Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reach Out and Touch Someone

There have been all kinds of studies published about the crucial importance of physical touch. Babies who are held often in infancy grow to be more emotionally secure adults. Married couples who hold hands often are less likely to divorce. Friends who hug have a closer bond than those who rarely touch. Human beings crave physical touch.

There are, of course, many levels of physical touching, from very casual to very intimate. Shaking hands does not meet that the craving for touch in the same way that lovemaking does. But if the only physical touch a person experiences is lovemaking, there is something missing just as surely as if the only physical touch he or she experiences is shaking hands. We all need to experience the whole range of physical touch. If touch were food, lovemaking would be the filet mignon, the duck a l'orange, the poached lobster, the pheasant under glass. All wonderful and rich and satisfying, but incomplete for a healthy diet. The filet mignon needs to be supplemented by roasted chicken and meatloaf and beef stew and Caesar salad and occasionally even hamburgers and fries. And holding hands and hugging and caressing are the meatloaf of the touching family.

The power of touch has been in the forefront of my mind recently because Ryan has such a need to be held. He can be crying as if his heart were broken, but the simple act of picking him up and holding him in my arms soothes him. Even in his sleep, if he's twitching and fidgeting, quietly rubbing his back relaxes him into calm slumber. When he's fighting sleep, patting the soft down on the back of his head makes him give up the battle. Even the simple difference between being perched on my knee and sitting snuggled against my chest can change him from cranky to cooing. He loves it when I massage his legs, when I pat his cheeks, when I tweak his nose. He loves when I hold his hands or tickle his belly. When he's sleepy, he loves to nuzzle into the crook of my neck. He simply loves to be touched, to feel the closeness of another human being.

And so do I! This morning, Herb and I both half-woke to the sound of Ryan stirring. Once we realized he was just cooing in his sleep, Herb threw his arm across my waist and rubbed the small of my back, and suddenly I went from that tense "alert-mom" mode into a relaxed, calm, ready-to-sleep mode. And any time Herb has trouble sleeping, I can put him out cold in a matter of minutes merely by scratching and stroking his back. The reassurance of another person's presence, especially someone you love and trust, has a natural calming effect. A simple backrub or footrub washes away the tension of a rough day. A kiss and a bearhug melt away life's trouble for a few moments. Holding someone's hand brings on confidence.
So clap a friend on the back, rub noses with a baby, kiss your mother, wrestle with your kids. Go ahead, reach out and touch someone.

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