I would have let it slip had my co-worker not witnessed it.
I hated it. I hated having to bend down and quietly admonish her.
“You know, I’m not actually supposed to give hugs at work…”
With just those words I snuffed something in the brightest face in the room after she had impulsively rushed to give a quick, genuine hug around my waist to say good-bye. I still hugged back – how could I not? – and loved it, and her for it! – but I wasn’t supposed to.
The words hung over me. Protect yourself, protect the museum…No hugs, no high-fives, no touching.
The entire exchange was less than ten seconds. From innocence to shame.
Dark and petite, her whole frame changed. It was subtle but I recognized it. She was like me when I was 8 years old. Eager to please. Looking up wholeheartedly. Exuberant but sensitive.
She cloaked the embarrassment well. It made me feel sick. I saw guilt in her eyes and it was wrong.
“I know you didn’t know. It’s okay Hannah!” I said it lightly to let her know she wasn’t in trouble. I’m not sure it worked. The damage was done.
I waved good-bye as she left with her mother and sister in their winter boots and moved right along to exchange pleasantries with a young family coming in as I cursed the rule and the world we live in.
It is impermissible for me to take a toddler’s hand and turn him around to find mama.
My authority is my voice; I cannot stop a child unless it is verbal, lest my intentions be misinterpreted.
I cannot assist a child to put on a shoe without parental consent and I cannot roll a soggy sleeve up at the water table, even if the child can barely stand.
My priority is the safety of all, after that: my own “personal space bubble.”
Never mind the toddler who needs your knee to balance for half a second or the kid who steps on your foot.
That is contact. That is bad.
High fives come “at my own risk.” Next thing we know, smiles will be outlawed.
Doesn’t the world need all the love it can get? Yet we’re teaching kids to associate an expression of appreciation with guilt and shame.
I am disgusted. I am sad. I am discouraged.
But mostly I just wish I could tell my Hannah that the .75 second hug of hers was the best part of my day. And I would give her a tight squeeze back.