At 2:45 PM Monday through Friday, students pour out the door of my sons’ elementary school. Edgar is usually first. He hands off his substantial backpack to me then jumps into my arms–literally–stopping for a very public hug and kiss prior to rounding the corner to visit his favorite tree or walk up the stairs of the fire escape.
Oscar is next. He comes out–cool and collected, often sporting a premature adolescent scowl. I reach for his hand. He doesn’t reach back. I put my arm around his shoulder–barely perceptible from my perspective. He ducks and creates a bit of distance between us.
I can read his signals, and I can sense his preferences. But still I have to ask. To the casual observer, only one of the two children I am picking up at this time seems to be the recipient of any kind of public maternal affection.
So I pose the question–though I know the answer.
“Oscar, how do you feel about my hugging you or holding your hand when I pick you up from school?”
In classic Bartleby fashion, he says, “I’d prefer that you not. Not in front of my friends.”
I tell him that it’s okay, that I understand; then I add that I want him to know that when I see him at the end of a long day I am hugging him a thousand times in my heart.
He turns to me, looks into my eyes, and says, “You know, once we get to the car, you can hug me and kiss me all you want. Okay?”
It couldn’t be more okay.