I am not a hugger–at least, not a relaxed, comfortable one. I envy those who are, and I fervently wish I could be one of them; I wish I could throw my arms around the world with reckless abandon and squeeze tight while planting a smackin’ big, sloppy kiss on its forehead.
But I can’t. That’s just not me. I’m too quiet and reserved and tense and self-conscious and, to be perfectly honest, afraid–what if the world doesn’t hug me back? (And, even worse, what if that sloppy kiss gets wiped away as soon as my back is turned?)
My parents were not huggers, either. I don’t remember ever being hugged by my dad (until his dementia robbed him of his inhibitions), and my mom’s displays of affection were, at best, awkward and stiff (she did try). And yet, somehow, when I was growing up I still knew they both loved me. I worry sometimes–do my own children know the same thing?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the different ways in which I show my love for others, and I know that, hugging inabilities aside, I am a lover–albeit a discreet one. I know what’s in my heart, even if others don’t. And I know my inability to openly express my affection is probably my biggest weakness, one of those “comfort zone violations” I struggle with every day.
Like my mother before me–and probably like so many other women–I think my love is best and most easily expressed through my labors in the kitchen. My mom knew how much I enjoyed her homemade brownies, and so every time I came to visit I could count on a warm pan fresh from the oven. When my mom passed away a few years ago, I inherited her “brownie pan,” but I haven’t been able to make myself bake in it–real or imagined, I can still smell her brownies every time I pull out that pan, and the aroma brings such vivid memories and tremendous comfort that I cannot possibly defile her pan with everyday use.
My mother-in-law was the same way. Trips back home were always highlighted by my husband’s favorite cherry cheesecake chilling in the fridge, and the cabinets were always over-flowing with my children’s favorite snacks. And when we came in the night before Thanksgiving, we were always anxiously anticipating the steaming pan of lasagna that we knew would be waiting on the stove. That was love.
And it is with tremendous love that I now make my sons’ favorite dishes (chicken enchiladas and potato soup and gumbo–and who wants cheesecake?) when they come home for a visit, and it is love that propels me into the kitchen so early in the morning so that I can have blueberry pancakes or apple cinnamon scones waiting for them whenever they roll out of bed. The same love guarantees they will have sugar cookies or pumpkin pie or brownies to take back home with them, even if I have to give up my afternoon nap in order to make it happen. Do they understand that when I’m filling their bellies and their take-home bags, I’m also telling them how much I love them?
In my later years of teaching, I developed the habit of making goodies for all of my classes before Christmas break and again for my seniors on their last day of school. Sugar cookies, vegetable trays, fruit pizza, crab dip–whatever the dish, I hope those students realized it was created and given as an act of love by a teacher who truly valued and cared for them. I wish I had done this every year since the beginning, but in my youth (my twenties) I didn’t realize the importance (or pleasure) of such sharing.
And since I have been a principal, I have spent countless hours (and more money than my husband needs to know about) preparing an array of decadent delights for my staff before every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Cheese balls, veggie pizzas, fruit salsa with cinnamon chips, pecan tarts, and peanut butter balls–I can’t tell them how much I love and appreciate them (that might be just a little bit creepy), and I certainly can’t hug them (no awkward touchy-feely stuff at school anyway), but I can show them my affection through my culinary efforts. And whatever momentary pleasure they derive from inhaling five or ten (or fifteen) peanut butter balls pales in comparison to the joy I receive by providing such small tokens of my gratitude.
I love my family unconditionally, and I love countless friends near and far, all of my students (even the knuckleheads), and (almost) all of my colleagues. I hope my occasional kind words and actions are enough proof of my affection for them, and the next time any of them receive goodies from my kitchen, I hope they will consider themselves hugged. For now, it’s the best I can do.