Anti-Hugger Missing Warm Hugs

I was driving to work today and dropping off my sons at preschool with their masks on. I hugged them good-bye and attempted to kiss them through my mask.

I am not a hugger. Ask my friends. The pandemic has been great for one thing for me. No one tries to hug me except my kids and wife. During cold and flu season normally I also would not even shake hands with new patients or their parents. “No touch-ey” is my motto.

(This is not the case for my kids. We are all snuggly in our house, so don’t worry my sons get a ton of hugs. They are very tactile and are always on top of one of us.)

In 1993 on on September 23rd, my Grandfather died. It was very sudden and unexpected. He was in his early 70’s and in good health. It was devastating to our family.

I was in third grade at the time (I’m 35 in case you are trying to do the math). My teacher was Mrs. Gulliford. She was likely in my top three favorite teachers. She had the right mix of nurturing and boundaries to make our entire class moderately afraid of her without her ever yelling or raising her voice while also fully admiring her and wanting to impress her and be in her good graces. She was middle age when I had her, maybe 50’s. So she also had a matronly quality to her and clearly she had been teaching for a few decades at that point so she was rarely ruffled.

In fact looking back I acknowledge that we had a tough class. At least three kids with severe ADHD and then myself and two other “smart” kids, and a myriad of in between kids. It must have been challenging to meet everyone’s needs but as I recall she always had extra work for me to do so I never got bored. She was one of the only teachers until I got to high school who didn’t try and force me to stay with the class. She saw that I was done with the lesson much faster than other kids and instead of yelling at me for reading a chapter book she started giving me extra work and tasks to keep me busy.

She never made a big deal about it. She would just slip it onto my desk whenever she saw that I was completing an assignment.

September 23rd was not far into our school year. Maybe three weeks. Long enough for me to understand that Mrs. Gulliford was a force not to be reckoned with who was kind but also firm.

It took me completely by surprise when I returned from being absent for three days after my Grandfather died and she called me up to her desk. Everyone was still getting settled so kids were talking and not paying attention to me walking up. I was nervous because I thought I was in trouble as every kid does when we are called out by an adult unexpectedly.

I walked over to the side of her desk and next thing I knew I was enveloped into a big warm hug.

I remember fighting back tears and after my initial shock wore off burying my face in her shoulder trying not to sob. She held me long enough for me to feel that I was going to sob, choke back tears, and then realize by now that half the class was staring at me.

I learned that about grief later on in life. That even when you think you’ve cried all that you possibly can…at the most unexpected moments you can still produce tears.

I don’t remember if she said anything or if I did. I just know I walked back to my desk and went through the rest of my day in third grade. I don’t remember her hugging me the rest of the school year. I do remember seeing her hug a few of the other kids in my class at varying times during the year and I remember thinking something bad must have happened because she reserved her hugs for those moments they were truly needed.

At some point the girl sitting next to me turned and told me about her dead grandparents. That’s when I learned people say weird shit to you when a family member dies.

Of all the memories to pop into my head thinking about my Grandfather that’s the one I thought of today. Mrs. Gulliford’s warm hug. Then I thought of my kids in their masks and all the kids in all the schools who can’t give or receive a warm hug this year.

Teachers are supposed to teach. That’s the nature of their job. But we all know they do so much more for children. They comfort. They nurture. They create safe spaces. They forge connections with the smart kids, the challenged kids, the kids who struggle, and all of that is challenged this year because they are either behind screens or masks or both.

Families are not able to have funerals. And there have been at least two hundred thousand families who have lost family members in the last six months.

I’m incredibly grateful to all the teachers who touched my life and fostered a love of learning that continues today. I’m grateful for the teachers who provided hugs in times of acute grief and comfort because she didn’t have to. But I’ll always remember that she did.

I thought of this memory today because I acknowledge that there is a global pandemic causing acute isolation for many people. There are people on my caseload who haven’t been touched with comfort or love since March. We all took hugs and touch for granted. One lesson I’ve learned from COVID, among many, is that I’m not a hugger. But sometimes a hug is the only adequate form of communication.

And our children are all deprived of these small but monumental moments with the adults in their lives for the foreseeable future. Keep that in mind as we parent our kids. They are deprived of basic human touch in spaces that they never have been before. It’s taxing on them. I see it in my sessions. This pandemic feels like it has only begun. As we gear up for a long dark Winter I hold onto memories of warm hugs and hope in a way that I never thought I would ever hope; for warm hugs to be safe again.


VOTE. Black Lives Still Matter. Breonna Taylor…you deserve better.

To my bestie, if you made it this far,…who is the ultimate hugger…yes I even miss your hugs even though you always end up making it weird. I’d give anything for a hug from you! Florida needs to get it’s shit together so I can visit.


Wishing on a Star

One of my son’s wanted to make a wish on a start last night. He was adamant he stand at the door and wish on the first star he saw. I was working on some masks sitting off to the side and I heard him say, “I wish for ice skates, and coffee cups for my Mama and Mommy, and I wish for all the germs to go away.”

Now I don’t know how he thought of ice skates or where he would go ice skating. I also know my wife has threatened to start throwing out mugs if I buy any more. I am somewhat obsessed with mugs. Apparently we need more though…

When he got to the germs it broke me a little. Followed today by an email from daycare that all kids over 3 are now going to be expected to wear masks at daycare per our lovely state’s Office of Early Childhood Development mandate. Anyone with kids right now is feeling me. You know the pandemic sucks for everyone. But for adults with children between the ages of 0 and twenty it totally blows.

Having kids generally is rough. Having twins also rough. Having twin four year old boys during a pandemic who have to now wear masks at daycare…yeah life is a little much for me right now.

We now can see the smoke from the wildfires across the country. Our sun is orange tinged. We’ve been hit by a hurricane and tornadoes. Race riots. Because yes we are racist in this country. Without the pandemic at a macro level this year has been intense to say the least.

My Dad died a year ago. I legitimately feel age 4 is the worst and most challenging year of parenting for us yet. My sons are high maintenance and even without the pandemic we would have felt isolated this year because it’s very hard to bring them places right now. On a micro level this year has been incredibly stressful on our family.

My business is doing great, but since July I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress related to my business as anyone working in mental health will tell you it’s been a wild ride since March.

All of those things by themselves would be hard for any one to cope with. All of those things and three months of strict stay at home orders, and the constant fear of new stay at home orders, because of a pandemic…that’s a lot.

I’m not including the kittens as a stressor because while they have provided their own stress they are fluffy and playful and cuddly stress relievers for me.

So when Declan wished for all the germs to go away in his innocent little voice I thought, me too kid. In so many ways and for so many reasons me too.

I graduated undergrad in 2007. I started working a nurse that year. I didn’t get a raise for several years and I was told it was because of the 2008 crash. The first three years of my work history was defined by a massive economic downturn. I didn’t grasp it the way I do now. I remember it. I also treat a lot of people now who bring it up as a significant time in their lives because they lost everything. I treat the kids of the parents who lost everything in 2008. They are young adults now. I know in about ten years I’ll be treating the kids of COVID. The kids with memories of losing everything. Parents unemployed. No health insurance. Foreclosures. Divorce. Because people are losing everything.

It’s a bleak post started because of a wish on a star. I know a wish won’t end a pandemic. Science will. Social distancing. Masks. More isolation and more stressors.

I think it’s important to remember those moments though. Those moments when Dec wanted to do something as normal as wishing on a star. I find relief in yoga which I still do regularly thanks to an instructor who started a Zoom yoga class schedule. I find relief in my work and helping others. I feel relief when tonight my son walked up to me and hugged me and spontaneously said, “I love you Mama.” I relished the moment when for a few minutes the boys sat together on the couch with Jackson wrapping his arm around his brother.

If I’ve learned anything from this year it’s that the light and lovely moments are still here we just have to work harder to see them.

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Albus Dumbledore


30 Second (or 8 minute) Moments That Make a Family

In case you missed it we got kittens. This morning I didn’t have clients scheduled so I wanted to take my time and do a 9 AM yoga class. About 8:50 AM I was sipping my coffee enjoying the peace as the boys sat in the other room watching cartoons. I heard a growl. The growl of Ginsburg when she is guarding food. I turn around and there she is with a huge piece of chicken tender in her mouth that recently had been on one of my son’s plates. Yes. He wanted chicken tender for breakfast and I didn’t want to battle him on it. There are worse things for breakfast.

So her sister Scooby was sitting close by waiting for a stray piece of chicken and Ginsburg was trying to figure out how to eat the monstrous piece of chicken without dropping it from her mouth.

I sprang up and started yelling at her to put the damn chicken down. The next eight minutes are minutes of my life that I wish had been filmed by a secret camera simultaneously grateful there is no camera in our house. It involved me chasing a tiny kitten with a huge piece of chicken tender behind the couch, under the table, intermittently yelling at the boys to get away from her because she was now full on growling and I was afraid she would hurt one of them trying to guard her food.

The boys of course could not help but be completely in the way the entire time, now also yelling, about how they were scared and Ginsburg has my chicken…and so much more but I was just focused on getting to the damn cat.

I cornered her under the sink in the laundry room which was perfect for her, because she could just claw me when I tried reaching for her still yelling at her to drop the chicken and still with the boys yelling and literally running in circles in the background.

I have a lot of vacuums. Don’t judge me. I’m a clean freak and I love vacuums like I love psychiatry. (A lot). There was a long extender of one my vacuums handy (again don’t judge they are all over my house) and I grabbed it and found myself yelling at the cat while trying to get the chicken and the cat with the vacuum extender. Eventually a large portion of the chicken tender fell on the floor and I was able to get it with the vacuum arm. Ginsburg ate the rest of the piece. I was also pushing Scooby back this entire time as she wanted to get in the corner with the snarling Ginsburg and her chicken.

I got the chicken. I put it in the trash. The boys ran from Ginsburg screaming. I grabbed Ginsburg by the scruff and held her up and spoke to her about not growling at me. Ever. And not going on the table and not eating chicken…and everything else I could think of.

She was looking properly shamed as I threw out my yoga mat and connected via Zoom to my class.

I laughed to myself sitting there on my yoga mat. Because to anyone on Zoom they would see me sitting calmly on my mat with my mug of coffee. A kitten or two sitting close by. The boys intermittently walking by. No one knew the chaos of the chicken and the kitten only moments before I connected.

Gins eventually joined me on my mat for the class and has been much better behaved the rest of the day.

Later in the day I gave myself my monthly shot for my asthma and the boys watched and screamed and ran in and out of the room. I mean. I was overdue. I had to do it. Jackson eventually mustered a “Poor Mama”.

These are the moments though. These are those thirty second (or eight minute) moments that make the fabric of our family. I’ll always remember Ginsburg running around with the chicken hanging out of her mouth as the boys screamed and ran in circles. I’ll do many more shots. I usually time them after bedtime so the boys don’t see. But they have seen me struggle to breathe. They know what I deal with.

I was talking with a client recently about the time they came out to their parents as trans. There is about 5-10 seconds after some one comes out when we sit in complete terror of the reaction. It’s in the parents court. This parent in particular failed. Many do.

Mine didn’t. It’s one of my favorite memories of my parents. My Dad didn’t have Dementia. It was normal. He putzed around in the kitchen and my Mom and I sat on the couch and my Mom basically told me she had already done this with my sister so what’s the big deal. My dad asked me “So, does this mean you’re bisexual?” I cringed and laughed and said “Dad I’m not putting a label on it.” He did this thing with his hands like okay, okay, I’m just asking.

To this day I’m confident my Dad got a kick out of having two daughters married to two women and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

It was a quick visit that night. Just an in person coming out to my parents, then I went back home to my apartment at the time. Many of my patients, friends, and my own wife don’t have this same experience. There is violence. Hate. Failure. Failure on the parents end to provide unconditional love and acceptance. Even if in future years you come around and accept your kid, I promise you, they remember your first reaction to the first time they came out.

It’s probably the most important and defining thirty seconds of your relationship with your child.

So don’t fuck it up.

What’s the right reaction you ask? What’s the right moment that makes a family? It’s me bringing Ginsburg over to my sons for them to pet her so they aren’t scared of her after seeing her growl and act totally insane over a piece of chicken. It’s them watching me do my injection. It’s me dropping what I’m doing, no matter what, when they ask me for bedtime kisses. It’s one of my best friends telling me, “You know we are going to have cis-het kids and they will be wasted on us!” because she knows that if any of our kids ever come out as anything we would hug them and tell them we love them no matter what because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

***The pic is Ginsburg staring fixedly at my yoga instructor: the picture of innocence.


Seeking Hope

Six months is a long time to be isolated. I am on a biologic agent for my asthma which puts me in an at risk category for COVID. While I tried to reassure my pulmonologist and allergist that I only get bacterial infections and viral infections seem to skip over me they both made it clear that I am at risk and not to see clients in person. For some clients this is not okay.

For me it’s been a struggle. I miss the in person contact. There are certain clients I’ve seen in person. What’s stuck out to me is those moments that feel so normal to me but when I step back and think about them they are so messed up.

Therapists across my state know that I specialize in Queer mental health. Most know either from me or through the grapevine that I myself am Queer. So when I get referrals, especially for teenagers, I know that somewhere in there will be some Queer stuff. The parents often have no clue or are pulling the ostrich.

Those are my favorites. Because there’s nothing I love better than calling out the elephant in the room.

A trans teen intake usually goes like this. Both parents and kid are in the room. Parent gives long timeline of depression and/or anxiety. Potentially some self harm. Past trials of medications. Therapy. Maybe a hospitalization. Maybe some family history of mental health. Maybe a divorce or a move, some transition that occurred that could have triggered everything.

The kid sits quietly looking aggrieved and cringey especially whenever their parent pronouns or names them. I can’t ask the kid direct questions because the parent keeps interrupting. I kick the parent out. Me and the kid.

“So what’s the story?”

“I’m trans.”

“Got it. You out to them?”

Sigh. Literally a sigh. “Yeah they don’t believe me.”

“They never use the right pronoun or name?”


Sigh. Literally a sigh. “You want to be in the room or out?”

It’s that moment. When they realize I’m on their side. When they realize the trans stuff all over my office means they are actually in a space where some one will stand for them. The look I get is hope. I didn’t know how badly I missed that look until I saw it again.

I’ve agreed to do some in person intakes in the last few months, and when I have that moment. That hope. When I do some work with the parents afterward. It feels so right. Educating people not to be transphobic is not my favorite part of the job. But apparently it’s a part I’ve missed. Because the outcome, the hope, touches me. Motivates me to keep doing this work.

It’s hard work. Mental health. I hold a lot of secrets. In between my own patients I receive calls from other providers, former co-workers, former and current friends, relatives, etc. all wanting to tell me a story. All wanting some support, referrals, help. Hope.

One of my mentors always told me that she didn’t know everything but she knew how to be confident and that made people feel better and when people have the illusion they can feel better then eventually they will.

I didn’t get that at the time. But I do now. Prescribing medication is a small part of what I do. Giving hope and instilling confidence in the future is a big part of what I do. That’s been harder and harder to do in a world turned upside down by a pandemic. But I often think of that moment in Armageddon when they are flying away from the asteroid with Bruce Willis left behind. He hasn’t detonated the bomb yet and Ben Affleck says, “Harry doesn’t know how to fail.” It gets me every time. I mean literally sobbing hysterically which begins when Harry pushes Affleck into the glass elevator. Same with Titanic. I start crying during the opening credits. Because why do they show pictures of the freaking ship in the opening credits?

I digress. I like to think I’m like Harry. Not on asteroid willing to die to save my planet. But not knowing how to fail.

I’ve seen it throughout the last six months. Those little looks when Queer people feel hope. Hope for acceptance. Hope for love. Hope for their parents to use the right pronouns. Hope. It’s out there. You just have to know where to look.

***Parents****IT’S NOT A PHASE.