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Tish! my hugging friend from http://www.justatish.com

So eons (OK, actually just about 3 or 4 years, but it feels like eons) before my daughter was born, I met a vibrant, quirky jewelry making friend: Tish. Tish not only provided a lot good, humorous advice and awesome jewelry (If you haven’t already, please take the time check out her jewelry here), she also gave me the title: “Jessie: Purple Top, Hugs A Lot.”  It stuck, at least in my head and in my correspondence with her.  I took pride in my title, it made me think of the Care Bears: Love-A-Lot or Thanks-A-Lot.  Being an 80s kid, I liked that, a lot… I thought it was my own unique title, I didn’t imagine I’d ever meet another person with that kind of special title, I certainly loved (and coveted) the title enough that I didn’t really want to share it…

In case you are wondering how I came to have a title like that, well, when I first met Tish, I had spiky purple hair and regularly wore a lavender shirt that read in big bold black capital letters: “FREE HUGS” so she felt like the title she created fit me perfectly, I agreed, so much so that it stuck with me.

Back then, I enjoyed giving out Free Hugs, I was inspired by the original Free Hugs mastermind: Juan Mann, http://www.freehugscampaign.org/ after watching some of his Free Hugs videos on YouTube.  The neat thing was Tish was also into the Free Hugs spirit but she choose to do it with her own quirky tie dye overalls with the words: “Free Hugs!” painted on the front of them.  She and I gave out a lot of free hugs to other folks when we were spending time together, especially at the Out Raleigh festivals we attended. Despite our enthusiasm we were careful to give Free Hugs out to only those that wanted them, we didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or imposed upon.

Fast forward to when I finally became pregnant in 2011 I found myself not wanting to give hugs out as much anymore, pregnancy hormones can be primally stirring and life altering. It felt like since I was nurturing a precious human growing inside of me I had to be more protective of my personal space and hugging others, especially randomly became less and less comfortable. After starting to think I was just going crazy, a mutual friend pointed out that: xenophobia and other social anxieties are quite normal during pregnancy.  I found myself going from being quite an extrovert to quite an introvert. I became a wall flower, a literal Touch-Me-Not. I preferred to sit or lean against a wall, practically letting the wall protect me and hug me at most social events. I didn’t want to hug most people, I didn’t even want ~most~ people touching me, especially my belly, sometimes the thought of someone touching me was enough to make me feel uncomfortable and nauseated. I even posted to my friends on some of my favorite social networks that I wasn’t mad at anyone, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, but they were right, I had changed to being more introverted, whether I (or they) liked it or not… I just sort of wanted to hibernate away from everyone, for like the rest of my pregnancy… (or maybe even for the rest of my life…)

I didn’t realize that even after my daughter was born, I still didn’t feel as extroverted as I did prior to having conceived (I had at one time, preposterously, thought I’d become ‘me’ again after she was born since she’d no longer be in my uterus, I’d no longer be sharing my body with her, so I’d naturally and easy go back to being ‘me’). Instead, I found pregnancy and motherhood had forever changed me in ways that I couldn’t have fathomed or fully predicted even if I had been aware that changes were going to occur.

As my 21 month old daughter has now grown out of the newborn stage and is in the middle of the toddler stage I have found myself slowly being more extroverted… almost, but not quite like before, it’s been a very gradual and challenging metamorphosis.  I still like to give a lot of virtual hugs by typing: *hugs* on friends’ status posts or in emails, but it’s been eons since I’ve pulled out the FREE HUGS t-shirt or been on a free hugs adventure.

In fact, I had changed so much for so long that I had almost forgotten about my title: “Jessie: Purple Top, Hugs A Lot.”  My husband who was born an introvert was quite content that I had become less extroverted and more introverted.  He said it helped me understand his social challenges/ineptitude and he was glad that I wasn’t dragging him on as many extroverted excursions or adventures now…

Then, just recently, I’ve noticed something interesting with our daughter, she’s a radiant mix of her daddy’s guarded engineer spirit with a little dash of my creative, caring and daring outside-of-the-box spirit. She starts out introverted and cautious in any new social situation, but after she warms up, if she likes you, she’ll hug you so much that she’ll literally sweep you off your feet, especially if you are a toddler or a pet her size or smaller. At first, I thought she had more of the introverted engineer personality in her, since she’s such a Daddy’s girl, but as she has grown I see that she might possibly give even more hugs than I ever did.

Most notably, her loving and hugging personality has really shone through on a couple of recent occasions.  Foremost in my mind, is the play date when my daughter recently saw her best friend (23 months old at the time), whose family had moved out of state and came back to visit after months of being away.

At first, she was nervous because she had to get use to her friend again, they had both totally changed and grown several inches in 6 months apart, so it took them some time to warm up to each other again.

Introverted at first, warming up to her guests.

Taking time to slowly warm up to her friend and family despite that her friend has quickly relaxed enough to play and dance freely at the very beginning of the play date.

However, when she finally did warm up to her friend and the family, boy, did my daughter try hug her friend to death.

Sweeping her friend off her feet to attempt to give her another hug

Trying to sweep her friend off her feet in order to try to give her another hug. She was practically like a blond haired, grey-blue eyed Pepé Le Pew in her “purple top” chasing her friend around to hug her toddler friend.

Despite both I and the other girl’s mama trying to gently explain that not everyone likes hugs, it was still quite the comical spectacle and it definitely showed me that I was going to have the opportunity to help my daughter learn more about boundaries.

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Still trying to hug her friend, even after her friend retreated to the wall, it was hard for my daughter to understand what was wrong.

After seeing my purple top wearing tot becoming a “Hugs A Lot,” I told Tish that I had completely lost my old title to my daughter. She was wearing a purple top and she was a “Hugs A Lot.”  I joked that I never thought I’d see another “Purple Top, Hugs A Lot” and yet I had given birth to one unbeknownst to me. Then, I paused and reflected that I could simply share the title with her, I didn’t have to lose it completely to her. Some days I find I’m still trying to get back to my prior level of extroversion and adventurism (just like I’m still ~trying~ to get back into my pre-pregnancy shape) but most days, I can’t worry about all of that old stuff because I’m following her lead while trying to help her understand about respecting others’ personal space boundaries.

It’s a tough balance to strike, because in her toddler mind things are clear cut and simple: Hugs are good, they are nice, warm and fuzzy (just like teddy bears).

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My Purple Top, Hugs-A-Lot, joyfully dancing and sweeping her teddy bear off the floor to hug him.

She has such a terribly hard time understanding why anyone would NOT want a hug, why anyone would be upset when she simply wants to hug them, not hit them, not hurt them, but simply hug them.  It’s something we are working on, because just like how I want her personal boundaries to be respected, I want her to be able to understand and respect another individual’s boundaries.

Having spanned the spectrum of extroversion to introversion and back again during my 30+ years of life I’m perhaps possibly able to more easily see it from both the Hugger’s, Hugs-A-Lot’s side as well as also seeing things from the perspective of the Non-Hugger, Touch-Me-Not’s side, the side of the one not wanting to been hugged.

If you have enjoyed this Part 1, please stay tuned for Part 2 where I talk more about our own hugging adventures (and misadventures), respecting boundaries (while still being true to our unique selves) and some personal tips I have found useful if you have Huggers or Touch-Me-Nots.

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