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Fifty Last Hugs

An hourglass draining with blue sand.

Each night before I go to bed, I stand in the hall outside of my boys’ bedroom doors and loudly announce, “Here for hugs!”

For years—and sometimes still—I would sing a song to my younger boys as I approached their beds: “I need a hug from my big boys every night; if I don’t get one, I won’t sleep tight.”

When they were younger still, they used to turn bedtime hugs into a stealth attack. I would sit on the edge of the bed and the two youngest would suddenly both jump on me, knocking me backwards as they shouted, “Double snuggle!” Sometimes the oldest would hear and come running in from his room, climbing on to the pile and shouting “Triple snuggle!”

Man, what I wouldn’t do for a Double Snuggle today. My middle schoolers are taller than me now, and bedtime hugs are much more understated.

Recently, I knocked on my seventeen year old’s door and announced, “Here for hugs!”

He opened it and looked at me sullenly. “I’d just gotten into bed.”

“Too bad. You must receive your nightly hug. You’re leaving in 43 days. No hugs shall be lost.”

My son has been counting down the days until he leaves for college. It started as soon as summer began and seemed shockingly small. “Fifty-seven days of summer,” he proclaimed, terrifying his younger brothers.

“Only 57 days!” my twelve year old cried.

“No,” I said. “Fifty-seven days until he leaves. You have another three weeks on top of that.” I turned to my oldest. “Stop torturing your brothers.”


My oldest reports to his first year of college on August 8, which is too soon for me. For him, it’s not soon enough. He’s going to his first-choice school, will be rooming with his childhood best friend (who has lived on the opposite coast for the past seven years), and attending the college with his girlfriend (who also moved across the country, just two days after graduation). He’s got a lot to look forward to. So naturally, he’s counting down.

I don’t take it personally. I can’t wait for him to experience the wonders of college life. When we’d visited colleges, it was always clear to me that this was his “soul school,” the place he would thrive.

The benefit to his countdown is it helped me realize right away how close we were to saying goodbye. One night in June as I sat on the couch, preparing to head to bed, it struck me that I only had about 50 goodnight hugs left to give. Fifty!

Now, mid-July, we’re down to 30.

As I write this, he’s been alive 6,572 days. With the exception of trips and overnight stays away from home, I have hugged him nearly every single one of those nights before bed.

Now we’re down to double-digits. Soon, it will be single. Then there will be one last hug outside of a dorm in Illinois.

Of course he’s coming home for breaks. Of course we’ll have the summers. (Right? But what about internships or study abroad? Will we have the summers?)

But for all of the things I think of about missing when he’s gone—the music pouring out of his room, the daily winding of the cuckoo clock, the bizarre interests and fascinations—what I think of is the goodnight hugs, our last point of contact at the end of each day.

I could be tempted to think of these last hugs as the most precious, their weight the greatest. But it may just be that I realize their value more, when in fact, it’s the 6,600 that preceded that have meant the most, the cumulative effect of nearly 18 years of ending the day together.

Instead of daily updates—How was your day?—I’ll receive weekly ones. Instead of regular physical contact, I’ll hope for sporadic electronic contact.

We’ve spent 18 years conducting something of an experiment, and soon we’ll see whether we’ve done it right. Have we built enough love and trust that our son will want to connect?

Until he goes, I will bang on his door every night, dragging him from whatever else may seem important to him but is inconsequential to me. As long as he’s home, I’m here for hugs.

Photo by mrbobdoblina on pixabay.


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