Photo: Amanda FreemanI am a lover, but not a hugger. Growing up, my brother, Mike, was the touch-feely sibling who draped his small body over my mother's legs watching television and twirled her hair around his fingers. Though I loved and held on tight to my mom, I also valued my personal space. I rolled my eyes at relatives who rumpled my clothes to embrace me or leaned to close to chat.
My high school and college friends would joke about my stiff hugs hello, and boyfriends complained about my aversion to affection, until we were behind closed (bolted) doors. Instead, I expressed myself through conversation and by writing notes, leaving small gifts and sending books and cards.
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All of this changed when I became a single mother. Maia was colicky, meaning she screamed whenever I wasn't holding her and sometimes when I was. Her favorite resting position was across my chest, a clump of my hair grasped firmly in her tiny fist, so she could detect any tiny movement to put her down. I could only get a break by replacing my warm body with our dog.
As soon as Maia could pull herself up, she'd press her cheek against mine. As soon as she could talk, she'd lull herself to sleep, stomach-down on my belly, saying, "I la ma," over and over. There was no such thing as personal space. But my love for my daughter was so intense and all-consuming, I forgot to care. Part of our constant togetherness was practical. When I had to shovel out the car or walk the dog or tote groceries down the street, Maia was strapped to my front or back. We ate together, watched television together, and even got ready to go out together.
It's difficult to explain to people who aren't single parents, but the dyadic relationship between a single mother and child is intense and unique. In a two-parent home, you bring home baby and obsess over her every bowel movement together. When siblings are involved, there are even more hands reaching for the tiny feet. There is a completely different dynamic in a family in which the child depends exclusively on one parent to meet all of her needs.
It is a dynamic I was not at all prepared for, but one that I am so grateful to have experienced. Maia and I will always have a special bond. We lived alone for two years and then part-time with family for almost two more. Today, Maia is six and a half. She no longer sleeps on my stomach and grabs handfuls of my hair, but she does drape her little body over mine on the couch, kiss every inch of my face and jump into my arms. And now we have long rambling conversations that are actually somewhat coherent. I never thought I would dread the day she'll want to hug in private and brush off my kisses, but I do. Parenting Maia changed me forever. I still wouldn't call myself touchy-feely, but I'm officially a hugger.
Maia and I now live with Trey, my husband, and Ava and Chet, my step-kids, full-time. I'm sure if Trey and I have a child together, I will love her with all my heart, but I also know that loving her in tandem with my family will be a very different experience.
This post was written by Amanda Freeman.
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