The Perfect Hug

The Perfect Hug

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Perfect Hug

Please continue to look at your children as valuable treasures. Honor them and yourself.

Bernie Siegel

The room was filling up with teachers and administrators. It was a long room with those bare and fading painted walls that we’ve come to associate with schools, church rectories and other under-funded institutions. The only details to relieve the plainness were the flag up on the front wall and the cracked slate chalkboard. This huge room served many purposes: classroom, meeting space and recreation hall for this old, small college.

I had been invited to present a workshop on innovative teaching methods to a large group of local teachers.

At that moment in time, I was a single parent with full custody of my two little children. My daughter, Shayna, was about seven years old and my son, Ethan, was just five. Because this was not a school day, I had arranged for a babysitter to watch my children while I drove to the conference site. Unfortunately, the sitter canceled the morning of the conference and I had to take both children with me. They had been at many of my presentations before so they knew “the drill.” They knew they had to sit and play quietly.

Shayna brought books and drawing materials to occupy her time. She also brought her doll collection including a box of Barbie dolls and their myriad accessories. Ethan brought a small suitcase of building blocks and soldier dolls with all their guns and equipment.

They sat at a table at the very back of the room, facing away from the front where I would be presenting, both fully engrossed in play.

The teachers group was lively and responsive. Every activity I proposed they enthusiastically made their own. Participation was nearly total as I demonstrated teaching methods and organized small groups to share ideas.

At one point, a teacher raised her hand and said, “I wonder what you’d suggest about hugging.”

“Tell me more about your concern,” I replied.

“Well, I teach elementary school—fourth- and fifth-grade combined—and sometimes I just want to hug the kids, especially the ones who are often in trouble. Do you think it’s all right to do that?”

“It’s a strange world, indeed, that we are living in,” I replied. “Hugging is such a natural and spontaneous display of affection. It is often the very best thing you can do when a child is hurting, depressed, crying or frightened. Yet we’ve learned to be worried about it. There have been, sadly enough, too many cases reported in the media, of adults touching kids inappropriately. So it is important to have guidelines and clear limits to how, when and where we touch kids. Yes, I think hugging is a very good thing to do.”

I concluded with this comment: “You know, when adults hug each other, there’s always a bit of self-consciousness about it. Part of you is committed to the hug and part of you may be thinking something like, ‘I wonder if this person understands what I really mean by this hug,’ or ‘I wonder what this person means by his or he r hug!’ or ‘I wonder if anyone else is watching this hug and I wonder what they think,’ or [I added for the sake of humor] even, ‘I wonder if I’ve paid my MasterCard bill.’ ” The group roared with laughter.

“As adults, because we’ve been through so many experiences, we each bring our entire personal history into the hug and all the concerns that come with that history. Further, we are worried about, thinking about, planning for, engaged in, so many, many things that it’s hard to just be in the hug totally and completely. The reason I am thinking about this is that I can see my children at the back of the room.”

At this, the group turned their heads to look at my children who were still sitting quietly, engrossed in play, facing away from the group. Then the participants turned back to me as I went on.

“You see, when I get home at the end of a work day, as tired as I am, one of the things I most look forward to is a hug from my children. As young as they are, they have less history and fewer complicated worries and no bills to pay. As I walk in the door, they each almost fly up my body and hug and kiss me. My son particularly nearly melts his body into mine, burying his face in my neck and just hugs me. I believe that at such moments he is fully, completely and only hugging me, without distracting thoughts and without reservation. And it’s the most tender moment in my life!” The group smiled approvingly and that started a number of side conversations that went on for several minutes before we went on with the workshop.

Six or seven weeks later I was coming home from a long and exhausting day at the university where I taught educational psychology. I pulled into the garage, took my briefcase and entered the house through the kitchen door. Both children came flying down the stairs screaming, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” and Shayna leaped into my arms, “I missed you, Daddy. Do you know what I did?” And of course I wanted to know all about what she had done. Their nanny stood beaming in the background as Shayna told her story. Then, done with me, Shayna ran gaily out of the kitchen and returned to her latest project.

Ethan had barely contained himself. He, too, leaped up on my chest and hugged me with all his might. He buried his face in my neck and his breathing slowed. His body softened as he seemed to melt into me. Then he raised his head slightly away from my neck and whispered in my ear, “I wonder if I paid my MasterCard bill!” 


Hanoch McCarty

© 1985 King Features Syndicate , Inc. World rights reserved .

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