There is a delightful children’s book that I checked out of our local library once called, How do you hug a Porcupine?
The children throughout the book are shown hugging all sorts of animals (Bunnies! Dogs! Goats!) that are soft and cuddly (though…goats?) and easy to hug. But after each picture, the refrain is repeated, “But how do you hug a porcupine?”
This is a perplexing question, both for the children in the book, and for me too as I’ve been thinking lately about how sometimes, sometimes it is really difficult to love the people around you.
Sometime those people are even your own children.
I love my children very much, but I don’t always know how to love them in the best way. Like the children in the book, I feel confused about the best way to “hug” my kids, particularly my boys with special needs (Autism and ADHD).
Sometimes what I think will be a loving gesture to my sons is met with a swift rebuff, like when I try to hug Benji when he is upset and he jerks away from my touch.
Other times, I rely on my go-to comfort technique: Sitting down and talking to the one I love. When someone sits down, asks questions, and takes a genuine interest in why I am sad or angry, I quickly feel better.
But this technique fails me more times than not with my sons. Communicating is hard for them, and talking about feelings is even more confusing.
Benji has adopted this cheeky comeback on more than one occasion: “Mom, I appreciate your nice-ness, but you are NOT helping.”
Touche, touche! (Oh that kid makes me laugh!)
But ouch! It hurts when he pushes me away. I get pricked when I try to hug my little porcupine, so sometimes, I hang back, like the children in the book, simply wondering what to do.
On other occasions, I find that I am the porcupine. In their need for physical affection, my twins are completely opposite. Micah loves to hug, stroke, nuzzle, kiss, and pet me whenever and wherever he can.
As a rule, I am not “hugger.” If someone hugs me, I will squeeze them back tight, but I don’t crave physical affection and, as a mom of four, I get touched out pretty quickly:
“Ok! Mommy’s had enough! Everyone back up! No. More. Touching!
And then Micah meets my prickles. I wound him, even though I don’t mean too, but what feels loving to him ends up irritating me.
We try to connect and we miss each other. We end up pushing the other away in our attempts to feel loved.
It’s confusing, maddening, irritating, even heart-breaking at times.
At the end of How do you hug a Porcupine? the children finally answer the question:
“Very Carefully!” they conclude and the picture shows a little boy gingerly embracing the porcupine, who looks very happy; his prickles are lowered, his eyes are closed and there is a sweet smile on his face.
If I was going to write my own ending to the book, answering the question of “how do I love my porcupines?” I’d say, “Very creatively.”
It seems like it should be the most natural thing in the world to know how to love your child well, but that isn’t always the case. A lot of times, it takes effort, creativity, and the willingness to fail.
It takes the willingness to get hurt too.
I’m trying to make an effort to be more creative these days.
Like, during the music time in church, I reach out and put my arms around Micah. We sing and sway and hug and cuddle. It feels natural, not needy, and both of us enjoy it.
I think that’s the hard part: Finding ways to love each other where both of us feel loved.
Because let’s face it: We do a lot of things for our kids that annoy the crap out of us (watching Chuggington on repeat; eating at greasy restaurants because it’s your kid’s favorite; trying your darndest to pay attention while your son tells you about his favorite Pokemon for the 77th time that day).
Love is exhausting at times.
Sometimes it even prickles and pains us.
But when we can find ways to love each other eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart, it’s really satisfying. It’s what helps our relationships, as difficult as they can be sometimes, grow deeper, move forward.
So I’m trying to be creative. I want to find ways to lower the prickles, to love my sons and help my sons love me, even if we are all porcupines at times.