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.”
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.
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.