“Mommy, don’t snuggle me.”

It happened. The words I’d been expecting to hear since just about birth came tumbling out of my baby’s mouth.

“Mommy, don’t snuggle me,” he said. We were reading stories, laying on his bed. This is prime snuggling territory. Half the reason for story time is so that I can hold my baby while reading to him. But now, after this new directive, we were to sit separately, my baby and I. He layed his head on one half of the pillow, and I on the other. I kept my arms to the task of holding up the book and turning pages when he forgot that he wanted to do it.

When I was a kid I had a room in my mom’s apartment on West 66th Street. It had a window out to the street and a window inward, into my mom’s room. My bed was up high, a loft bed, and there was room beneath it to store my toys and stuff. I liked my room, but I liked best to sleep in my mom’s bed. She would snuggle me and I would say “Mom, you’re mushing me, your legs are itchy, I can’t move!” And she would say “I get to snuggle you, I’m your mommy.”

I resisted the temptation to repeat those words to C as we read. When he was littler than he is now, I would snuggle him whenever the urge struck. When he was a baby I would nap with him and hold him close, when he just wanted to be held all day long, I would do it, and when a nagging voice told me to get up, to put him down, to be productive, I would remind myself that these moments wouldn’t last forever, that he would eventually realize that being permanently snuggled by his mom is no way to go through life.

These days my mom comes over to my apartment. She gives me a big hug. Her body seems to relax, she exhales for a long time. I know how this feels, to hold your heart in your arms; to be prevented by space, or distance, or independent wishes, from holding on tight all the time. Permanently snuggling your child is no way to go through life. C inserts himself into the hug, his yearning for four year old self-determination betraying itself, and we all hold on.

It’s twenty years this year since a good friend of ours plummeted to his death on Crosby Street. I remember so clearly his mother in the hospital room at Saint Vincent’s. How we sat with her, her husband and her two other sons. How her boys sat with her, with their older brother being kept alive by ventilators in the white sheets. I watched her lose her son. Longer ago still is the summer when Dave’s mom died, a tragedy whose clouds have only recently begun to part.

C nudges closer to me while I read the next story, and the next. I snuggle him, and he’s tired enough that his mom is more comforting than autonomy. I know just how that feels. I hold him close, yet loose enough to not hinder him if he wants to scamper away. I know that he needs his independence, and I am proud of him for seeking it, but I know, too, that it’s best to have your mom within reach.

Holsum is how you spell bread at our bodega.
Holsum is how you spell bread at our bodega.
this is red, C's snuggle thing.
this is red, C’s snuggle thing.

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