In the hug-fest that constituted the departure from my ex-mother-in-law's house, she explained that, in her day, hugging was pretty much verboten. "I never even hugged my own mother," she said as we clustered around her waiting for our turn to be folded into her arms. "Not even once?" someone asked. "Mama always said that we should keep our hands to ourselves," she said. But the hugging continued. Both my daughters, my daughter M's girlfriend, my niece, me. "I've had to learn to hug," my ex-mother-in-law said, "but at 92, I think I'm getting pretty good at it."
There's a lot to ponder there. I've been a huggy person my whole life. This makes me wonder about my ex-husband. Did he learn to hug from me? Or was it a generational thing--the fallout from the summer of love-make love not war-love is all there is-free love zeitgeist of our generation? My parents hugged me. My parents hugged each other--though they would have given the ix-nay to the free love stuff. Somehow down this long and winding road, it seems that a hug is both hello and good-bye with all the people I care about.
The reason I had a chance to hug my ex-mother-in-law this weekend was due to a family wedding in Nebraska. When I arrived at the party the evening before, the entire group of ex-in-laws stood up to hug me and my daughters. There was so much jockeying around, it's a wonder none of us backed into the pool.
There was hugging as a prelude to the in-law hugging, too. I met my daughter's girlfriend for the first time prior to the drive to Nebraska. Dinner was arranged and the young couple met me and the girlfriend's mother at one of my favorite St. Paul restaurants. We mothers arrived first, and via our cellphones the daughters coached us mothers into recognizing one another. We hugged--a bit awkwardly, flailing between outstretched arms and extended hands. Maybe we're prepping to be mothers-in-law.
I am a fan of the hug. Being the Francophile that I am, I might go for the double-barreled cheek kissing, but Americans are awkward at that. And of course hugging can be awkward, too. Mr. Ex was at the wedding and at his mom's house the next day. We didn't hug. Not hello. Not good-bye. That would have been awkward. The vibe I get from him is that he finds me despicably revolting. I've discovered that I don't really care at all about him anymore. In fact, I found myself recalling the philosophy of the man who loves me more than once this weekend--"at the time, in that place, you did the best that you could." In this way he gives the benefit of the doubt to almost everyone. When we first met, I scoffed at this tolerant idea as I mourned my own past mistakes and railed against those of Mr. Ex. This weekend as I watched Mr. Ex, I thought those very words. But I'll save my hugs. The hugging door between Mr. Ex and me is closed.