I know my son loves me, it’s just that this teenaged boy doesn’t often open his arms to receive my hugs anymore. He’s tall, incredibly tall, and lean, growing into the body of an athletic college kid who can eat an entire meat-lovers pizza in one sitting and he doesn’t quite know where to put his giant frame in most social situations. Hugging me usually involves him bending down to reach my shoulders, opening his arms up (which might possibly expose me to the noxious armpit fumes that make my eyes water) and then finding a gentle way to drape himself around me without the jabbing and stabbing that generally accompanies any movement by his lengthy appendages in close quarters. Our hugs typically happen in slow motion, him confused as to where his body is supposed to land and me curling my toes under, hoping his giant blundering size 12 feet don’t crush mine like last time. I find it more convenient and less likely to end in injury if I come up behind him as he’s seated and rub his head or back. It might only be half a hug but the risk of me losing another toenail is so low it’s worth it.
But I know he loves me. I can see it in the droplets of drool that linger in the corners of his mouth as I hand him a heaping plate of his favorite mashed potatoes and gravy. I see it in his meandering pace across the kitchen floor, hanging around for no reason in particular other than to see exactly what’s in the oven and why it smells so delicious. I feel him watching me with fixed admiration as I roll out the dough and carefully prepare my traditional Pioneer Woman cinnamon rolls, as if I were performing a magical act involving smoke and knives instead of copious amounts of melted butter and a rolling pin. Giving and receiving love seems to come in stages and with all the conviction I possess as his mother, I know the current way to his heart is most definitely through his growing stomach.
I hear him love me in muffled gags and coughs as he clamors around his bathroom, scrubbing the toilet, wiping down counters and washing toothpaste splatters off the mirror. He’s accepted his bathroom sanitation as his own responsibility now, partly because he’s maturing into a young adult and partly, rather mostly, because I spent a solid two years tempestuously squawking and declaring that I’m no longer accountable for other peoples’ pee removal and he eventually grew weary of me chronicling my years of toilet scrubbing and just picked up the scrub brush himself.
I see him love me with thoughtful intentions of lending a hand, often resulting in unintended consequences, like that one time with the dryer and his little brother. Or that other time with the vegetable garden and the entire row of carrot seedlings mistaken for weeds. And there was that other time with the electric jigsaw and what we now refer to as the “close call” but his father and I are able to look back and laugh now without drinking or twitching.
And sometimes, every other full moon or so, he shows me with the powerful intensity of a son consumed with love for the most important lady in his life. You see, I was able to grab the second-to-the-last copy of a game he’s been waiting for release since April, all the while he’s been dreaming and scheming of his character, his best strategy and driving the rest of us nearly insane because, clearly, we do not love dragons as much as he does. I held the coveted game up to his face and instead of him grabbing for it, I saw his knees buckle slightly, his pupils dilate and before I knew what was happening , his arms were around me, pulling me so close he nearly cracked my spine. He continued to crush-hug my internal organs for an especially long 20 seconds as I tried to loosen his grip and get air. But he didn’t let go or pull away from me like he regularly does. He didn’t step on my toes, stab my ribs with his elbows or knock over any kitchen chairs, and the smell of his armpits only burned my eyes for a second. His body was comfortable, relaxed and in the moment. All the awkwardness between the struggle of a growing teenaged boy and a mother who’d like to keep him little and eating peanut butter sandwiches on wagon rides forever, was momentarily gone.
I forgot how wonderful it felt to hug, really hug my son and for whatever reason I got his arms around me this time, I’ll take it.