Yesterday morning I found myself standing in my driveway in my robe and slippers (holding a very large hot cup of coffee) at 6:10 in the morning watching the International Space Station fly over our house.
In case you were wondering, the space station was traveling 72 degrees north at 17,500 miles per hour and holds up to ten people who live in the station for up to two years at a time.
The funny thing is, up until a year ago I was totally clueless about the International Space Station, or anything else related to space for that matter. As many times as I glanced up at the sky to admire the stars, I never knew that every 90 minutes the space station circles the earth or that the size of the space station is the equivalent of a six bedroom house. I guess I was oblivious or maybe I just didn’t care enough to ask.
It wasn’t until my 16-year-old son purchased a telescope and became totally intrigued with space that I found myself, through him, developing an interest as well.
Setting my alarm, waking up early, and standing outside in the dark at the crack of dawn held far more meaning for me than watching the space station fly over.
I wanted time with my son. He’s a teenager, he’s always on the go and day by day I can feel his gentle tugs for independence that are a constant reminder that he’s growing up, that he doesn’t need me quite as much and that now, more than ever, every moment matters.
While the two of us were standing in the driveway gazing up at the sky, there was one moment that made getting up at the crack of dawn all worthwhile.
It was one of those fleeting mom moments – you know the ones. The kind where, if you’re really paying attention, you realize just how important it is while it’s happening as opposed to years down the road when you’re reminiscing.
Just when the space station was directly overhead – both of us straining our necks to get a better look – he gently leaned into me and put his hand on my shoulder. Not a word was spoken, but the message was crystal clear. It was his way of saying, “Thanks mom, for caring enough to be with me.” To me, it was his way of giving me a hug.
When my son was little I could wrap my arms around him several times a day and he willingly accepted my outward affection. Now that he’s a teenager, the manner in which he shows affection toward me and the manner in which he allows me to show affection toward him has changed dramatically.
Every once in a while I’m fortunate enough to sneak in a warm hug, which always puts a smile on my face. His lanky arms wrap around me awkwardly with his face turned slightly away as if to say, “Sorry mom… that’s all I’ve got for you today.”
One thing I’ve learned is that when it comes to teen boys, “hugs” – albeit, not the traditional kind – come in all shapes and sizes.
Sometimes they come in the form of a knuckle bump or a high five. Other times, it’s when your son asks for a back rub after a long day or maybe it’s a gentle elbow nudge when you’re both laughing at a joke.
I’ve found that even though my son is getting older and on the cusp of becoming a man, he still needs to feel my touch. He still silently craves it, but is too cool to ask for it. He still needs it, but is too proud to admit it.
Oftentimes, teenage boys feel that any parental touch or show of affection is a sign of childish weakness and, in turn, parents often unwittingly pull away thinking they’re doing their son a favor by respecting his need for space. Sure, it’s important to respect our child’s desire – or lack of desire – for affection, but most teenage boys need and welcome their mother’s touch when it’s given in small increments and at the right time.
There will never be an adequate substitute for a mother’s hug, so as moms it’s up to us to find creative ways to stay connected to our sons.
We have to dive a little deeper and avoid taking his lack of outward affection personally. In the best interest of our sons, we need to keep trying because the power of our touch reaches far beyond the obvious.
Research has shown it raises kids’ spirits, lowers depression and teaches kids to read social and emotional cues. Touch also regulates a healthy heart rate and slows breathing. Long-term, kids who were raised in an environment where healthy physical touch was present tend to be happier as adults and better equipped to handle daily pressure.
So, whether you hug your son, rub his back or give him a high five, keep the flow of touch alive and well. The relationship between a mother and her son is unique and precious – one that requires continuous nurturing regardless of your son’s age.
Reflecting back on that special moment my son and I shared standing in our driveway, I hope that in some small way the relationship my son has with me – the bond we share – is preparing him for the relationship he’ll one day have with his wife. In the meantime, my touch not only serves as a constant reminder to him how much I love him, but also, the subtle, non-verbal cues we share open the door to continued communication and my ability to gently guide him through these important and influential years of his life.