Giving and receiving affection has been quite an evolutionary process for Rhema. In years past if you tried to hold her in your arms she’d squirm and run for her life like you’d just eaten garlic pizza and onion rings. Then one day she succumbed to Hope’s daily hug attacks and . She started hugging everybody. You could be a total stranger reading People magazine in the waiting room, and Rhema would sit in your lap and hug you. You could be at the playground minding your business and you might get an awkward bear hug from behind.
Lately, Rhema’s frustrations and aggressions have increased. I daresay there’s been more grabbing, scratching, hitting and biting than hugging. In fact it seems she’s almost forgotten how to hug. If you ask for a hug and hold your arms out wide, she may lean in sideways, tilt her shoulder. Or she’ll do the armless hug – where you hug her while she stands still with her arms pinned to her sides. Brandon and Hope have been gently taking her arms and wrapping them around. “Thank you, sweet Rhema. Thank you for loving us and letting us love you in this way.”
And then there’s the kiss. I’ve written before about that journey. She still does not (cannot?) pucker, so her kisses have ranged from a brush of the nose to a head-to-head smash to the best Rhema-kiss of all – the one where she puts her lips on your cheek and just hangs out for a while taking in big gulps of air.
Something new has emerged in recent days. She will now, quite politely, “ask” for a kiss. Hope gets the biggest kick out of it – the way Rhema will out of the blue come and present her cheek for you to kiss. When she does it we feel sooo special!
Quietly B and I have our concerns – how do we protect her and help her understand what’s appropriate when it comes to touch and affection. (If you see Rhema expecting kisses from random strangers, let me know!) So it goes with autism, just as we celebrate something new, we plan how we’ll handle it if goes to extremes or becomes an obsession. Just as we rejoice in something gained, we brace ourselves for that something lost.
But for now there is this. A father, mother and little sister who love to show how much we love her. And a nine year old girl who loves us more than she can say, so she finds ways to show us.
On days when every single thing is hard, when the worries are all-consuming, when the tantrums and the battles and the weariness break my heart, that little proffered cheek means everything. No words necessary.
**Oh! I keep forgetting to post this. Jen K. won the book giveaway!