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The Fourth Hug: Finding My Rhythm as a Stepmom

I hope she will see all the other ways I'm better at showing how much I love her, and she laughs when describing her stepmom explaining, "She doesn't know how to hug."
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I'm a bad hugger. Someone should revoke my hugging privileges.

I like hugs... I really do, but I like them most when they are spontaneous and emotionally charged. Knowing I have to hug every single member of my in-law's family upon arriving and departing an event makes me break out in a cold sweat. What if I forget someone? What if I go the wrong direction on my approach? What if there is too much boob in my embrace? Let's face it, there is always too much boob in my hugs.

My strained relationship with hugs pushes me to hug at all the wrong times. I don't know how the rest of you find a natural rhythm. Once I thought a hug was expected and ended up accidentally hug assaulting a new neighbor after a 5-minute meeting. I thought he was going in for a hug and I thought to myself "do what regular people do, don't make this weird!" Now, based on his reaction, I'm sure it was a wide swung handshake, and I misread it and pounced on him, fully committing to a painfully awkward squeeze. I think his wife hates me now.

Being hug inept and marrying into a hugging family has unique challenges. Being a stepmom has unique challenges. Put those two together and you have the reason why I have hugged my stepdaughter four times. Four hugs in three years together. I adore my stepdaughter, and I think she thinks I'm pretty cool. She's a hugger. She hugs people she doesn't know. She enthusiastically hugs my parents who we only see once or twice a year and I'm left standing there thinking "What the heck?! Those people are practically me! I'm just an offshoot of them! Why haven't you ever jumped into my arms to say hello?" She snuggles with her father and my son. She hugs her teachers and friends even though she can't remember their names. She hugs so fervently that someone usually gets knocked over.

I'm the exception. I can't honestly remember if I was trying to take my queues from her at first, and be respectful of her boundaries, or if I was just emanating bumbling, non-hugger vibes and she picked up on them right away. Now the dynamic has been built between us and I have let it go on for too long.

The first hug was at age 6. We had only been in each other's lives for a few months and we dropped her off at my mother-in-law's so we could go on a date. My mother-in-law, not knowing how we operate, was quick to point out that stepdaughter had hugged her father goodbye but not me. We had almost made it out the door when she insisted this situation be rectified. "Hug Heather, sweetie!" So we hugged, and I rubbed her vest, which was faux fur, and commented that she felt like a teddy bear. The next day in the car she asked me, "Am I your favorite now?"

"Ummm... I don't have a favorite, but I love you a whole lot. I love everyone in our family."

Disappointed she replied, "Oh. I thought when you said that 'teddy bear' thing it meant I was your favorite now."

Yikes. My random observation to fill the dead air during the hug took on a ton of meaning for her. Damn you hugs!

The second hug was during the wedding. The photographer orchestrated it several times. It felt very forced and uncomfortable. I see it in the pictures, but maybe others won't. I remember thinking by the time we get these pictures back maybe this won't feel so fake, but our photographer had a really fast turn around time and nothing changed by the time they were framed.

The third hug I cannot recall when or where, but I remember what she said. After hugging someone else she reached her arms out to me and said "I should hug you... I mean you ARE my stepmom after all." They didn't sound like her words, but I have no way to be sure. The logic sounded like something that should be coming from me, the adult. I'm the one that should be taking charge of the hugging debacle and setting the example.

I view the hug as a symbol of my success to the outside world. A picture perfect stepmom would be embracing her kids wholeheartedly without missing a beat, and you would not be able to tell her apart from a biological mother. And cartoon birds would land on her and sing a cheerful tune. This little girl means a lot to many many people, and in the short time they see us interacting they are judging me. If they see a cold hug, or no hug at all, I fear they will assume I'm one of "those" stepmoms. The pressure I put on the situation has naturally made it worse.

The fourth hug was on Christmas Morning. She's 9 now, and she got the Xbox One that she wanted but would never dare assume she would actually get. Dad waded through the discarded wrapping paper to fetch some batteries. The tree was twinkling and we were all filled with the magic of Christmas. My 6-year-old son met my eyes and made a beeline for me and hugged me while wishing me a Merry Christmas. This is normally the time Stepdaughter would seek out her father and hug him, you hug yours, I'll hug mine. But she didn't. We looked at each other, and we both decided we also wanted to share a Christmas hug. And we wished each other a Merry Christmas and embraced and it felt just right.

I guarantee there will still be many more ill-timed, uneasy hugs. My biggest fear is that she will be complaining to her therapist that her stepmother never wanted to hug her. But I hope upon hope, that she gets a sense of who I am and accepts my inability to fit into a hugging world. I hope she will see all the other ways I'm better at showing how much I love her, and she laughs when describing her stepmom explaining, "She doesn't know how to hug."

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