Somewhere around the age of 5 or 6, boys stop publicly showing or wanting displays of affection. The big, extended, heartfelt hugs and kisses are replaced with “fly-bys”—cursory hugs with a quick turn of the head so any attempt at a kiss lands somewhere between the left ear and the back of the neck.
Having been through this phase with our sons, my husband and I were prepared when our older grandson started school. We didn’t want to let him escape out the front door or head off to bed without somehow letting him know we love him, but we knew he certainly didn’t want a mushy sentimental hug.
My husband and I each have our own approach to this phase in a boy’s life. He can still get away with the “bigger bigger,” a VERY tight squeeze designed to make a young boy squeal like a girl. It’s a man to man challenge and will probably evolve into some kind of bone crushing handshake. All of this is perfectly acceptable. There’s no overt sentimentality; just a testosterone charged competition.
I’ve taken a softer approach, since it’s not really appropriate for a grandmother to squeeze the living breath out of a child of any age or gender. I have taken the high road which is evolving with each grandchild’s waning tolerance for affection. From the age of 2 or so I lavished each boy at bedtime and upon departure with the same fond ritual.
“Did you know I love you today?”…head shake, yes. “Did you know I loved you yesterday?”…another head nod. “Do you know I’ll love you tomorrow?”…final head nod. Then we touch pointer fingers while I make a buzzing noise and say “All my love to you.”
As time goes by, the boys begin filling in the time words and the buzzing sound until that magic age of aloof shyness hits. Then our routine changes to just touching pointer fingers without the schmaltzy narrative. And now, I just hold up my pointer finger to an 8 year old boy who smiles and breezes through an obligatory hug.
Whenever I write notes to the boys, I leave out the XXXOOOs and draw a circle around an inverted V; it’s the paper version of my buzzing finger. I think this arrangement can take me through the preteen and teen years into adulthood when genuine hugs return to favor.