The Hug Line

What’s putting the kids to bed like in your home? Little House on the Prairie or Nightmare on Elm Street? For Katrina and me, getting kids to bed is sometimes like eating ice cream with an abscessed tooth. Let me explain.

The procession to bed starts with the announcement, “Get your pajamas on!” Cue the “ice cream” feelings. Our PJ proclamation means Katrina and I are moments away from time together – along with a snack, good books and occasionally a movie or BBC miniseries. It’s sweet respite after a long day of work, homeschooling, lost socks, temperamental computers, temperamental children, temperamental cars and everything else that comes with a household of seven (plus one dog). I’ll take Moose Tracks, please!

Unfortunately, “Get your pajamas on!” is too often misheard by pre-adult ears as “Gentlemen (and ladies): start your engines!” The donning of PJs becomes the pre-game warm-up to a nightly battle of wits. For us, the battle is drawn over what we call, “The Hug Line.”

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Hug Line? How sweet!” Let me stop you in your naiveté. Our ritual of bedtime hugging might engender thoughts of warm, cuddly, special bonding moments. I can’t disagree – it is special. Sweet? Not always. Here’s a small window into the drama that is The Hug Line.

Our children are quite creative. When it comes to hugging, I wish they weren’t. They’ve developed several variations of the hug. A popular one is, “As I hug you I’m going to slap your back as hard as I can” (a.k.a. “The Slug Line”). Another version is, “I’m going to hug you without actually touching you” (this is our boy’s favorite). The girls are especially fond of this special twist: “I’m going to lock my arms around your neck, go limp, and see if I can snap your spine.” Need I go on?

When hugs become slugs or require follow-up with a chiropractor, something has gone awry. Rarely a night passes without one of our little cherubs unleashing a sinister plot to foil the beauty of our hugging routine. It’s a comedy in the most tragic sense.

To make matters even less pleasant, several times in the midst of our hug fest gone wild I’ve had the “brilliant” idea of launching into a treatise on the finer points of hugging. How hugs are good. Hugs are nice. Hugs are meant to be enjoyed. They’re easy to give. I follow my exposition with compulsory practice. Each child is asked to face a sibling, look lovingly into their eyes, give a little squeeze – pause and smile satisfactorily – then side-step to the next beloved family member and repeat. Ah, special times overflowing with familial love. Yeah, right! By this point our collective “abscessed tooth” is killing us. Ice cream thoughts melted long ago. I want to scream, “It’s just a hug, people!” Craziness, but reality.

Don’t assume the worst. There are many more ice cream moments than toothache. The Hug Line holds a special place in our family story, broken backs and all. It is ripe with opportunity for talks about treating others the way we want to be treated and making wise choices. As dad, and Hug Line creator, I enjoy the opportunity for good, intentional touch with each of my children. I’m praying that I will end each day more like Charles Ingalls than Freddy Krueger.

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