My son was in first grade when he demanded I stop touching him at school pickup and drop-off. A public hug, it seems, was affecting his street cred. I guess he had to choose between the mother who loved and cared for him for the last six years—and a bunch of playground thugs who still ate things from their noses. I lost.
Over the years, his resistance leaked into our behind-closed-doors life as well. And now I am being actively shunned by a 17-year-old who has forgotten I was the one who bandaged his gravel-indented, bloody-raw boo boos. Ingrate.
I’m not giving up, though. This kid thinks he’s gonna begrudge me a little maternal lovin’, but he has underestimated one tenacious mom-soldier. And if you are similarly dodged by your pre- or post-pubescent son, here are a few tactics that might work for you:
- The Full-frontal Slo-mo (All Levels). The goal here is to begin your approach gingerly, so as to avoid triggering a flight or fight response. It never quite works out for me, though. My cautious, weapon-less approach is routinely met with an extended, rigor mortis arm plus a palm suctioned to my forehead—like something you would see in the Little Rascals. In the tv version, I am the baby-fat pipsqueak, zealously swinging into the dead space between two mismatched opponents. In the real life version, I am the mama-fat adult, desperately embracing the air and trying to connect with a disinterested son. Drawbacks: Humiliating, I never win, and I learn I am measly. Satisfaction rating: -2 out of 5.
- The Pounce (Advanced). To even approach this move, you must have three things: 1. Cat-like hover abilities; 2. Standing broad jump experience; 3. High pain tolerance. I usually try this when my son is wearing noise-cancelling headphones, so you might want to invest in some. At a doable distance, I lunge-hug with fury—but, before contact is made, I am predictably met with an elbow to the gut. I gag-retch-moan, and then I crumple. Drawbacks: Ouch. Regrets. Satisfaction rating: 0 out of 5
- The Mandated Ghost-hug (All levels). I buy the kid something he doesn’t deserve. Maybe a family-sized bag of Skittles, maybe an Xbox. He accepts his bounty with delight, until I say, “You need to give me a hug. I just gave you a gift.” He stiffens, prepares himself for the disgusting repercussions of his greed. I approach and he reaches out a single flinchy limb, pats my shoulder twice, then retreats. Drawbacks: Involves money, and is it really even a hug if there is only one out of four arms involved? Satisfaction rating: 1 out of 5
- The REM Sleep Attack (All levels). In the middle of the night, when I am sure my son has entered the sleep of the dead, I sneak into his room. I’m not searching for meth pipes or sexts—I’m looking for a little connection with an unengaged teen boy. I approach his bed, whisper “I love you” and plant a smoocheroo on his head or warm back. Drawbacks: Though delightful, it’s kinda one-sided. In fact, 100% one-sided. And really, if you wanna get technical, there is no actual hug involved. Satisfaction rating: 3 out of 5
And, now, the pièce de résistance, which was invented by the mother of a similarly withholding teen son. It is a genius stunt, the kind only a formidable and Mensa-level mom could craft. (This mom is definitely out of my league.)
Her stratagem: She accompanies her son to church on Sunday and patiently waits for her opportunity. At the mention of the Sign of Peace, that handshake is expertly grappled into a highly-conspicuous hug. He’s never found a way to resist in front of God, so he just takes it and even limply returns her pathetically sincere and suffocating embrace. What else can he do? He certainly can’t brazenly disregard the “honor thy mother” rule. Drawbacks: Must be willing to use the House of the Lord to further your mothering agenda. Plus, probably a sin. Satisfaction rating: an anticipated 5 out of 5
I’ve had nearly two decades to hone my craft—and I am ashamed that I didn’t capitalize on those three months we went to mass. I have to admit that my overall success rate is abysmal. My son is wily, resourceful, and repulsed by me—which makes him a worthy and invested adversary.
But I am a pugilist when necessary, and I am a one of those women who will do unacceptable, questionable, and even morally bankrupt things to get my way. My demands are simple, really. To paraphrase and twist the words of a great 20th century philosopher, Julia Roberts, in the 1999 classic Notting Hill: “I’m just a mom, standing in front of a son, asking him to love her.”
An earlier version appeared in Grown and Flown