816 North Opinion

Tales from a non-hugger

Do you know that feeling when your mouth lets out what you wish was kept in your brain? That’s what I feel every time I say, “Oh. We’re hugging.”

It’s escaped my mouth so many times for so many years it’s now my genuine, yet awkward, rote response to a hug.

I’m not a hugger.

But I have a lot of huggers in my life. My daughter is a hugger of the highest order and embraces both family and friends with equal, and un-awkward, affection.

I’ve seen neighborhood kids come up to her simply for a hug. It makes my heart warm and gushy to know that she is a source of kindness to others. Whenever I see it I want to be a hugger, too…

… until I am faced with someone’s outstretched arms.

“Oh. We’re hugging.”

I’m not a hugger.

I suspect I look like a hugger. I’m short, curvy, smile a lot and genuinely like (most) people. If I can be not-at-all-humbly honest, I look like a Mrs. Claus in-training. Who wouldn’t hug Mrs. Claus? I’m sure she hugs the heck out of those elves; Santa probably sends them to her when he’s busy.

“Go hug Mrs. Claus; she’s great at it.”

But I’m not Mrs. Claus. Those elves would come at me their elf arms outstretched and a flash of panic would cross my face. “Oh. We’re hugging.”

I like the idea of hugs; can I overcome my hugaversion? Authentically hugging friends in greeting would be nice. A cousin I haven’t seen in a long time? Surely a hug is in order.

But when both happen my mind lapses into debate: Would a handshake would be better? Handshakes are simply two hands hugging, right?

Maybe a Dude Hug would be a good compromise. It’s a quick, barely touching, enthusiastic mini-hug.

Or maybe the handshake/elbow grasp combo of a politician. But is it too impersonal? Isn’t thinking about it wrong? Shouldn’t a hug be a thoughtful action done thoughtlessly?

“Mom, can we talk about something?” Noah asked the other day. His expression said it was a serious thing, and it was. He talked; my arms tingled. Without any thought he was in them in a fast and fluid moment. And I held him.

And held him.

I didn’t want to let him go. How many more years would a mom hug make everything all right? I held tighter trying to give him a dose of emotional strength through osmosis. We stood like that for a long time, or maybe it was so full of emotion it only felt like a long time. So full. So right.

Maybe I am a hugger.

My raised-in family wasn’t very demonstrative. We loved each other, we just didn’t hug a lot. To this day when I see my brother I think we should hug, but he’s about as huggy as I am.

“I’m going to hug you,” I warn.


By my best recollection, our dad came to hugging later in life. A late adapter but he excelled — his bear-hug style felt like a smile. The last time I hugged him he got up from a couch to give me one of his signature embraces.

“Love you, have a good flight,” he whispered in my ear. We were hugging … then we weren’t. I was out the door and I left him with my mother and a hospice nurse.

At some point the last hug with my own kids will be their last one with me.

That realization alone is making my heart ache to replace the awkward feeling with a delighted, “Oh! We’re hugging!”

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. To listen to the women’s history podcast that she co-hosts or to read more of her writing visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com.