A mom and her 9-year-old kid cuddling and taking a photo with the kid showing a peace sign
Photo courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

The Cuddles Don't End In Middle School

My oldest child is all Great Dane puppy. They are lovable, goofy, enthusiastic, and extremely tall for their age. Like most parents, I am constantly floored at just how fast these kids grow. How is it possible this giraffe-child was once that tiny baby curled up on my chest? I have two other children. The youngest is 2, so he monopolizes my lap. He's always crawling on me or hugging me or sitting right next to me. My middle child still needs a reassuring hug when she's hurt. She prefers falling asleep with my partner's arm as her pillow. My oldest — I'll call them Lucky for this article — is unsurprisingly more independent than their younger siblings. But at 9 years old, they still want to cuddle.

When Lucky, who's almost 9, wants a snuggle, I admit that sometimes I get annoyed; I'm touched out pretty much all the time. But recently I had that realization that I think most parents have over and over and over again: some day— maybe soon — Lucky won't want that snuggle. The days of having a child fit neatly over my heart, their chubby knees drawn up to their doughy middle, those are already gone for me. I'm not having any more babies. Occasionally I get to hold someone else's newborn, and it's always a sharp pang as I realize just how much I miss this.

I can't focus all my energy on missing the newborn days, because I still have small children. If I were to constantly think about how I'm going to miss these current iterations of my three favorite humans, I'd probably spend my days a blubbering mess. My kindergartener seems so grown-up to me now. But looking at my Lucky's kindergarten pictures, I'm struck at just how small and sweet they were. Their third-grade pictures are way more serious. My spouse and I joke that Lucky is already a little teenager. They dress like a hipster, they are too cool for smiling for pictures, they are suddenly into listening to Nirvana.

Photo courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

But despite all the pre-teenness, Lucky is still very sweet. They still prefer snuggling with someone in bed over sleeping alone. If they had their way, they'd spend every night right next to me. I know from years of occasionally sharing the bed with Lucky, that they'd soon monopolize the space. They'd put their face right near mine or bury their head in my hair. Lucky likes to curl up in a ball. I call them a little velociraptor, because when they sleep with me, they tend to stick their feet in the small of my back and no matter how recently they've trimmed their toenails, those things always feel like talons.

I know a lot of parents would be surprised to hear that I let my giant 9-year-old sleep with me occasionally. I admit that I am a pretty big pushover. But then I think about how close puberty probably is, and how, pretty soon Lucky won't ask for company as they fall asleep. I know these hugs that are all lanky limbs and sharp edges, will probably be replaced with eyerolls.

Photo courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

These hugs, where Lucky's arms wrap all the way around my middle and overlap in back, are so precious to me right now. We don't fit together like we used to. Lucky can't just jump into my arms and lay their head on my shoulder. Even if I crouch for the hug, our heights just don't line up. We're in this in-between zone. But I know, soon, I'm going to see eye-to-eye with Lucky, and almost definitely, someday I'll be looking up to them.

I recently made the conscious decision to just soak it in. I am grateful every time I tell Lucky I love them, and they say it back. Even when I'm trying to put the 2-year-old to bed, if Lucky creeps into the room asking for a snuggle, I will pull back the covers and let them crawl in, at least for a little while.

I love all of Lucky's little pokey angles. I love these gangly little hugs. I wouldn't actually want to freeze time. I'm getting excited to meet the teenage version of Lucky. To meet the adult they'll become. I look forward to seeing eye-to-eye when we hug, but I also love our hugs now. When I remember, I try to take a mental snapshot to remember how it feels to be hugged and loved by 9-year-old Lucky. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

For more pieces like this, visit Shiny Happies, our collection of the best parts of raising those little people you love.