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Tuck Me in Like a Burrito
The Children’s Village is a bit of a maverick among group homes. We are great believers in lots of hugs, bedtime stories and cuddly teddy bears. You see, the kids referred to our village didn’t get to experience the warm fuzzies that many of us had as we were growing up. They have a lot of catching up to do and part of our job is to fill in those gaps in their childhood. That’s part of the reason we grandparents live at the village but much of the very personal and intimate interaction comes from our house parents. They after all have to deal with the mundane details of living with the kids. Some of these are boring (getting them up for school in the morning, making sure they brush their teeth, reminding them to change their socks and underwear etc.) but there are pleasurable times too. Among them, most house parents mention tucking the kids in for the night.
The house parents for each house have their own bedtime rituals for the kids but almost all include a bedtime story. I was surprised to find out that 11-year-old Francesca, who is quite capable of reading even adult level novels, insists on being read to by one of the house parents. Even more remarkable, this fairly sophisticated pre-teen chooses books intended for much younger children. Pooh Bear and Little Red Riding Hood will do just fine, thank you.
This little girl needs no help with her reading but she does need to experience the comfort and coziness of having a loving adult sit next to her on her bed at night. The reading skills she can get in school but there is no substitute for this special nighttime ritual. For whatever reason, Francesca never knew the comfort of these special moments with her parents. Poignantly, she is trying her best to make up for lost time.
Eight-year-old Nate wants to hold his stuffed horse close to him at bedtime. He also insists that his house parent tuck him in good, “like a burrito,” as he describes it. His brother Bobby wants to be tucked in “like a mummy.” Bobby wants a kiss good night but Nate is cool with a hug.
Nick wants to give as well as receive the bedtime ritual. He comes over to my apartment just before nine o’clock to give my old basset hound, Penny, a hug and a kiss. goodnight. Heck, old doggies need loving, too. Nick’s little brother is equally solicitous of Grandpa’s Hanks collection of stuffed animals. One day he came by and asked me if he could take one of my stuffed otters home for the night. I said “Okay, but take good care of it.” The next morning he brought it back after assuring me that “he had hugged and kissed it a lot.” Nick will make a good Dad some day.
The Children’s Village tries very hard to be a warm and cozy place for our kids. Other group homes, conscious of the litigious nature of our society, tend to be very cautious about touching kids. They worry that hugging and touching kids might be seen as “inappropriate.” I don’t dismiss their concerns. The kids who come to us, unfortunately, are no strangers to “inappropriate” touches, whether the contact is sexual in nature or comes in the nature of a physical beating.
So we are very careful in the way we interact with our kids. Some children do not want to be hugged or even touched. We respect that. Other children, because of past abuse, seem incapable of setting any boundaries for themselves. One of our little girls, who had been raped at a very young age, would practically throw herself at house parents and grandparents alike. That was the only way she knew to receive affection. So, when I say, we are a village that believes strongly in the therapeutic value of touch, it does not mean that anything goes. Kids need to learn from us how to respect their own bodies and know how to set boundaries for themselves.
Still, too often in our society we allow our fear of lawsuits to override our common sense. We automatically put the adjective “inappropriate” in front of “touching,” as though the two were inextricably linked. Well, they are not. Quite the contrary. At Children’s Village, we like to think that hugging and being hugged, in the context of healthy relationships, is not only appropriate but essential for growth.
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