I don't radiate "hug me," but thanks for hugging me anyway

I don't radiate "hug me," but thanks for hugging me anyway
Group hug: my mother-in-law, my daughter, and my husband.

I don’t think I radiate “hug me” to most people, but it’s not because I don’t like hugs. It’s just because I’m awkward. The European side of my family do the “shoulder” hug and cheek kiss. I can never remember if I’m supposed to kiss one cheek or two and am always unsure which cheek to start with.

I’ve bumped heads with them more than once. And, then, I once landed a kiss on someone’s neck instead of on their cheek, which, perhaps sends entirely the wrong message. Still, I keep trying.

Lately, though I’ve been getting more hugs. One day my teenage daughter came home from school and said, “You know you’re supposed to get eight hugs a day.” I like that rule.

My friend and fellow blogger, Howard Moore, wrote this piece on hugging his therapist. My experience with therapists has been a little different because they initiated the hugs.

The counselor I had for about year after being diagnosed with cancer just naturally hugged me after our first session. Of course, you always need to ask a person, especially a sick one, about hugs. Sometimes any touch hurts or it’s just uncomfortable for a dozen reasons. But for me, it was a kind of healing. It’s good when you’re in treatment to feel human touch that is comforting and that doesn’t involve slipping a needle into your vein or a tube into your body.

But she was the first counselor who ever did that. Until the therapist I have now. I don’t remember when she hugged me the first time, but it must have been several months after I started seeing her. As I left the room she said, “You’re not really a hugger are you?” And, I said, “Actually, I am.”

Those hugs send so much meaning to me: care and acceptance, trust and concern.

And, maybe because I’m getting used to hugging her, I’m radiating more “hug me” messages to the world. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be hugged by the whole world. When I lived in Tennessee many years ago, people would hug me upon meeting me for the first time. And, not the polite hugs that Europeans give. Full body hugs. I never got used to that, and I have no interest in hugging strangers.

But, I’m learning to make some of the boundaries and rules in my life a little bit more fluid. I’m learning to accept what comes along that might be a bit outside of my comfort zone. Like hugs from students.

I teach adults, and I have very rarely initiated a hug with a student. It has usually been long after they’ve been in my class and given for a specific reason. People with authority can easily overstep and intimidate when crossing physical boundaries, and it’s the last thing I want to do to a student.

Something’s in the air, though, because my students are hugging me lately. Last year we accepted our first class of freshmen to GSU, where I teach. They are our first class of traditional age students, the majority of whom are 18 or 19. They’re kids to me, and as I’m learning, I’m old, as old as their parents, and in some cases approaching the age of their grandparents.

That age difference, perhaps, creates the space for a different sort of interaction. As I’ve seen last year’s freshmen, this year’s sophomores, returning this Fall, I’ve been really touched by how many call out, “Dr Morris!!” and then run over and hug me. It’s never happened in my career before.

The young women are the most natural and just throw their arms around me, completely unselfconscious. The young men are a little less natural but no less determined. One, a 6’5” basketball player, gave me what I call the “mom” hug. He draped his arms over my 5’3” frame like an arm tent.

It’s hard to express the joy these hugs give. They are expressions of affection and gratitude and excitement and exuberance. They are a sort of communication that words just can’t manage. They are simpler, less intense, and less complicated. They’re spontaneous and easy.

They redefine our relationship and help me see that my students feel the same way about me that I feel about them. Teaching, and maybe counseling, is a kind of love I think. A sense of communal sharing. Lord knows I don’t teach for the money.

I’ve always thought I’d like to teach kindergarten or preschool. I love the ages of 3 to 5 especially, in part because kids are so tactile. They sit in your lap, they lean on you, they hug you. Touch is a critical part of their engagement with the world. It feels so right to have a toddler in your lap reading a picture book along with you.

So, this is just a shout out to the world of huggers out there. Thanks for including me in your embrace.

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