My mother has never been good with physical affection. Not that I can remember how she was when I was a baby, and maybe my recollection of how she was with my younger siblings is colored by this belief, but I have distinct memories of her shying away from all hugs, saying it was too hot or her hands were full.
When I contemplated having kids, I was afraid that I might feel the same way about my child. I knew I wanted to breastfeed, so there would be at least some required physical contact. I also hoped that being aware of my fear would make me actively confront it. If all else failed, my wife had promised to shake some sense into me if I started to act like my mother.
The fear was unfounded. Nothing felt more natural than to cuddle my son close to me. He would curl up in a ball on my chest and fall asleep to the rhythm of my heart. I would watch the rise and fall of his chest and inhale his ambrosial scent. We would fall asleep in this position after nighttime feedings; as much as I feared losing my grip or him wiggling off of me, it was such a perfect fit that neither one of us would budge an inch.
Although breastfeeding had its difficulties at the beginning, it quickly became a comfortable and comforting habit for the both of us. As we sat there, nestled together, gazes locked, I would find myself thinking, “This is what I need.”
Co-sleeping created the same feeling. All night long, he would maintain physical contact whether he was stretched along my back or folded into my arms. I quickly realized that we had a sixth sense about each other; our wakings were nearly simultaneous. When he was hungry, he would barely reach out for me and I was already getting in position.
My favorite purchase of his early days was our sling. As a baby, it held him close to me; I could even nurse while walking around with him. As he got a bit older, it supported him on my hip. I would tighten it, drawing him closer, and he would sink into the embrace. He would never fall asleep in his stroller, but frequently dozed off in the sling.
Even now, as he runs and climbs and does so much more for himself, we maintain a lot of physical contact. When I pick him up from preschool, he runs to me and throws himself into my arms. Several times a day, he announces, “I need to sit in lap.” When he is tired or stressed, he leans heavily against me and snakes his arm up my sleeve, seeking the comfort of my skin.
I know that there have been many scientific studies demonstrating the importance of touch in raising happy, healthy children. I know that my son feels safe and loved when he is in my arms. But most of all, I know that when I hold my son, I have everything I need.