Even 6th Graders Hug Their Moms

In 2002, when my son was just turning three, all he wanted to be when he grew up was a firefighter.  Well, maybe Bob the Builder, too.  Dreams of saving structures and the people trapped in them was his kind of a dream job.  Cameron had it all-the firefighter suit, the plastic ax, and even a pedal powered metal fire truck that his big sister had outgrown.  I guess firefighter fantasies run in our family.
I’m not sure how much 9/11 influenced this decision-probably not a huge amount at his tender age-although the media was full of heroic images of  brave men and women who fought to save those people trapped in the twin towers.  Out of this tragedy the “Twin Towers Orphan Fund” was born, and author Christine Kole MacLean published
Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms to raise money for the children who lost parents in the World Trade Center.
It was a perfect fit for my family – a picture book about a boy and his little sister who love to pretend play, especially fantasizing about firefighters.  It became an instant favorite for my son, and as he grew it evolved into a catch phrase for us-whenever it seems like I will never get a cuddle again, I remind him of his favorite story.
Yesterday, I reminded him.  Since kindergarten, my husband or I have always ridden bikes with our children to school.  At first it was for safety reasons-tippy training wheels for my daughter while my son gloried in the bumps of the bike trailer, we loved the ½-mile ride to and from school each day.  Often, my daughter would beg me to ‘drop her off at the corner’, but I always managed to make it into the bike racks, grabbing a last kiss and hug before she trotted off to her classroom.  Later, once they were both in school and I went back to teaching my husband joyfully took over the duties. When Lily advanced to 7th grade, she and I biked to and from our school together and enjoyed the time to talk about what was coming up in her life and how she was getting along with friends.  Now I bike alone each day, missing her company.
So when I had the opportunity yesterday morning to ride to school with Cam, I jumped on it.  This is our last year of elementary school, and it feels like a chapter of childhood is closing.  Eager to squeeze out every moment I can, we hop on our bikes and quickly head out on the bike path.  My big red cruiser is no match for his neon pink BMX bike-I have to work to keep up. After a few minutes he slowed and said, “You know, Mom, when Lily was in 4th grade she rode to school by herself.  Why do you still ride with me?”
“Well, it’s not because I don’t think you can do it, Cam. It’s because I want to be with you.” I answer.  “Remember how you like me to tuck you in at night? It’s kind of the same thing.  It’s just  a special time when we’re together.”  Silence greets my comment like the calm before a storm.
“Dad never rides all the way anymore.  He drops me off at the park just before the bike racks.” Clearly he is ready to hold his ground.” And you know, I ride home with my friends now.  You don’t need to pick me up anymore.”
“Really?” I reply, a hint of sarcasm in my voice.  “You mean I can’t take you all the way, help you lock your bike and give you a big hug and kiss?”  His cold, silent stare gives me his answer.   “Even 6th graders hug their moms.”
“Hi, Max!” Cameron yells, ending the conversation as if on cue.  Sure enough, here comes his buddy riding up right  behind us.
I take the hint, and quietly whisper, “Bye, Cam.  See you after school” as I turn and ride towards home.  The pang in my chest carries me, tears welling as I pedal.  I realize that my little firefighter may not be wearing the costume, but I still adore him just the same.
Seven hours later, long after the pain had subsided and he walked in the door after school, I was welcomed with a great big bear hug.  Yep, even 6th graders hug their moms.  Just not in public.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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  1. I loved this piece!!! I know that feeling only to well with my first son who is in 7th grade and am dreading it when my 6 year old feels the same way! What a wonderful piece! I love your writing and the time I spend on your site! Thanks!

  2. I only have girls (3 and 1) and I will sob into my pillows every night if they ever decide they don’t want me to hug them in public. I think I will cover my ears and pretend that it will never happen. *nananananaaaa*

  3. Brenda~Gosh, I think of that day all the time. Only three short years before that is a reality for me! Nervous.
    Hi Mandi~Sadly, it’s all a part of the process I think. Treasure each phase of their childhood-I know I have!
    Hi Nancy! I like how you put it-‘make her way into the world’. Everything we do as parents is designed to help them do this, so why is it so hard?

  4. Someone pass the kleenex! We’re getting ready for the transition from middle school to high school so I know all about “Mom, not in public!” and the pangs of watching our little darling make her way into the world. WAH! Loved your piece ~

  5. Awww, I totally felt that pang as I read along, I’m not ready for that yet. My son is 3 and my daughter is 5 and there is no restricting the public displays right now at their age. I’ll say it – I hope it doesn’t ever end – but I know in my heart that eventually it probably will.

  6. This is a killer moment. Wait… until you leave the oldest at college. I can’t tell you how much you think you’re going to break in two, but you don’t. Then the first call home and you hear the quivering voice, the confession to be homesick, the tears and even though you want them to come home you remind them about first steps …. all the while your heart is bursting. Big hugs, and invest in boxes of tissues.

  7. Hi MA~ yes, that feeling in the gut when you know there is less time left that they’ll be living with you than you can imagine…
    Hi Chick~ Thanks!
    Hi Jodi~ Exactly! Even when we can rationalize their behavior, it still makes me sigh.
    Hi Marcy~ Those are the grades I teach-I know at home the boys are way more sweet than they act at school!
    Hi Anne~ I know, I felt the same way! It’s not that they don’t want to be with you exactly, but that they want to be with themselves.
    Thanks Astra~ haha! I had to laugh at that…my 6th grader is nearly my height, and my 10 grade girl is two inches taller! Thank you!

  8. So very sweet 🙂
    My youngest is a 6th-grader and busses to school but my accompanying her to the bus stop was abruptly halted this September. Private hugs and cuddles are still permitted. It come and goes with my older boys, now in HS (as I am sure you too will experience!). I was shocked recently when during an impromptu photo, my 9th grader put his arm around my shoulder (of course they are both taller than me now!).

  9. My son is still 4 so he still loves to be with me. He would hug me and kiss my cheek in front of everyone, so I can’t imagine the day when he’d rather not be seen with me 🙁

  10. My son’s in seventh grade and he told me not to approach him when he’s standing with other kids. I thought I must be uncool. But then I figured no parent is cool enough for that at this age. 😀

  11. This was such a touching post, and I love how you tied in the firefighter theme. Great writing! I have one son who stopped the PDAs in kindergarten! The other son is still pretty cuddly, but definitely not in public. Sigh… When you described riding home on your bike that day, fighting back the tears, I could feel that right along with you. We are so proud of how they grow, but sometimes it just hits us in the gut.

  12. Hello, Melvin.
    Hi Karen~ Thank you! I really needed to hear that…sometimes I just shake my head 🙂
    Hello Dee, Thank you. Parenting is hard work, and I appreciate the reminder that it all pays off.

  13. A lovely story of growth and change and the eternal bond between children and parents–especially when those parents have always cared for and supported and cherished and respected their children. Thank you for sharing this today. It makes me think of one of my nieces who has always established rituals with her two children. They are in their twenties now, but they have forgotten none of those rituals or the joy of them.


  14. Awwww, sometimes they will hug you in public. Don’t let your little firefighter fool you. He still NEEDS those hugs!!!

    My 12th grade son and I just traveled to Alabama for a college audition. I got hugs. In public. It’s just weird for a season.

    BTW, my DH warns every mom of a 6th grade boy — hang in there. Keep loving him. His normal brain will return toward the end of 8th grade 🙂

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