My husband and I both grew up in affectionate families. His Italian heritage taught him that hugs between men are not only acceptable, but necessary to show the proper respect to loved ones and family members.
Despite my German and English heritage, both known for their
reserve and decorum, my mother emphasized that hugging, kissing and saying "I Love You" to your family was important and comforting. And so, Vin and I grew up hugging and kissing our parents and siblings, our Grandparents and our Aunts and Uncles. I thought nothing of it and simply assumed that all families were as affectionate as mine.
There were exceptions, of course. My maternal Grandmother would never allow us to kiss her on the lips. For me it became a challenge to try and lay one on her before she turned her proverbial cheek on me and my peck landed just east of her red-lip-sticked pucker. I never succeeded. Vin's father was, despite his Italian genetics, reserved but his mother more than made up for his stoicism.
When my son Benjamin was born, my mother was deeply touched when she witnessed my husband take our minutes-old son into his hands and plant a huge kiss right on his tiny lips. She started to cry and proclaimed, "I just love that man."
With the kiss my husband planted on our newborn son, he ushered in another generation of mutual affection. Indeed, we shower our boys with cuddles and taught them to kiss us square on the lips. We feel proud of the loving atmosphere we've fostered and the way they freely display they're feelings for us and each other.
I was surprised, therefore, when a good friend of mine recently "admitted" to me her horror when her five year old daughter started asking her to kiss her on the lips. Naively I asked, "Don't you always?" Shock registered on my friends face. When I then admitted that I still kiss my father on the lips, her reaction resembled awe and I became worried she may disown me.
The next day I thought about why exchanging a kiss with kin would elicit such a disturbed response. Is the world so full of twisted tales of inappropriate touching that simple affection can be taken out of context? Do America's puritanical roots run so deep that reserve has conquered free expression? Isn't love what the world needs now? Isn't love all we need?
In a stroke of synchronicity, another friend of mine posted her "25 Random Things About Me" note on Facebook the next day and one of her random things was a confession that she too kisses her family members on the lips. She happens to be Italian, but I was comforted by her admission nonetheless.
And today, yet another friend mentioned on Facebook that she is grateful she comes from an affectionate family of huggers and kissers even though she spent her teen years shunning their public displays.
As teens, I wonder if Ben and Nate will be embarrassed to hug me and wish that I turn my cheek like my Grandma always did? Until then, I will keep kissing them like my Mom kissed me, and hope for the best.
"Be the change you want to see in the world," said Mahatma Gandhi. As I witnessed the swearing in of our 44th president Tuesday, I thought about this favorite quote of mine. President Barack Obama is living proof that when you live a life of hope, when you remain unyielding in your focus and when you show by example what is possible, you can succeed. And so, as this 21st century role model called for his fellow citizens to take part in the remaking of this nation, I reflected on what part I would play in this huge undertaking.
As the mother of two boys under the age of five, much of my life is spent focused on the necessities - feeding them, teaching them toileting skills, dressing them appropriately. Many days, as a result, pass without me taking the opportunity to show them, by example, how to live a life of hope, of joy, of focus and purpose, of empathy and awareness of our fellow men, women and children. I catch myself, particularly in moments of frustration or in instances when I am rushed, yelling instead of explaining, accusing instead of discussing and sighing instead of smiling. What are my boys learning on those occasions when my patience fails me and I act more like a child than a mother?
Early on in the Obama campaign, Obama's call to action to volunteers and campaign staff nationwide included the caution, "no drama." Today, I learned that during President Obama's first press conference there was a moment when Vice-President Biden made a derogatory remark about Chief Justice Roberts reversing the wording of the oath of office during the inauguration. The press corps giggled, other officials snickered. President Obama, however, stared stoically ahead without reaction. His choice to ignore the cheap shot, sail above the derision, speaks volumes of the character of this man and his ability to lead.
As I consider the change I want to be in this world, my thoughts often soar to great heights, to examples of heroism, of public soap-boxing, of espousing my own philosophy to the masses via a guest appearance on Oprah. With my chin raised to the sky, I miss the simple steps that lie before me. And so in the days ahead I vow to pause before I judge, to take the extra time to read one more book before bedtime, to not simply say "no" but also explain why I say no, to teach my children compassion and acceptance by greeting the world with hope and energy, a smile and a helping hand. The broader strokes, the larger gestures of volunteering time as a family, of bringing a greater purpose to our lives, will come. For now the changes may seem small, but I suspect they will speak volumes to the two little boys I call my own.
Today my paternal grandmother Bea would have exclaimed "it's colder than a witch's teat." She was a straight shooter and a life-long Michigander. Let's face it, she knew cold when it hit her in the face.
My thoughts turn to her bawdy expression due to the very, very, very brisk climes we're facing this week in Michigan. My iPhone registered at -15 earlier this afternoon and tomorrow the low is supposed to be -21. This is the kind of weather that makes your snot freeze and your earlobes turn black and fall off if you forget your ear muffs.
My cousin Heidi, who lives in just-as-frigid Green Bay, Wisconsin, expressed her shock and awe that her daughter's school canceled classes due to the below-freezing weather today. On her Facebook profile she reminded me that in our day there was no such thing as canceling school for such trifles.
Our mothers were fiercely determined to ship us off to class and willing to go to great lengths to ensure our warmth. For example, my mother used to slip my double-socked feet into plastic baggies (usually those that had held a loaf of bread earlier in the week) and tie them around my ankles with loose rubber-bands before pulling on my boots. Double bagged, my feet were sealed off from any snow that could seep into my boots.
At school, I never remember recess being called off because it was too cold. After lunch we'd happily re-baggie our feet and pull on the bulky, ill-fitting snow pants and jackets with mittens threaded through the sleeves with one long string of wool.
Hitting the playground was a rush, breathing in the air that was so cold it burned our lungs. We exhaled billowy puffs of clouds as we shouted to each other. Our boots made the same hush-hush-hush sound that our mother's cookie cutters made when they dipped them into flour before pushing them into the dough. We threw caution to the wind as we fell down into the pillowy ground and brushed our legs and arms in arcs to make snow-angels.
Covered from head to toe in snow, we'd return to the coat closet and hang up our gear to dry refreshed and invigorated from the cold.
** I cannot take credit for these great pictures of Ann Arbor in the snow. They were found on the internet.
The DVD player had failed to charge. It sat, screen blank, on the tray table in front of my four year-old son Ben. We were already 33,000 feet off the ground in an airplane headed for Tucson and the only other distractions I had packed in my carry-on were crayons, paper and a few matchbox fire-engines. It was going to be a long and bumpy ride.
Desperate for some form of entertainment, I grabbed the safety brochure out of the seat pocket in front of me and unfolded it to show Ben the drawings of the plane. "Look, aren't these cool? Maybe we could draw some of our own pictures of the plane with our crayons and drawing pad"
Ben was disinterested in the plane renderings. Instead, he kept insisting on getting a better view of "the pig man." I had no idea what he was talking about. I twisted in my seat trying to locate a man on board with an unusually large nose or one who snored loudly enough for us to hear over the jet engines. No such man was within my vantage point, and so I turned to Ben and asked him to explain.
Carefully, he took the brochure out of my hands and turned it over. There in the middle of the back panel was a photograph of a man strapping an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. "There, there's the pig man," Ben insisted. Here is what he meant:
Traveling without the DVD player made me realize that the only distraction we were lacking was my own imagination.