When my boys were little, hugs were handed out like cups of water at an aid station during a half marathon.
Sometimes they were hesitantly offered, in fear of spilling over and getting you wet. Other times, they were thrust upon you (most often from a running start), bowling you over as you tried to catch them and return that hug. Sometimes they were slippery, as you wrangled them in your arms as they were slinging backpacks and running late into school. At times you missed them completely, because you were going too fast to notice those open arms and that silly grin.
But in our house, they were ever-present, a regular occurrence, the regularity not removing the spectacular that is a simple hug. And I got used to them. And I loved them. And I came to expect them.
And as my boys grew, the hugs were still there, but their frequency diminished a bit, now being handed out more like gels or energy drinks at a marathon, only two or three times during the race instead of at every mile. And I found myself hanging on a little longer to these hugs. When I’d ask for an impromptu hug, I still got one. But I’d never had to ask before.
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Then these boys became teenagers. And mine have quite different personalities, as many brothers do.
The older is the lover, the one who still leans his head on my shoulder, who hands out hugs still on the marathon level, occasionally lavishing me with a half-marathon day. The younger has set up camp at the marathon. More often, I get a pat on the shoulder or a sad attempt at a hug as he’s rushing off to play basketball or sitting down to do homework.
But every so often, one or both of those teenage boys will wake up and bless me with a half-marathon day. Long, lanky arms will drape around my neck; soft, styled hair will brush my cheek; warm breath will once again be breathed on the back of my neck; sweet cologne will be left to linger on my shirt; and those boys, who are now taller than me, will wrap their mama in teenage arms and melt every single bone in her body with 10 seconds of pure joy.
But what I’ve discovered is that my definition of a hug has had to broaden beyond this traditional display. Teenagers give hugs in a variety of ways.
When my 13-year-old sits next to me on the couch and props his legs up on my knees while nestling down into the cushions, he’s giving me a hug. When my 16-year-old sits next to me in a concert instead of sitting with his friends, he’s embracing me.
When my shoulder is used as a leaning post by a teenager … when a boy sprawls his body across my bed while I’m reading a book, and he pulls out his own book and reads alongside me … when an arm is looped through my own when we’re walking through the mall … when he can’t wait to come home from school and tell me the joke he heard … when he wants to play me the awful new song recently purchased on iTunes that he loves … when he looks at me with that twinkle in his eye and that same silly grin that he gave me when he was a toddler, I’m getting hugs from a teenager.
And I don’t know that I’d give up those little-boy hugs, but there’s something special about hugs from a teenager. They aren’t always handed out like water, free and overflowing. But when they are given, they are full of meaning, and energy, and a deeper love that will pull me through to the end of the race.
Karin Leeburg Larsen of Puyallup works in Seattle and enjoys writing everything from novels to a cooking blog. She is one of six reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at Klarsen265@gmail.com.