.

It’s not your fault that you’re here. You are just a baby, and babies cry. I will love and take care of you, Little One.

Pulling my first newborn close, sobbing tears of relief and joy, saying over and over, She’s finally here! Those were the first words that came to mind.

Back to those little arms encircling my neck.

I allow myself to feel and receive every random, sweet embrace from my little girl in the spirit in which it is given.

I bask in the gift of redemption and find comfort when I am overwhelmed by quantitative mothering, that if there were not eight children, then I would not have these moments of being embraced by my youngest.

They are sweet, the times when I allow myself to be embraced.

There are times that are not so sweet. I try to allow myself to be embraced in those, also.
Young teens and late tweens have a different way of showing love and affection. Allowing myself to be embraced by them often involves secondary motives and effects and smells.

One weekend I was solo parenting while my husband had some well­ deserved, much ­needed time away. Parenting alone is hard, and while screen time is a helpful diversion, there needs to be time off as well. Turning off screens means turning on engagement, and suddenly I was surrounded by middle schoolers in the kitchen while making chocolate chip pancakes.

It was as if the sharks had found fresh meat.

Much laughter and joking and teasing ensued. That is how middle schoolers in this house offer up an embrace. They joke and tease and laugh and punctuate conversations with the release of odors that clear the room. They hug and then deliver a sarcastic whisper or evil glare. They follow a moment of sweetness with a request for extra screen time, a later bedtime, soda, or more dessert.

They are smelly, those times when I allow myself to be embraced. I continue to fall for them.

For me, it is a vulnerable place to be embraced. My children are teaching me how to stay open and present to being embraced in every form; the sweet, the smelly, and the spectrum in­between.

Julie McClayJulie McClay lives in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley with her high school sweetheart (and husband of 24 years) and 5 of their 8 children. She is learning that while it can be painful to face the past honestly while living in the moment and looking towards the future, it can be healing and lead to the hope of a brighter future. She digs through these thoughts and feelings here.