What do you do when you’re an introverted lover of personal space who’s also a mother to an adorable but persistent little boy determined to spend most of his waking hours physically connected to you in some way? Write about it on the Internet, of course!
When our family goes out to dinner, my son JR starts out in his own seat, as a child of almost three-and-a-half years should. However, as the meal progresses, he inches his chair closer and closer to mine until he’s eventually in my lap—or at least trying desperately to get there.
The same thing happens when we’re sitting on the couch watching a movie or spread out on the floor doing a puzzle. It’s like he can only go so long without having some sort of physical contact with me. My Barnacle Baby, I call him.
He wasn’t always this way. In fact, I’d say JR was probably one of the least snuggly babies I’ve ever come across. He wouldn’t fight off affection1, but he was never one to really seek it out either. As long as he had his thumb and his blanket2 he was good to go.
He kept this disposition until he was 10 months old, right when he pretty suddenly weaned himself3; he started to show an interest in walking around this time as well. I suppose his new independence was a lot to process and he needed to make up for it somehow. So as he bid The Bewb adieu and transitioned very quickly into a mobile little person, it was as if he decided, “Well, I no longer spend four hours a day belly-to-belly with you, and this great big world is kind of scary and has stuff that makes me fall down a lot, so I’m going to compensate by gluing myself to you for the next few years, k?” Before I knew it, my super self-soother became a TOTAL Clingy McCuddleface. I thought it would taper off once he started concerning himself with what makes someone a “baby” and what makes someone a “big boy”, but no dice. The older he gets, the cuddlier he gets.
Which is, you know, great. Well, sometimes it’s great. I would even say that most of the time it’s great. I mean, who doesn’t love constant access to a toddler’s chub and absurdly good-smelling head? But sometimes it’s hard. Really, really hard–for me at least.
Before you think I’m a cold-hearted monster, let me explain: I’m a introvert; I like my personal space; and I’m just not a toucher or hugger by nature. I mean, I’ll gladly accept a hug–I’ll even GIVE you one if you’re crying really hard or something– but it’s usually not my go-to source of comfort. Before his weaning/walking transformation, it seemed JR was headed in a similar direction. But now? He’s all about physical contact.
Physical contact with me at least.
Onnnnnnly me, much to the chagrin of my poor husband. He’s a snuggle bug4 if there ever was one, but the only living thing in our house who is willing to tolerate the amount of cuddling he needs is our dog Zapp5—and she’s bony and smells like Fritos. She’s also not allowed on the couch.
Now occasionally JR will throw his dad a bone and curl up with him to watch Yo Gabba Gabba! or something. But nine times out of 10, if I’m anywhere in the vicinity, he’s next to me, holding my hand, hugging my leg, forcing himself into my lap, being all up in my business is every possible (and adorable! mostly!) way. So that means pretty much any time JR is awake, he is touching me. That also means any time JR is awake, he is also pushing me out of my comfort zone over and over again.
While there are days when I just want to shout, “Dude, get OFF of me!” I’ve ultimately come to terms with the fact that JR is this way because 1) he needs to be this way right now and 2) I need him to be this way right now, whether I like it or not. And that’s always been the story with us (at least so far).
Looking back, I realize it was a major blessing that JR was so independent and mellow during his early days. Post-partum life was hard for me, and I imagine having my personal space crushed into an even more drastic state of extinction by a clingy baby would’ve done me in. It was as if he was giving me time to come out of the fog and (sort of) figure out what the hell I was doing before bringing out the big guns once toddlerhood hit.
These days, it’s as if he’s determined to keep me out of my own head…because that’s where I would be at all times if it were only up to me. As I’ve shared before, anxiety and depression have been part of my life since I was 23 years old. I’m currently in what I guess you could call an “upswing” out of my latest (and probably darkest) bout. And while things are looking up for the most part, this battle involves a lot of taking one step forward, then two or three (or 500) steps back. For me, those steps back typically lead to a pronounced turn inward, particularly in times of stress or conflict—both of which occur somewhat frequently with a three-year-old, as you can imagine.
But because he is three, JR will have none of that, God love him. While I want to walk away and shut people out when emotions run high, JR wants nothing more than to be close to, to fold himself into me—even if I’m the source of his anger and frustration. It’s as if my arms around his little body hit his reset button and he’s able to pull it together, recharge, and head back out into the world. For me, as I do that for him, the wheels spinning anxiously and tirelessly in my head are forced to slow down; I have no choice but to stop, be in the moment with him, and let us each feel what we need to feel as long as we need to feel it–good, bad, or really, really dramatic.
Since realizing this about JR and myself, those moments of conflict and stress (and general preschooler douchebaggery, if we’re being really honest here) are much less frequent than they could be—and once were. I know now that a lot of those moments with JR can be diffused with a pat on the back, a hug, or a few minutes spent sitting in middle of the kitchen floor as he climbs all over my back. I don’t claim to relate to this about him—or to even like it all the time—but I now know not to fight it. We both need this right now, and I’m sure my days as the main object of his affection are numbered. I’ve got to get in all the nomming I can before he starts fighting me off…and before I start to miss seeing that chair slowly inching my way during dinner.
— ∮∮∮ —
- Either he didn’t mind it or he just surrendered to the fact that someone with cheeks like this was just going to have to endure constant nomming. ↩
- He used to call his blanket his “bee-bee.” I DIE. ↩
- Yes, he weaned himself. Don’t try to tell me otherwise. I was there. It was my nipples that he bit and damn-near ripped off in his attempts to get the mess away from me so he could look at all! the! things! ↩
- That’s right. Ross Catrow: Business Owner. Local Entrepreneur. News Publisher. Snuggle Bug. ↩
- She’s named after Zapp Brannigan. I guess because we liked that he didn’t wear pants? Sounds like something we would do. ↩