Come Closer

Being Hands Free to grasp what really matters often means going outside my comfort zone, not taking the “easy,” route, and accepting the fact that the way I’ve “always done it,” may not be the best way.

Usually it begins with a voice in my head; I call it my Hands Free inner voice. It pushes me to do things I don’t necessarily want to do, but need to do, in order to grasp what really matters.

My Hands Free voice recently spoke to me. Although it would have been easier to simply push the suggestion away, I acted on it. And the results far exceeded my expectations.

This is my story…

A few weeks ago, I read an article entitled, “Why Roughhousing is Good For Kids and Their Parents” by Lylah M. Alphonse.

The article describes the physical, emotional, behavioral and social benefits that children receive by engaging in a little “rough and tumble” with either or both of their parents.

Although my memories as a four-year-old are a bit hazy, there is one activity I do remember vividly. And the article on roughhousing seemed to bring it to the forefront of my mind.

I can still recall standing, for what seemed like hours, at the screen door of our house watching for my dad’s car to pull in the driveway.

As soon as my dad would get home from work, my favorite game of all time would begin. It was quite appropriately called, “Getcha,” which definitely sounds like a name four-year-old Rachel made up.

My sister and I would huddle together in “fear,” the minute Dad would get on all fours in the living room. Yet we knew full well that sticking together would not save us from the all-powerful “Getcha” hand.

We would fake scream at the top of our lungs, act like we were trying to get away (but not really), and squeal with delight when Dad grabbed us and started tickling our bellies.

On occasion, we would get a little wild and out of control, which is when we would hear Mom call from the kitchen, “O.K., now. That is enough roughhousing.”

I remember thinking “roughhousing” was such a strange word and such a poor description of what we were doing. I figured my mom made it up to sound unappealing and “parental.” To me, there was nothing “rough” about it.  In my four-year-old opinion, it was the best kind of “playing” that existed.

And now thirty-four years later, roughhousing still has the same appeal to my kids that it did to me back then.

My daughters love roughhousing with their uncle. He doesn’t have kids of his own yet, so he has an unlimited supply of energy that is not artificially produced by large quantities of caffeine. He rarely uses the word “no” and doesn’t have back issues. So given all those variables, he is the perfect candidate for “roughhousing,” or what my children refer to as, “Tackle Time.”

Whenever I mention an impending visit from their uncle, the girls’ eyes begin to twinkle and in unison they excitedly exclaim, “Tackle Time!”

I love to hear their joyful shrieks as he “captures” them, whips them around, tosses them over his shoulder and then squeezes them in a giant bear hug until they laughingly cry out for mercy. (It’s the best kind of laughter…the silent, uncontrollable kind that causes wet pants.)

There may have been certain points in my life when I would have worried about their safety or thought the play was too rough, but now I know this type of physical contact and interaction is vital to my children’s overall emotional and physical well-being.

So here’s where the Hands Free inner voice came into the picture and started asking a lot of questions…or actually began repeating the same question over and over.

The question that kept coming up was this: What types of physical connection do you have with your children?

The first child that came to mind was my four-year-old. Her nickname, “Ooey Dooey,” was given to her in the first week of life, but still suits her perfectly. There is just something soft, cuddly and warm about her. She even has a name for her own huggable nature. She calls it her “Ooey-ness.”

Wouldn’t we all love to possess some of that?

There is just something about my four-year-old daughter that makes you want to wrap your arms around her and pull her close. And when you do, she never rebukes. She actually melts right into you. Pure Ooey-ness.

At the conclusion of “Question Time” each night, our nightly “cuddle ritual” occurs.

I pull her close and say, “I’m am soooo tired. I think I will just sleep right here. Will you be my teddy bear?”

She smiles, (while simultaneously sucking her thumb), and nods an emphatic “yes.” I nestle her in close and I plant a million little kisses the soft cushiony spot right under her chin.

That is just what we do. Every.Single.Night.

Yes, my four-year-old gets that critical physical contact needed to flourish and prosper; we are good in that department.

So what about my eight-year-old?

Time to step into the light of realness, Rachel.

(Have I mentioned the Hands Free inner voice hardly ever gets it wrong?)

Somewhere along the line, the physical contact between my oldest child and me has been watered down to a quick kiss on the forehead or a three-second hug as I tuck her in at night.

Perhaps the reduction in our physical contact over the years is a result of her getting “too old” for Mom’s long lingering hugs or cuddle time. Perhaps it is because her leaned out swim team physique no longer has the “Ooey-ness “quality it once had. Or perhaps it is because she doesn’t sit still for long periods of time (not when one has so many lesson plans to write!).

Well, the Hands Free inner voice is not one for excuses, and I have learned that excuses are a waste of precious time. The fact of the matter is this: my eight-year-old needs physical connection (in some form or fashion) from her mom. In fact, it is a critical part of her healthy development.

So five nights ago, things changed.

At the conclusion of our nightly “Talk Time,” a question unexpectedly came from my mouth.

“Can I listen to your heart beat?” I asked.

She looked as surprised as I was by this request, but said, “O.K.”

I will admit, at first it seemed a bit awkward.

But then as she lay so perfectly still and her steady heartbeat filled my ears, the awkwardness melted away, and I was absorbed in the moment…a beautiful moment of connection.

“My goodness, you have a strong heart,” I whispered.

I could see her white teeth glowing in the darkness as she smiled with her whole face.

“It’s because of swim team,” she answered with certainty.

And because my head rested on her chest, it was easy to wrap my arms around her. I just remained there. No talking was needed as I became hypnotized by the beat of her heart.

And when I felt her hands wrap around me, I knew our “Heartbeat Check” must happen again.

So the at the conclusion of “Talk Time” the following night, I said, “I better check your heartbeat.”

She giggled.

I listened for a few moments and realized it was much slower than the night before.

“I think you have been taking it easy today. Your heart is so calm,” I teased.

“I think it is from the ice cream I just ate,” she surmised.

And then we just lay there, my head on her heart, her arms around my shoulders.

Suddenly, I heard the most beautiful sound.

As she nuzzled her nose into my hair and took a deep breath in, this tender little sigh of contentedness came out of her mouth as she exhaled.

“Mmmmmmm,” she murmured softly.

And then, “Mama.”

I kissed every freckle on her nose and cheeks, and then told her how much I love her.

Before I shut the door, she said, “Don’t forget I have a swim meet tomorrow night. I wonder what my heart beat will be like then!”

Now I was the one smiling with my whole face. This was her way of telling me she liked this new bedtime tradition and wanted it to continue.

It has been five days now.

Words are seldom needed now; the awkwardness is completely gone. With each “Heartbeat Check,” our connection through touch grows stronger.

Although I initially created this Hands Free tactic for the sole benefit of my daughter, I’ve discovered that I, too, am reaping the rewards.

A few days after the nightly “Heartbeat Check” began, we found ourselves in a 25-minute wait outside a restaurant standing in the pouring rain.

My daughter leaned her whole body up against mine, as if to hug me. Instead, she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, “Now let me hear your heart beat, Mama.”

How did she know?

It was exactly what I needed.

As I stood on the verge of whining about a trivial inconvenience in my blessed life, she reminded me of what truly mattered.

My daughter rested her head on my chest, and I felt my blood pressure instantly lower. Suddenly a message I had written two weeks prior came back to me. It was my daughter’s 8th birthday message:

I have learned more from your heart in eight years than I could learn in a lifetime without you.


No way.

Nothing on the Hands Free journey to grasp what really matters is coincidental.

With every beat of her heart, my daughter will continue to guide me to the place I long to be.

And in a rowdy, rambunctious bear hug, I will embrace what really matters. Just like my dad did when we played “Getcha,” the best game in the world.


Do you roughhouse, pillow fight, or play tackle with your kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews? What forms of physical contact do you enjoy with your family? I would love to hear!

And if your Hands Free inner voice is already asking questions, you know what to do.

The beauty of going Hands Free is that it is never too late to grasp what matters. Tomorrow is gone, but you have today. My friends, you have today. All it takes is making a choice to grasp what matters. Do it today.



  1. 1

    Jessamyn says

    Our bedtime routine with Katie the 7 year old includes tickling. Every. Single. Night. If we’re running late, we only tickle during “Edelweiss” and “Love You Forever,” but if everything’s on schedule, she gets tickled during “Close to You,” “Good night, My Someone,” and “The Sound of Music” (and then we sing Edelweiss & Love You Forever w/o tickling). Annabel the 3 year old has only recently started to enjoy tickling, but I still hold her on my lap every night and rock her (and sing Twinkle Twinkle and Love You Forever) while she lays her body against my chest.

    Love the heartbeat check with your daughter; it’s wonderful, and brought tears to my eyes. It also makes me glad we have some physical rituals already.

    • 2


      Jessamyn, what lovely forms of physical connection you have with your children! I love the term you use, “physical rituals.” I think those activities that occur over and over are so critical and are the ones our children will remember years and years from now. I really appreciate you stopping by and sharing your beautiful traditions.

  2. 5


    Beautiful. As Always. My 11 yr old, is too ‘big’ for huggy stuff, so I go in and mess his hair up or pat his back or tickle his feet. Occasionally he just walks up and surprises me with a great big hug.
    The 7 year old is in between. Somedays I get the snuggles where I have to really work to get out once he’s asleep, others it’s a short backrub. The baby girl is more fun. We get snuggle time as I carry her downstairs to her bed. I sit with her and we make a big goofy production of tucking in. Then she tries to balance all the kisses. She covers her face, so I kiss her hand. Then she gives me the other hand, because you have to do both. We keep going for awhile. Until she snuggles up her blanket and says “thanks, mom”.
    Those are the best moments of my days. And it happens every day.

    • 6


      Wendy, I love it! Thank you for taking time to share the forms of physical connection you have with your children. It is interesting to see how the forms are individual to each child, but obviously so meaningful to each. You clearly put much thought into expressing your love at a level that is comfortable to one. Thank you for sharing!

  3. 7


    I try to be very physical with my kids. With my oldest, I specifically made a point of “roughhousing” since I was a single mom and had to also do the dad stuff like tackle time, airplane, etc. Now, my 10 month old has learned the fun game of chase. I get down on my hands and knees and crawl away from her, pretend screaming. She screams and giggles and follows along, chasing me across the room. So much fun! For bedtime, I have a routine with each of my kids. I wrote about it here:

  4. 9


    Beautiful, as always. I am crying, as usual. You have such a way with words, and such an amazing relationship with your girls, that I am almost jealous.
    I try to be affectionate with my little man, but he’s pretty wiggly, and the cuddles are few, but the ones I do get are wonderful.
    I do get bedtime cuddles though. We’ll read a book or two and then I’ll sing a song of his choosing, and we’ll snuggle until he either falls asleep, or gets really close.

    Thank you again for sharing your beautiful, sweet moments with us, and being such an inspiration.

    • 10


      Thank you for your loving encouragement, Karin. It sounds like you have a very lucky little boy! He will remember those cuddle times and how you made it a priority, even though he was a wiggle-worm!

  5. 11

    Lyn says

    I think as a culture in recent years, we have shied away from physical contact with children because of the threat of inappropriate touching. This has been a great loss for both the innocent children and the innocent adults. But staying aware of 2 things can help in watching over our own behavior and the behavior of others. 1. If the roughhousing or tickling becomes fun for only the adult. Or if the adult takes it too far and hurts the child or the child’s feelings. 2. If the touching becomes sexual or uncomfortable for the child or the adult. Sometimes these lines are crossed inadvertantly. If quickly corrected, all is well. But if an uncle or an older sibling or another adult outside the family continues in these paths–you must intervene. The child will not realize the betrayal and will be confused and hurt, trying to sort out the fun and love from the abuse and pain.

    • 12


      Thank you, thank you, Lyn, for your thoughtful insight and for providing these two critical guidelines for appropriate physical contact with children. I whole-heartedly agree with everything you mention and am a strong advocate for talking to my children about what to do if physical contact from anyone becomes uncomfortable. I never want my children to feel like they have to “go along” with anything because an adult is involved in the play. I think back to a time when I was aggressively tickled by an adult and it was very unpleasant for me. Thankfully, I was able to speak to my mom about it and it was resolved.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom and insight in an effort to keep all our precious children safe.

  6. 13


    Rachel, I am so blessed that I found your blog. I am you of the past. Struggling to let go of distractions. Reading your blog makes me cry of regret but feel hopeful all at once. I am still in the grasp of my distractions and the guilt that comes along its it, but every blog entry that I read from you makes me feel one step closer. I sincerely thank you for sharing this gift with me.

    • 14


      Dear Kat, you just captured the essence of why I love sharing my journey with the world. To know that my writings have offered you a glimmer of hope at connecting to what matters in your precious life is so meaningful to me. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for support, encouragement, or strategies along this journey. There IS HOPE, my friend!

      • 15


        Thank you for your reply Rachel. After wiping my tears I put the distractions down and vigorously played with my 18month old. I was letting him play alone waiting him to get tired and come to me ready to nap, I’m so glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to hear his shrieks and laughters that came from my tickles and chases. He’s now laying fast asleep in my arms and our breaths are synchronized as one. My biggest challenge through this will be to not be too hard on myself but thank you again for sharing your journey so I don’t have to walk alone.

  7. 17

    Vicki says

    I will definitely incorporate the “heartbeat check” with my 4 year old son. Often he asks if I will hold him “tighter, tighter” as if he just can’t get close enough to me. I think this is a great way to be even more connected.

  8. 18


    BEautiful! So many flavors of honesty, touch & connection.

    I was taken back to a special relationship I had with a friend’s son. As he grew older, I would bring my friend “Mr. Tickle Finger” along with me to our play/adventure dates. Often Mr. Tickle Finger would arrive with an expression of the day & hat of choice. He became not only the hero of play and connection…but eventually a confidant for the boy. After our times of tickles, wiggles & giggles…he would grab Mr. Tickle Finder with both of his hands and whisper his secrets & longings – what he wished we would do while I was there, what had brought him sorrow or joy in the days between our visits.

    Then one day I arrived and the first thing out of this sweet boy’s mouth was “Where’s Mr. Tickle Finger? I want him to meet his cousins!” …and he took his hands from behind his back. Then with ten colorful fingers and a big smile on his face a party of play began.

    Thank you for invoking that lovely memory for me!

  9. 19

    Wendy says

    As I sit here and look at my youngest son of 3 sleeping, I realize that because I am a back to work mom now, I don’t have the same relationship with my little one as I did with his older siblings (16 and 18). I am sad that I cannot offer to him the same attention and participation that I gave my older children. Back then I was a stay at home mom and my sole focus was on them. I was a volunteer at the school and quickly got involved in all the extra activities. I also worked with them at home on projects and activities. After all, that was my sole job to raise and interact with my children 24/7. Today I am struggling with work, home, age factor (i am quite older than I was with my older children) and sickly parents. I watch my children and know that I am blessed. I also am aware that time goes quickly and opportunities are
    often missed when one is focused on “other things”. I love my children. I want to share the same special moments with my youngest even if I have less time and more distractions. Your blogs have reminded me that nothing is more important than the here and now. Time lost is just that, time LOST. The chores and the daily grind will always be there, but your children are only young once and then they are in college and those times will be missed. Thank you for clearing the fog and helping me focus. Sometimes all you really need is to be reminded that the value of life, is the minutes that make up your life. I am going to go cuddle a sleeping child now, just for the chance to smell him, and hear his heart beat. Thank you. Will be tuning in for reminders soon.

  10. 20


    My boys are 24, 22 & 18 now… Over the years the contact has changed… a hug or a peck on the cheek from my older sons, to a knuckle bump or a back rub, foot rub for my youngest son who is trying to distance himself from me as he becomes an adult. The transition has been gradual & what is acceptable one day may not work the next. When they were younger tho we did a check in… Id say, “have i told you today that i loved you?”most of the time theyd roll their eyes & answer “yeah, mom.” but sometimes they’d say no or they would say, “you didnt ask me today” or “are you gonna ask me if you told me you love me today?” i knew it was important to them & me. With my great nephews & nieces, i always tell the to “give me some sugar”. Which is usually a kiss or hug… Even when they are acting up i try to make it fun & have been known to “shake the oneriness out of a child by turning them upside down and shaking them (gently) by their legs. It usually gives them a better perspective once the blood returns to their head! Since i am only 5’1” tho this doesnt last long especially if the child has a growth spurt & i can no longer tip them upside down – lol. Thank you for you wonderful article.

  11. 21

    Molly says

    i’m crying reading this now. we’ve been feeling very disconnected from our 4 y.o. daughter since having our new baby, and this might be just the thing to help reconnect us. thank you for sharing your world!

  12. 22

    Ria says

    I have just started reading your writing – I have found myself turning into the mother I don’t want to be… one who shouts and has no time. So… I am trying to go Hands free. I read and loved what you wrote about the heartbeat check and tried it tonight with 2 older children (almost 8 and 5). My 5 year old daughter giggled and giggle… an asked to listen to my heart. My son… I think he thought I was weird! But I will try it again tomorrow and the next night. My daughter loves cuddles and has always been very affectionate. I feel as though my son is slowly getting too old (and too cool?) for me but tonight he slipped his hand into mine and chatted with me like he used to.
    Thank you – I look forward to reading your new posts each day.

  13. 23

    Shannah G says

    Simply beautiful. The tears are rolling down my cheeks. Moments like those are what make life worth living. I LOVE this blog!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *